Travel to Britain Surges Into 2014

London’s Big Ben keeps time in the timeless capital of a perennially favorite country for Americans.

The sun never sets on Britain as a tour destination, and judging from what we are hearing from several Europe operators, the UK is as popular as ever heading into 2014. Here’s a sampling of what agents can look forward to this year.

Jennifer Halboth, director of channel marketing for the Globus family of brands, told Travel Agent that the gap between Britain and Globus’s “No.1” seller, Italy, has been steadily closing over the last few years. Ireland tours are also increasingly popular, she said. 

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“Everything can be cyclical. Last year, we were worried that London would suffer from an Olympic hangover. We couldn’t afford for that to happen, so last year, we focused on Britain.” Tours to the UK and Ireland finished 2013 up 60 percent across all Globus brands. “And we haven’t hit the main booking period yet,” Halboth added, noting that most tours to Britain are booked in January and February. 

Smaller groups and those looking for independent tours are still booking at the last minute, she added. Globus’s Monograms brand now offers daily departures to London, so small groups and families can decide to try a quick UK getaway at the last minute. 

Britain and Ireland, along with Italy, “remain top-selling destinations” for Trafalgar as well, says the tour operator’s President Paul Wiseman. Among Trafalgar’s new itineraries for 2014 are the 10-day Delights of London & Paris, and 18-day Wonders of Europe, an “At Leisure” itinerary across the UK, France, Switzerland and Italy. Trafalgar has also joined forces with Celtic brand Brendan Vacations to offer a collection of Ireland and Scotland vacations. These include 12 guided programs and a range of customizable independent travel options. 

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Just before the holidays, Kier Matthews, vice president of sales for Europe Express, came by Travel Agent’s New York offices to share some updates. Matthews was eager to talk about Europe Express’ new website, due to launch in late January or early February. The site, he said, will recreate the operator’s online booking process to incorporate train tickets, airport transfers and other elements beyond hotels and other essentials. “We have an advisory board of agents,” he explained, “and they suggested what was needed. Many want to book online, but others don’t. We must be able to serve them all.”

Europe Express also released its top five destinations for the year, with the UK leading the pack. Contributing to its success, in the operator’s view, is that England is ideal to combine with the nearby nations of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, thanks to easy access via air and rail, and no language barrier. 

It’s no surprise then that CIE Tours President Brian Stack has seen a big increase in trips combining Ireland with Scotland or the UK.

Insight Vacations, which had a productive 2013, reports that many of its tours are already selling out in 2014. While citing Italy as Insight’s “No.1 favorite year after year,” President Marc Kazlauskas also noted that Scotland and Ireland “are always popular as well.” In fact, those two and Britain ranked fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively, among Insight’s top 10 countries last year.

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