For that special trip - whether it's soaking up the sun in the Sychelles or crossing the Gobi Desert on horseback - you'll need more than your standard, surf-the-Internet sort of planning. This is a good time to call in an expert, someone who has traveled extensively in a region, nurtured local connections, and whose affinity for the place is infectious. The best ones plan a trip with you in mind, not themselves, and hold customer service above all, meaning they are reachable when the night attendant at the hotel in Bogota had no record of your reserveration.
Using these criteera, TRAVELER scoured the industry for top-of-the-line travel agents and tour operators (quick definition: travel agents typically book many types of flights, hotels and tours: operators run specific trips and work with select providers). We vetted candidates with industry insiders, sent them questionnaires, and conducted interviews to find the most knowledgeable regional experts, experts travelers can confidently rely on to plan trips anywhere in the world, including the places we've mentioned in this issue. The list ranges from experts who can stretch a buck to those who plan only luxe trips. Note that many agents do charge a fee - always ask first. As with any listing, it is impossible to be comprehensive; there are many worthy experts who were not included. Bring them to our attention at firstname.lastname@example.org
GUY RUBIN, Imperial Tours, Beijing, China
Rubin has lived in China for the past seven years and can bridge the gap between on-the-ground providers and American expectations. Weather permitting, clients are even treated to a white linen banquet on a secluded section of the Great Wall amid strewn rose petals and flowing wine. (www.imperialtours.net; 888-888-1970) TOUR OPERATOR
By Margarent Loftus
© October 2004, National Geographic Traveler