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Brandon Presser, a writer who has written more than 50 travel books, says there’s a difference between being a traveler and a tourist.
A tourist might head out for a tropical vacation and never leave the hotel pool, whereas a traveler seeks to immerse themselves in the local culture, food and trade of the people who live there.
In his new Bravo docu-series, “Tour Group,” Presser, with the help of two other tour guides, introduces 11 strangers to the art of traveling, as they jet set across the globe to locations like the Maldives, Japan and Kenya with cameras in tow. The series premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. EST.
The travelers are an eclectic group, like a woman who has been engaged 13 times, two brothers from Georgia who’ve never left the U.S., and estranged twin sisters.
As expected (the show does air on Bravo after all, home of “The Real Housewives”), there are personality conflicts, romantic matches and friendships made along the way.
“There’s always a misfit, there’s always a diva,” said Presser in a recent interview.
So how does he handle a diva?
“You manage their expectations and over deliver. ‘How long is this car ride?’ ‘Three hours.’ Because when you get there in two hours and 15 minutes, they’re happy. It’s a lot of over-attention and care.”
For Presser, the real work began three months before the trip where he was on the phone with the show’s producers “every day for eight hours a day talking through every step” like where to go, flight routes and getting visas.
He also insisted on speaking to his travelers ahead of time to get an idea for their personal stories and goals for the trip. That way he “could embed the trip with experiences that are tailor-made for them.”
All the pre-planning doesn’t mean there weren’t obstacles. Presser recalls one night when “I’m on a satellite phone in Kenya with a consulate in London like, ‘Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?’ because someone had stolen the money to pay for our visas to the next destination.” (This doesn’t make the show.)
Other behind-the-scenes curve balls included “getting a call that one of the airlines was capping our baggage allowance two days before we were going to fly” and “a traveler who is too sick to get on a flight. I have to make a judgment call about what are we gonna do. Do we stop? Do we move forward? How are we gonna do this?”
Presser says, looking back, his role was comprised of “50 different things,” from “herding cats” to being a therapist. Mostly he said he was the guy who would “make travel magic happen.”
“I would stay up all night and think about my traveler’s well-being –and think, ‘God, I really hope that so-and-so really loves what we’re doing tomorrow.'”
One of the standout moments of the trip was taking his travelers on a mountain gorilla expedition in Rwanda.
“We wept openly,” he said.