Pleasant Holidays: Secondary European Cities Enticing Travelers

If travelers have been to the most popular European cities in a particular country, such as Rome, Florence and Venice in Italy, they're now increasingly eyeballing other city-stay options within that same country, such as Milan or Sorrento.

"We’ve now added 200 hotels in Europe alone since the 2020 pandemic began, and we continue to add more,” says Jack Richards, president and CEO, Pleasant Holidays, who heads up that vacation package brand, a separate luxury brand, Journese, and an international air consolidator, Air by Pleasant, which has a primary air focus of Europe.

So, in Italy, for example, Pleasant Holidays and Journese now offer new vacation stay options not only in Milan and Sorrento but also Lake Como, Tuscany and Verona, among other spots.

So, guests can relax at the Hotel Indigo Verona – Grand Hotel des Arts, and then head out to enjoy culinary and wine delights as well as Roman ruins, including an incredibly well-preserved arena. Ancient sites in Europe that are off-the-beaten-path continue to draw American visitors who've seen Rome's Colosseum or Athens' Parthenon on a past European trip.

Simply put, “secondary” European cities offer amazing experiences and cultural and heritage sites for visitors to explore. Despite that, they're often less well-known to Americans, who may previously have visited those big, marquee cities. But while isolated during the pandemic, consumers also have dug deeper into a country they hope to visit, and are discovering off-the-beaten-path options. 

“Even during the pandemic, we’ve put a lot of time, energy and resources not only into building up the primary markets but also the secondary markets,” emphasizes Richards. So, “in Austria, it’s not just Vienna, but Salzburg as well,” he says.

Hotel Goldener Hirsch

Hotel Goldener Hirsh is among the city stay options offered in Salzburg, Austria by Pleasant Holidays. 

Pleasant Holidays’ guests now can choose such hotels as the Hotel Goldener Hirsh, a Luxury Collection Hotel; the Holiday Inn Salzburg City; and the Sheraton Grand Salzburg. Customized arrangements then turn the vacation into an even more personalized getaway.  

Other new secondary options? In addition to offering stays in Barcelona, Spain, “we now offer Valencia, Costa del Sol and Cordoba,” Richards emphasizes. In Germany, “we’ve expanded out beyond Munich and Berlin, and now offer Nuremberg, Hamburg and Stuttgart.”

In Stuttgart, guests can stay at Le Meridien Stuttgart; while in Hamburg, they might check in at their hotel and the venture out independently or on a private tour to explore maritime history at multiple spots.

By far, though, the biggest number of additions for Pleasant Holidays and Journese has been and is still happening within Greece. According to Richards, the company currently is working to set up an electronic connection of 90 to 100 hotels in the Greek isles, giving consumers a sizable range of new choices with instant pricing and inventory; it's a bit too early for more specifics. 

“Our top destination right now is Greece...up 10 percent from 2019,” Richards says about overall bookings. Among other top spots, Italy and Spain are doing well. Portugal bookings are up 162 percent from 2019, but that's based on smaller numbers to start with, a situation that also applies for Pleasant Holidays bookings for Iceland.

Tyn Church in the Old Town of Prague, Czech Republic.

Among top countries for Pleasant Holidays' European bookings is the Czech Republic; Old Town Prague is shown above. // Photo by Getty Images/Yasonya

Among other top performers for Pleasant Holidays and Journese, “Hungary also is in the Top 10” as are Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic,” he adds. That said, “all of those will be down [compared] to 2019” because that was what Richards calls "a record year" for Pleasant Holidays.

Certainly, the recent European Union decision to open up to vaccinated American visitors is propelling bookings, though. “I can tell you that the moment the announcement was made, we definitely saw a corresponding difference not only in interest but bookings to Europe,” Richards stresses. 

“It was very dormant as you might expect for a long time, and then once that announcement was made, once the airlines started adding back transatlantic flights, we started to see a pick-up,” he says, noting that the momentum is building.

That said, tour operators and those offering destination packages don’t yet know what the rules and regulations are or will be for every individual country in Europe. 

“I think we’re making progress, but we’re very early in the game,” Richards acknowledges. But he believes “it will continue to get better and better over the next four to six weeks.”


Several airlines are increasing flights to Barcelona. // Photo by Getty Images

Looking at transatlantic flights from the U.S. to Spain, United Airlines just announced that it plans to resume five-times-per-week service between Newark Liberty International Airport and Barcelona beginning in July and six-times-per-week service between New York/Newark and Madrid beginning in July.

Delta currently serves Madrid daily from John F. Kennedy International Airport and will add three-times-per-week service from JFK to Barcelona beginning June 6 and from Atlanta beginning August  5. American Airlines currently offers daily flights to Barcelona from Miami and Madrid from Dallas Fort Worth, and plans more flights to Madrid starting June 17 from both Miami and New York’s JFK.

Pleasant Holidays' portfolio has grown sizably and now encompasses vacations in 22 European countries—from Slovenia where guests can book a stay at the InterContinental Ljubljana, to multiple cities in Croatia with guests heading to Zagreb perhaps for a stay at the Canopy by Hilton Zagreb City Center

Another trend for European travel? Richards sees that “people are flying nonstop and staying in the city in which they land.” So, not traveling all over to multiple countries in the same way in the past. Cost is one factor, as is the ability to social distance, he reports: “They don’t want to get into crowded airports and keep moving around all the time. They want to get there and stay there.”

Richards says “that will probably continue throughout 2021," but "we expect that to change in 2022.”

Who’s heading to Europe? Pleasant Holidays and Journese are seeing mainly couples and multi-generational families.

One of the highest growth areas for 2021 and beyond for Pleasant Holidays and Journese—as well as other tour operators and customized package suppliers, such as Luxury Gold or Abercrombie & Kent, to name a few—is the rise in demand for customized, private arrangements. This could mean a private city tour, or getting off the beaten path and heading into the countryside or a secondary destination to tour for the day in a more personalized way.

During the pandemic period, "we have added a bunch of what we’re calling private excursions throughout Europe,” Richards says, citing everything from walking tours to food tours. “What we’re finding is that people do not want to travel in groups of people anymore. They want it very limited, very private.”

So, for example, Pleasant Holidays offers “Florence off the Beaten Track” with a local guide, so guests on a private excursion can “do wine tasting or stop into his favorite restaurant for an espresso," according to Richards. That's true as well for Madrid, Spain.

Another hot trend? Richards reveals that guests are increasingly opting for private transfers, not a shuttle bus for six or eight people, or a larger group transfer. That includes airport transfers whether in Dublin, Ireland; Tivat, Montenegro; Brussels, Belgium; or another European destination.

Stay tuned as Travel Agent will examine the trend of private excursions with a range of operators in an upcoming story!

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