For those of you who have heard of Sineni Tours by now, I applaud you! I recently got the honor to interview Michael Sineni on his new tour company and let me tell you this… Sineni Tours have great intentions for all travellers of any kind! Go ahead and read the interview below to believe what I say.
Darlene: Hi Michael! Thanks so much for allowing me to interview you and for getting to know Sineni Tours better. Could you please introduce yourself and tell us where you’re from?
Michael: Hi Darlene! Thank you for this wonderful opportunity, and a chance to introduce myself and my career! Well, I hail from the northwest suburbs of Chicago, having been born in Elk Grove Village. I grew up in that magical era of Michael Jordan and the 85’ Bears, although I had to suffer through all those horrible Chicago Cub years! Devastating!
I absolutely love Chicago! Indeed, that must have been an interesting time to grow up in. When was it that you fell in love with travelling?
I guess I’ve always been an explorer! I could not have been more than five years old when I started sneaking downstairs at night to peek at Christmas presents, or escaping outside to climb the family tree. Totally unsupervised exploration! When I was 22, walking home from the Chicago Art Museum during a wonderfully white snowstorm, I befriended a horse and carriage chauffeur and enquired about a job. Within weeks I was decked out in coattails, driving my own carriage. Incredible freedom, incredibly memorable. Around the same time I traveled to Rome, Italy where my good friend was living and teaching English. That was the time I really fell in love with that amazing country, and ultimately met the love of my life! My friend and I went everywhere! When I got back to Chicago, I found out I was fired from Whole Foods (I was working in the flower section!). I suppose I deserved it, I hadn’t bothered to tell them I was extending my vacation by 3 weeks!
Wow, Rome! Seems like you’ve had such an adventurous life growing up! So, what had led you to become a tour director then?
After university, I went back to Rome to live with my good buddy. We had an apartment next to the famous Roman aqueducts. I kicked around, looking for the odd job, and one day walked in the Roman Forum and saw someone giving a free guided tour. I enquired how and within a couple weeks I was working at the Vatican giving free tours myself! It was a great way to promote paid tours for the tour guide company, so that’s what I did for years and years. Eventually, I became the one doing the paid tours inside the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, the Christian Catacombs, and around the city center. At the same time, I had re-entered university in Rome, acquiring another bachelors, and even a masters. So all these years in academia started to pay off in that, around this time, after I’d became a tour director for a major European tour operator, I was able to bring a heightened educational focus to the job. It was such an amazing time: getting the chance to visit Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Athens, London and the like.
Oh, that’s awesome! I’d like to become a tour director too, in the future, but it sounds like a difficult yet rewarding job! Okay, I’m dying to know… what was your inspiration behind Sineni Tours?
Well, for me personally, I feel like it is crucial to continue asking questions; to grow and to perfect one’s passion as much as possible. After having worked as a tour director for quite some time, I’d come to have an enormous amount of ‘in-the-field’ experience. Not just with the cities, but with the travelers themselves, and I felt that tourism was becoming stagnant and it became my goal to inject it with some authenticity and ingenuity. I guess you could say that the era of high fructose corn syrup was ending. My position is not that travel should simply be ‘spring-brekky,’ touristy fun. For me, travel is forgetting to be a tourist. It’s about losing yourself in an experience and it can be a beautiful thing if it’s done correctly.
Yes, I totally understand what you mean. That’s how I feel about travelling, too. So, what are you most excited about Sineni Tours?
First off, I am only half of Sineni Tours, and I would be nothing without the other half. We are a small, creative team with unbelievable creativity and passion. We are excited to make people feel alive with what it means to travel. And for us, what it means to travel, goes hand in hand with what it means to truly confront a different culture, not as a tourist, but as a ‘witness’ or someone who sees and experiences more deeply, and who, ideally, end up discovering something constant and enduring. It almost feels ethereal and cinematic, but it’s the goal we’ve set ourselves.
Couldn’t agree more with you, Michael! What would you say makes Sineni Tours different from other tour companies?
