Beyond Italy

Italy, Italy, Italy." That's the response from John Unger, business development manager for Escorted Group Tours (www.escortedgrouptours.com), when I inquire about the most popular European destination among the company's group products. Other group-focused tour operators report the same, but that doesn't mean other destinations aren't gaining ground on tourist-giant Italy.  Santorini, Greece

At Escorted Group Tours, a division of the Atlas Travel Network (www.atlastravelnetwork.com), Spain is beginning to pop up on travelers' radars, particularly Barcelona. This may be attributed to the city being a popular pre- and post-cruise add-on.

Unger says clients are also rapidly booking the company's "Highlights of Spain and Portugal" tour. The 14-day trip is priced from $1,850 and features scheduled stops in Toledo, Cordoba, Granada, Gibraltar, Seville, Lisbon, Fatima, Sala-manca and Madrid. Departures continue through the end of the year.

Depending on the tour, Escorted Group Tours either sells to the agent at a net price or pays a commission of 10 percent.

Agent-exclusive wholesaler Travel Bound (www.booktravelbound.com) is also seeing demand for Spain, but the real head-turner is Greece, says Nico Zenner, the company's newly appointed general manager. "The numbers are small, but the increase is tremendous," he says. "Sales have doubled year over year, and we didn't even advertise."

For groups, Travel Bound offers pre- and post-cruise packages in Athens from $134. This tour of the ancient city includes such sights as Zapion Garden, Acropolis Hill and the Plaka. (Thankfully, Athens remains in good shape following the rash of fires that spread throughout the country in late August.) Itineraries can be customized to suit your clients' needs. Travel Bound pays a 10 percent commission.

Meanwhile, Adventures by Disney (www.disneytravelagents.com) is seeing such a strong demand for France that in 2008 it will launch a tour in France's Provence region, coupled with a visit to the country's capital city of Paris.

Adventures by Disney will bring the magic for the kids, or clients may opt for a departure that is only for guests who are at least 18 years of age. Groups are limited to no more than 40 on a trip and as such, Adventures by Disney recommends booking early. Departures begin May 14, 2008, and early booking rates start at $2,159 for adults and $1,949 for children. Adventures by Disney pays a 10 percent commission.