Next Stop: Europe Under the Radar

Ljubljana, Slovenia
Photo by kasto80/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Travel advisors need to see the world to sell the world. The places you sell most effectively are those you’ve been to because you’re passionate about them and you know them inside and out.

Ruthanne Terrero

If you need to prioritize where to go next, the trends are showing that the off-the-beaten-path locales in Europe are hot with consumers.

A recent survey of 1,300 travel advisors and managers, conducted by Travel Leaders Group, shows that European river cruises ranked the most popular for luxury travelers. Mediterranean and Baltic cruises were also near the top, as, of course, was, Italy.

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This coincides with the fact that tour operators are placing major efforts on Europe this year. That is certainly the case for Pleasant Holidays, says Jack Richards, CEO of the company, which launched Scotland in March and plans to build out Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Ditto for Travel Impressions, which is also putting a focus on Scandinavia, in addition to new ways to see Italy and Iceland; that’s all based on feedback from travel advisors. David Hu, president of Classic Vacations, says that his company is venturing more into tertiary markets and making it easier for clients to connect from one destination to another.

Visiting under-the-radar places that are not heavily trafficked by tourists has its perks; they often provide an immediate authentic experience that’s more accessible. I would argue they also provide bragging rights to that person who wants to boast about the hidden gem they uncovered on their vacation. Sekita Ekrek of Travel 360 considers Slovenia to be Europe’s best kept secret following her return from that country where she visited Piran, a medieval port town along the Riviera “that oozes charm, with cobblestone streets and a colorful main square.” 

Our Paris correspondent, Richard Nahem, recently discovered Rouen, France, where he toured the city’s old quarter, visiting boutiques, cafes and bookshops and dined at Gill, a two-star Michelin restaurant. Then it was back on the train to Paris, just an hour and 20 minutes away. That’s travel at its best.

The DNA-testing phenomenon has also spurred a wave of travelers seeking to visit their ancestral homes, and Europe is winning big from this trend. Marketing to this group is a no-brainer, but the challenge is that many of the locales in question are certainly less well known.

How do you find experts who can provide your clients with quality experiences, say, in the countryside of a remote region? My advice is to start with those tour operators you are already doing business with for more mainstream itineraries. You may be surprised by what they have to offer that you don’t know about. Be sure you’re with a network that provides access to professional destination experts and beyond that, it’s up to you to uncover the companies that will open doors in remote areas. We asked Jack Bloch, JB’s World Travel Consultants, how he does it, considering his New York agency is completely independent. “You’re always reading,” he says, “And it’s about having relationships with people — people telling you what they’ve done. It takes a lot of time and learning. It’s a 24-hour thing. When someone asks for a certain destination, you start doing a little more research and you’ll find that specialist that only does that place, like just Amalfi or Venice or just Verona. The ones that do the whole region, you need to start questioning. How can they do a whole region well?”

Wherever the next place is for your client, your assignment is clear: it’s time to hit Europe’s hidden destinations to brush up on new places that will wow your clients. Happy travels.

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