Pretty much everything! Someone once said: “The customer comes second.” That might seem radical, but it basically means that you need to create the perfect environment if you want to perfect the customer’s experience. So, in that vein, we’ve decided to do things radically different. But our tours?! Well, first, we don’t underestimate accommodation. We make sure that when we say ‘central,’ we mean it. Secondly, we don’t price our tours based on dormitory’s. Rather, we have twin rooms. Thirdly, we avoided long transfers between cities–why should you waste your time in transit if we can help you make the most of it? Optionals! All other companies give you the chance to sign up for optionals pre-tour or during the tour. As you know, everyone signs up for optionals on tour, and this drives the price up. So, instead of having optionals be, well, optional, we just built them into the itinerary itself. This gives the correct perception about the final price. In other words, you don’t need to waste time finding an ATM and getting extra cash. Fourthly, we don’t focus solely on the big iconic cities, but rather, we make sure that all our itineraries get off the tourist track and let you see something equally as impressive. We also include tipping in our price! Again, something entirely different from typical companies. We tip all the tour guides, restaurants and bus drivers wherever they are included in the itinerary. And while we do have museum visits (a la the Vatican Museums), we also, sometimes, include city wide museum passes. Take London for instance. We give you a special museum pass which is good for practically every single museum and site in the city. That means you don’t need to pay extra for, say, the Tower of London, or Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, or Westminster Abbey. It’s included. Lastly…drumroll…our tour directors! We hire the best of the batch. We make their lives easier by doing everything above so that they can better take care of you.
Love, love, love that! It truly will help make travellers worry less with all that Sineni Tours will be taking care of. So, it’s true that flights and insurance aren’t included with the pricing, right? Why is that so?
True, we don’t include flights or insurance in our price, but that’s nothing new. Many don’t realize that that is actually the norm, not the exception. The reason why we don’t do it is also because it would cost more as an extra service. But overall (and what some travelers complain about), the traveler might be penalized with unnecessarily long and exhausting flights and/or layovers. So, we give travelers the freedom to choose how they come and go, and we assist them and support them with their searches.
Ah, that makes a lot more sense now. Will you also be one of the tour directors/leaders?
If you’re coming, yes! Right now it depends because we have our third little munchkin on the way. But my wife will be the first one to admit: I’m absolutely itching to get back on the road.
Of course I’ll be coming, and congratulations for you and your family!! Can you tell us a bit more about the awesome hotels that are included? Why didn’t you decide to simply book ordinary hostels like most companies do?
You spend approximately 40% of your time in your accommodation. So, for us, accommodation became vital, not a mere accessory. Plus, can you imagine six young ladies in a hostel using one bathroom and getting ready in the mornings and evenings? You know what I’m talking about. The hotel can play the part of a barn. It must be welcoming; enjoyable. So we included great accommodation, some designer hotels, castles, villas, even some modern and contemporary places. We use it to create an experience. How does it effect our prices? Well, we don’t aspire to become a gazillion dollar corporation. For us, quality always comes before quantity
I’m beyond relieved that a tour company finally understands the hassle of sharing one bathroom with so many ladies! Thank you! Is there anything you can tell us on what to expect from Sineni Tours next year (2018)?
Wouldn’t you like to know? Well, first, yes, there are many things coming for 2018. We intend to design a few more incredible tours and wonderful itineraries, but we can’t show our hand in advance. Would you? What we can tell you, however, is that we have decided to allow different age groups of maximum 15 travelers to contact us privately to have the chance to purchase designer itineraries. Let’s just say, it’s entirely unique.
Awesome, beyond excited to find out more later on! So, Michael, anything else you’d like travellers to know about Sineni Tours?
Yes, we would really love travelers to experience at least one of our tours so that they can confirm for themselves that we mean what we say.
Yes, so true. Lastly, what advice would you give to fellow travellers going after their wanderlust dreams?
People who have seen a lot of the world have a particular feel about them. They just seem like they’ve experienced a multitude of things. In my view, you’ve got one chance at this thing we call life. Take it. It will change you for the better.
A huge thanks to Michael for allowing me to interview him on extra details of Sineni Tours! I hope that you now further understand Michael and all things Sineni Tours. If you have not read my review on Sineni Tours, you can read it here.