With Brexit uncertainty – including the likely fluctuating value of the pound – looming large in 2019, the set costs offered by escorted tours could be an important selling tool for this already booming sector, wherever clients are headed.

“In many cases transport, accommodation, food, tours and much more is all included in the one price paid with escorted tours – giving peace of mind to customers who might need it”

JANE ATKINS, MANAGING DIRECTOR, SHEARINGS HOLIDAYS

Iceland made easy

I’m pacing the pretty streets of Reykjavik, not sightseeing but browsing menus and wincing my way through mental arithmetic as I try to work out the best meal deal. It’s a tricky process, with even a pizza looking like it will set me back £20. Thankfully, for the rest of my stay I’m on an escorted tour with my meals and drinks included and all paid for upfront.

Over the next few days I’m taken round the popular Golden Circle touring route, boggling at how spectacular features like the Gullfoss waterfall and piping hot geysers have barely a barrier around them – so every day the boiling, seething underbelly of this land is exposed to its residents. I swim in a thermal pool and I soak in the Blue Lagoon on my way back to the airport. I’ve covered a lot of highlights in a short space of time and I haven’t broken the bank.

Though Iceland’s on-the-ground prices have improved since my visit, escorted touring remains a useful way to keep costs under control in expensive destinations.

Trends in touring

Keeping costs down is key but the trend for experiential travel continues, in the touring sector too. Newmarket Holidays has introduced small group tours to focus on this aspect including a Food and Wines of Northern Italy holiday and homestays and cooking classes in India.

APT has two new experience-slanted luxury small group journeys in New Zealand for 2019.

“With an increase in demand for tours that cater to smaller groups, these trips allow travellers to venture off the beaten track, explains Head of Sales and Commercial, Angela Waite. “Highlights include an invitation to join locals at their Rotorua home for an authentic Maori dinner, a twilight cruise to Waiheke Island for some wine tasting and a whale-watching cruise in Kaikoura.”

Sri Lanka, where APT also has new dining experiences, is in the consumer spotlight, having been voted top emerging destination for 2019 by Lonely Planet. A lesser-known national park in Sri Lanka, Kumana, is among the rising star predictions from Khiri Travel Founder, Willem Niemeijer, as the Asia-based DMC celebrates its 25 anniversary.

He also tips Nan in Northern Thailand, which has access to Luang Prabang in Laos; Flores – the gateway to Komodo; Cambodian Islands including Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Rong; and Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago.

Japan is booming for many escorted touring operators, thanks in part to the buzz being creared around next year’s Rugby World Cup. A British Airways London-Osaka flight, coming in March, should only increase demand.

Looking further ahead, Saga tips South Korea for growth and has a new tour featuring Seoul, Gyeongju and Busan.

“I believe that as the relationship between North and South Korea is cooling dramatically, the perception of South Korea as a travel destination is becoming more positive and clients are feeling more safe to travel to this fantastic destination,” says Tom Cranshaw, Saga’s Product and Purchasing Manager for Asia, the Indian Subcontinent and Australasia.

Closer to home, Plovdiv in Bulgaria (newly featured by Shearings) is one to watch as it becomes the European Capital of Culture. But with 500th anniversaries relating to Havana, Leonardo da Vinci, the first world circumnavigation and the 50th anniversary of the U.S. making the moon landings among other significant commemorations in 2019, there plenty more to stimulate travel demand.

Top experiences

Passion play: The huge Oberammergau passion play relating Biblical events up to the Crucifixion is staged just once a decade. Operators are already taking bookings for the next, in 2020, when 1,500 Bavarian villagers will mount 100 summer performances. Newmarket Holidays has an eight-day tour that also takes clients to Innsbruck and Salzburg.

Family exploration:Escorted touring operators are increasingly helping families get adventurous. Besides Iguacu Falls and Rio, Explore Travel’s new Family Brazil Adventure Holiday includes a lesson in the ancient martial art of Capoeira in Salvador, a visit to a sea turtle project, jungle survival skills and a night in a hammock in the Amazon with a motorised canoe trip to spot Caiman after dark.

The long and short of it: Acacia is adding more bite-sized itineraries for time-strapped millennials while, for those with more freedom, its longest trip – the new 62-day South Africa to Kenya tour – visits nine countries. Well-established destinations have been combined with lesser-known Swaziland, Lesotho and Malawi.

Going local: Dining with locals is the kind of authentic experience that is increasingly appealing to escorted touring clients. A ‘Be My Guest’ lunch with local craft beer tap house owners is one of the highlights of Trafalgar’s new Cape Cod Delights tour spanning five cities and the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard.

Archaeology under canvas: Unique ways to visit major sites can help convince clients that escorted touring is no longer a passive way of travelling. Rainbow Tours has a new two-day northern Guatemala excursion visiting the archaeological site of Uaxactun on an overnight camping trip. Guests will also be given a guided tour of Tikal National Park.

 

What’s new

Jordan and Petra (with an extension to Jerusalem), plus Sardinia and Corsica and Montenegro (featuring Budva, Cetinje and the Bay of Kotor) are among new touring product from Riviera Travel. The operator has also added a cruise to Antarctica on the MV Ocean Atlantic for 2019.

G Adventures has introduced Maldives island hopping, Taiwan, Senegal and Gambia as well as Wellness Nepal and Wellness India to its mindfulness programme, which features yoga and ashram stays.

Tucan Travel has a new tour to off-the-beaten-track Chachapoyas, a region in northern Peru that was home to the Chachapoyas people before the Incas arrived. The itinerary includes visiting an ancient citadel plus natural attractions.

Elsewhere in Latin America, Exodus has a new Hidden Mexico itinerary focusing on the country’s natural side, visiting a canyon and two biosphere reserves, staying in an eco-lodge and taking boat trips. Cycle the Balkans, covering Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro on two wheels over two weeks, is also new.

Among five new journeys in Insights Vacations’ 2019 Europe & Britain programme is a 10-day Northern Lights Explorer to Finland and Norway.

European hop-on, hop-off specialist Busabout is expanding into the U.S. with a West Coast USA unlimited pass which includes San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas.

 

What the experts say

“We saw a huge growth in escorted touring in 2018. For 2019, we’re meeting demand from a wider audience that wants more variety of touring styles by introducing a dedicated solo touring portfolio as well as new experiential features in our Classic Tours. “The experiential sector in escorted touring is continuing to grow and there’s likely to be a resurgence in tailor-made touring based on more intelligent systems to specifically target individual requirements.

John Warr, Global Sales Director, Wendy Wu Tours

 

Where to book it

Titan’s 14-day Essence of Japan tour is from £3,999pp and visits Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Matsumoto, Takayama, Kanazawa, Hiroshima, Nara, Kyoto and Hakone. Activities include a tea ceremony, three bullet train journeys, city tours, a lake cruise and sake tasting, plus flight and all Titan’s usual services like VIP transfers.

Priced from £1,749pp, Newmarket Holidays’ eight-day Oberammergau & the Tyrol tour includes six nights in the Austrian Tyrol, exploring Innsbruck, Salzburg (the Sound of Music city) and Lake Achensee. There’s also a Category Two ticket for the Oberammergau 2020 Passion Play.

A 13-day Sri Lanka tour with Riviera Travel is from £1,699pp and takes in four UNESCO World Heritage sites – the Golden Temple Dambulla, Kandy, Sigiriya and Galle Fort – plus countryside, beaches and wildlife. It includes three- to four-star half-board accommodation and return flights, with Manchester departures available on selected dates.