At USTOA’s Annual Conference & Marketplace in Boca Raton, Florida this past weekend, we caught up with Collette Vacations EVP Paula Twidale to see how the operator is anticipating travel to Europe to change next year.
First, some figures: USTOA’s recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found that many Americans are looking to travel internationally. This past year, two thirds (66 percent) of USTOA member business was booked by U.S. residents traveling to international destinations, with 40 percent of those travelers visiting Europe.
For the coming year, the report tagged Italy, the United Kingdom and France as among the top destinations, and listed several countries as "emerging" for 2015, including Iceland and Croatia.
Collette, Twidale said, is already preparing for increased demand to these "up-and-coming" regions. “Now, those numbers are not as high as some of the Italys and Frances and Irelands of the world,” she acknowledged, “but the thing is, there is a demand. So if there's more product, that demand will grow. The propensity to grow in those areas is high and we're catering to that.”
Looking Ahead to 2015
Collette is launching a number of new Spotlight Tours for 2015, most of which will be in Europe, Twidale said. London, Paris, Madrid and Barcelona will be among the top cities for these tours, which use a single hotel as a home base for a brief tour of a region.
“It's one hotel stay, so they're unpacking once and [don’t have] to unpack again,” she said. “It caters to the folks that don't have a lot of time and that want the freedom and flexibility of just unpacking, relaxing, and enjoying the destination...We've had a lot of demand for folks that are looking to perhaps go to just a specific city, like Rome, London or Paris, and perhaps they want to bundle them together.”
These tours, Twidale added, are highlighted in Collettes’ 2015 brochure. “We are still launching additional products for 2016 [including] Ireland and France, and certainly Iceland in another one to two years.”
Guests on these tours can also extend their trip to see more of the main city or visit another region on the platform--for example, thanks to the new direct train from Barcelona to Paris, visitors can book Spotlight Tours in both cities and have one immediately follow the other.
In order to adapt quickly to new demands, Twidale said, Collette uses regular focus groups and consults with travel agents about where their clients want to go. “We open up a sales floor out there at the culture point, working with the travel agencies to see what's up and coming and where people want to go--and it matches up with statistics, of course.”
Top Regions, Top Tours
Italy, Ireland and the UK are Collette's top destinations within Europe, Twidale continued, expressing some surprise that they have held onto their positions at the top of the list for so long. But some other areas are seeing increased traffic, she continued, including Spain, Portugal and France.
Twidale estimates that Collette offers 20 tours in Italy, covering everything from the full country to specific regions to individual cities. “Go on the Italian Vistas tour so you can see all the capital cities--you can go to Rome and Florence and Venice and Sereneso and Verona,” she noted. “You may want to go into just a wine region like the Piedmont Valley and stay in those areas so that you can taste the differences in the wines and the culinary experiences and see the little villages.”
Ireland is also increasing in both demand and tour options, Twidale noted. “We used to have just the ‘Shades of Ireland’ tour. We've expanded now to ‘The Emerald Isle Tour’ and ‘The Treasures of Ireland’ and some of the religious aspects and castle stays and things like that.”
Spain and Portugal have also seen expanded tours to cover multiple regions and extensions that Twidale said keep a tour affordable with value-added propositions. “People can feel there's freedom and flexibility to move with that,” she said.