By Chloe Govan – March 2020 – 6 minute read
If agents can persuade their clients that escorted tours are about breaking rather than creating barriers, they’ll see a wealth of exciting options open up. .
Cultural ice breaker
An escorted tour doesn’t have to be a bubble-wrapped barrier, it can be a way to build a bridge between two cultures. Although some people get an adrenaline boost from eating something unidentifiable or getting lost in a new city, others can feel stressed or upset in strange places without a guide to support, translate or just instil a feeling of safety.
An escorted tour can leave travellers to focus on enjoying and understanding a destination without worrying about being over charged, eating meat by mistake, getting on the wrong train or engaging in something culturally insensitive without knowing it.
Mark Henderson, Commercial Manager at Travel 2, recommends discussing negative connotations and sweeping stereotypes that customers may have and dispelling them.
One perception is that tours can lead to a loss of freedom but actually many tours are flexible and travellers can often enjoy perks that would never be enjoyed if travelling independently. Henderson says: “For example, one of our partners offers customers the chance to enter Rome’s Sistine Chapel for a private tour with a local expert before it opens to the public, another lets guests visit Egypt’s temple of Luxor after it has been closed.”
Talking about a recent cycling trip he joined in Cuba, Henderson gives another example of the beauty of escorted tours: “There were a few days when I reached my limit and could not continue on the bike – if I had been travelling alone I would have had no option but to walk or get public transport back to my accommodation, but we had a support bus which allowed me to rest and then catch up with the rest of the group so I could complete the day with them.”
According to Edwina Coppock of Titan Travel, intergenerational travel is one of the hottest new trends in escorted touring. “Many bookings on our new Wild Costa Rica tour are parents in their 60s and 70s travelling with their children,” she says. “Tours like this are a great way for family members to spend quality time together, while enjoying an active, adventurous holiday that’s suitable for all ages.” Clients needn’t be confined to a rigid schedule dependent on the needs of a large group either. For Riviera Travel, tailor-made escorted tours are on the up.
“We have seen a real trend towards flexibility and personalisation,” explains Joanne Lynn, Head of Riviera’s Short Haul Product. “Our customers tell us that they enjoy all the benefits of travelling as part of a group, but value the opportunity to tailor the itinerary to their own interests. As a result, we have incorporated points into our tours where clients can make choices about what to do, where to stay and how to get there to create a genuinely personalised holiday.”
As statistics suggest that concerns about flexibility are often the main reason for shunning organised tours, this could be an ideal time to direct clients towards more favourable options.
Solo travellers once struggled to get the same value for money as couples or groups on escorted tours, thanks to single supplements which upped the price considerably, but many tour operators now actively court solo travellers with holidays specially designed for them.
Riviera Travel now includes hotel porterage on all its solo traveller tours, which range from a four-day Paris trip with guided tours of L’Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, Champs Élysées, River Seine, the Louvre and Monmartre to a 16-day journey around Cambodia and Vietnam including a visit to the Angkor Wat temple complex, cycle rickshaw tour of Hanoi and cruise around Halong Bay.
For Leger Holidays, new solo tours in its portfolio for 2020 cover destinations like Krakow, the Italian lakes and Amalfi Coast, Spain’s Andalucia, Majorca and the Roses Coast between France and Barcelona.
Solo escorted tours once covered the classics but they are getting more varied, including more adventurous activities as well as destinations. According to Coppock, the most popular places for single travellers on Titan’s escorted tours include Jordan, Peru and Uzbekistan.
Unsurprisingly, the issue of sustainability is affecting escorted tours too, and ethical and low-impact tourism is predicted to rise in popularity.
Riviera Travel plants a tree in the Austrian deforestation zone for each customer who joins its Tyrol walking tour, while Saga’s new Borneo tour visits ethical wildlife conservation projects and in South Africa Titan works with Mala Mala, a safari camp owned by the local community.
Adante Travels has a new 10-day tour of Jordan which is in the company of an expert archaeologist and visits the Roman town of Jerash and a crusader castle at Kerak, as well as Petra of course. New culture-focused tours from Kirker include Wines of Sicily, a Wine Tour of Georgia and Armenia, the Gardens of Wicklow and a tour that combines Albania and the Island of Corfu.
Hayes and Jarvis has a new tour to Jordan which explores its biblical history, Highlights of Biblical Journey Through Jordan include the Nabatean Red Rose city of Petra, the biblical sites of Mukawir, Bethany and Mount Nebo and the preserved baths, fountains, theatres and colonnaded streets in Roman city, Jerash.
Olympic Holidays have launched escorted tours for the first time this year. Celebration of Ancient Greece is a seven-night tour of Athens, Olympia and Delphi, with highlights including the Acropolis and a Saronic Gulf Islands cruise. There is also a four-night Athens and Delphi tour.
Adagio, which specialises in slow travel focused on culture and cuisine, has some new additions to its portfolio like the seven-night Medieval Portugal history-focused tour or the seven-night Catalan Explorer which visits painter Salvador Dali’s home in Cadaques and the Dali Museum in Figueres. Several companies, including Titan, will be updating their Egypt tours with the addition of Giza’s new Grand Egyptian Museum and a film remake of the Agatha Christie classic Death on The Nile will launch in October, giving the country a further boost.
New tours for Trafalgar include Georgia and Armenia uncovered, recommended for foodies, and Balkan Adventure which starts in Bucharest and ends in Belgrade, covering heritage and history. Riviera Travel is capitalising on the ‘digital detox’ trend with its new tour Himalayan Kingdoms: Nepal and Bhutan. The company invites travellers to ‘step back in time to a world largely untouched by crowds and combustion engines, to a pocket of peace and verdant tranquillity where national happiness is valued more than financial wealth’
Walk on the wild side
Wildlife Worldwide has a new celebrity-lead trip - Madagascar with Mike Dilger. The BBC naturalist takes travellers to the Analamazaotra Reserve, one of the finest primate watching locations in the world and to Ranomafana National Park to spot its 30 endemic birds.
Dive Worldwide has a new trip for those who can’t dive. The Coral Triangle Snorkelling Adventure visits Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago, the most bio-diverse marine area on the planet. The trip includes two nights in Jakarta and 11 nights on the boat.
Titan’s latest Worldwide brochure has a new trip, Kenya Tracks and Trails. The nine-day safari trip visiting the Maasai Mara, Tsavo and Amboseli wildlife reserves an travelling on Kenya’s new express train, the Madaraka Express. It’s also added the eight-day Sicilian Escape.
Ramblers Walking Holidays has a raft of new active breaks including Ethiopia and the Simien Mountains, a 15 or 16 night holiday; the 14-night St Paul’s Trail and the Taurus Mountains trip in Turkey; and a one-week staycation, The Cumbria Way.
Sell around events
Trek America’s new seven-night Trek or Treat Plus tour starts in Houston, Texas and ends in Atlanta, Georgia. It celebrates Halloween with visits to America’s Voodoo capital New Orleans, a driving tour of where Stranger Things was filmed in Georgia, a pumpkin patch in Alabama and a tour of a supposedly haunted plantation house in Mississippi. The operator also has a new ten-day tour of Hawaii.
Newmarket Holidays offers a new tour this year around a once-every-ten-years event - the staging of the world-renowned Passion Play at Oberammergau, Germany. As well as the religous play, tt features two nights in the Austrian Tyrol and a visit to Lake Achensee.
Three themed tours
Trekking in Costa Rica: Titan offers a 15-day tour of the Costa Rican wilderness from £3,199pp. Including a door-to-door pick-up service, flights, 32 meals, and 19 excursions, the tour takes in cloud forests, butterfly gardens and pineapple plantations with wildlife walks and cruises, hiking around a national park and a crocodile safari. Accommodation is in high-quality hotels and lodges.
Wildlife adventures in Mongolia: Saga’s action-packed 15-night Land of the Blue Sky tour of Mongolia is from £4,199pp. It includes visits to nomadic yak and camel-breeding families, optional horse riding excursions and visits to Buddhist monasteries and nature hotspots where wild horses, sheep and eagles roam. Also included is a visit to the Flaming Cliffs in the Gobi Desert, where the world’s first ever dinosaur egg nest was discovered. Accommodation is a mixture of traditional ‘ger’ camps with wild views and conventional hotels.
North Japan for Instagrammers: Riviera’s 14-day Scenic Wonders of Hokkaido trip starts at £4,599pp. The tour, billed as a ‘photographer’s dream’, opens visitors’ lenses to volcanic lakes, mountain peaks, waterfalls, ancient forests containing foxes, bears and deer, and the colourful flower fields of Furano. Also included are tasting sessions at a sake brewery, ceremonial dances and travel on the bullet train.
Three epic tours
Best of Australia and New Zealand: Scenic’s 27-day epic from Melbourne to Auckland also includes Alice Springs and Uluru; Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef with relaxation time in Port Douglas; Brisbane plus Australia Zoo; Sydney; adventure capital Queenstown with a cruise around Fiordand National Park; the Franz Josef Glacier; punting in Christchuch; and geothermal Rotorua. From £8,445pp.
A Trans-America Rail Tour: This 19-day trip from Great Rail Journeys travels from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park, onto Las Vegas plus the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam, through Death Valley, on the Durango and Silverton Railroad through the Rockies and Colorado wine region to Denver, onwards to Chicago and finally ends in New York via Niagara Falls. It also includes rides on the Grand Canyon Railway and several Amtrak routes, like the San Joaquin route through California’s Central Valley. From £4,695pp.
The Ultimate Journey to Latin America: This trip marks specialist operator Journey Latin America’s 40th birthday. The 40-day trip is from £21,200pp and begins in Rio de Janeiro before travellings to the Pantanal, Iguazú Falls, Buenos Aires, El Calafate, Torres del Paine, Santiago, the Atacama Desert, Uyuni salt flats, Lake Titicaca, Cusco, Machu Picchu, Lima, Mexico City, Oaxaca and finally finishes with some down time on the beach in Huatulco on Mexico’s Pacific coast - phew! It departs September 28.