European Travelers Seeking Fewer Countries, Creative Destinations

As some U.S. travelers eagerly plan their European vacation this year or next, tour operators and DMCs are seeing interesting changes in the scope and approach to European travel bookings.

Travel Agent talked with Terry Dale, the president and CEO, United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA); Andrea Grisdale, CEO and sole founder, IC Bellagio, a DMC for Italy; and several tour operators for insight.

More Targeted Scope

While typically American travelers heading to Europe often seek to package many countries into their vacation that’s not always the case this year, given complexities for border crossings, COVID-19 testing requirements and other entry rules for international destinations. Some are still traveling to multiple countries but perhaps a lesser number overall—perhaps two, but maybe not four, five or six. Tour operators have plenty of good options for travelers seeking that. Globus, for example, offers such options as the seven-day “Imperial Escape” itinerary between Budapest, Hungary and Prague in the Czech Republic. It visits two countries. 

While other travelers do still desire a multi-country itinerary, increasingly “what I’m hearing is that consumers are going to stay focused on a particular country," says Dale.

Insight Vacations offers a new nine-day escorted tour, “Country Roads of Andalucia,” which concentrates its focus entirely within southern Spain. Departures are planned through October, with pricing from $2,775 per person, double occupancy. After travelers arrive in Spain, they’ll dive into a tapas tour, sherry tasting and eco-beauty at Doñana National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a Ramsar Wetland Site and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The perks of booking a one-country tour are clear-cut: Once travelers are granted entry to a country, they won’t think about getting tested again or filling out required paperwork for the “next” country on the trip just one or two days later.

“We see people who are going to just relax and catch their breath…and relax in a particular destination,” Dale notes.

Guests on Collette's "Switzerland: Hidden Trails and Majestic Peaks" itinerary will see the Matterhorn. // Photo by Stefano Politi/

In another good example, Collette has an appealing,11-night “Switzerland: Hidden Trails and Majestic Peaks” itinerary with many 2021 departures from August through late October. Guests will visit Zermatt in the shadow of the Swiss AlpsMatterhorn and exploring Vevey within the “Swiss Riviera.” Pricing is from $4,249 per person, double occupancy.

Creative Cities

Coupled with a narrower scope of travel is a more in-depth approach to exploring Europe. So, travelers seek out more creative city experiences, either within a top city itself—perhaps by doing activities that aren’t typically done by first time visitors or by taking day trips to secondary cities within the region that have unique draws.

In the Netherlands, travelers might stay in Amsterdam but visit lesser known sites, or instead, they might opt to stay in Rotterdam, Delft or Arnhem, the latter with a fascinating World War II Museum.

Or, in Croatia, they might do multiple day trips from Dubrovnik, or in contrast, book a hotel stay in Split, Zagreb or even the fascinating isle of Korcula. They could also book a hotel in Bruges or Antwerp, rather than Brussels, Belgium.  

Within Italy, IC Bellagio’s Grisdale cites these suggestions for creative exploring: “Puglia and Basilicata are amazing possibilities for culture, gastronomic experiences and more active options such as hiking and cycling,” adding the Dolomites appeal for “skiing in winter, hiking and cycling in summer, as well as rock climbing.

Other than visiting the usual spots on a vacation to Como, Italy, she says “one could consider this a great location for water sports such as kayaking, wakeboarding, and paddle boarding. Also, one can enjoy many hikes and cycle trails around the lake, there is caverning and a wonderful, relatively undiscovered wine region.”

She adds that Como offers access to other destinations, too, including Milan, Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore and Bergamo, “each fantastic in their own right.”

Or, visitors to Venice could travel on an easy day trip to Verona, or, perhaps choose to stay there as “it’s an amazing city in its own right with easy access to the Franciacorta wine region, Lake Garda and Venice. "Of course, the city itself is famous as the setting for 'Romeo and Juliet' and for its amphitheater dating back to the first century," Grisdale explains.


Bologna // Photo by RossHelen/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

She’s also high on Bologna for its gastronomic experiences and the University of Bologna, founded in 1088; it’s the world’s oldest university in continual operation.

Travelers are increasingly looking for more authentic experiences within a country. “This is not to say that the highlights should not be viewed,” Grisdale stresses. “They are highlights for a reason, of course.”

She continues: “However, we are seeing more and more requests for people looking for live as a local experiences where they can live life through the eyes of a local.” That allows travelers to access amazing history and culture but also “the current climate and seeing the ‘untouched’ aspects of a much loved country.”

Authentic Plus Sustainable

Not only do potential European travelers seek authentic experiences. Our sources, including Dale, revealed travelers are increasingly asking about whether operators have sustainable options. That echoes results from a recent Virtuoso survey of travel agencies, travel advisors and preferred partners in which nearly 70 percent of respondents believed that "traveling sustainably enhances the vacation experience."

Jessica Hall Upchurch, Virtuoso’s vice-chair and sustainability strategist, calls the increased desire for sustainability “the conscious comeback” as travel reopens in new and innovative ways.

Among the companies moving assertively forward on the sustainability front? Dale suggested that we talk with The Travel Corporation and its brands as one example. Under a “Make Travel Matter” mantra, such touring brands as Insight Vacations and Contiki have new experiences selected for the positive social or environmental impact they have on their communities and those who experience them.  

These are chosen based on a robust set of criteria directly tied to the U.N. Global Goals. While on Insight Vacations’ 28-day “Scandinavian Heritage” itinerary, exploring Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, travelers can delve into the history and culture of Norway’s Sami tribe, one of the world’s oldest.

They’ll visit a museum in Karasjok, Norway, devoted to showcasing and preserving Sami history; it has a collection of 5,000-plus cultural heritage objects. The museum advances the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities & Communities, by educating visitors about the Sami community’s resilience and endeavors to safeguard the tribe’s traditional practices.

Contiki’s Berlin-to-Budapest train journey, which travels through Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary, for example, has a new “Refugee Voices” walking tour led by award-winning storyteller, Hesham Moadamani, a Syrian refugee who will relate the horrors Berliners faced in the 20th century and reflect on those facing similar struggles in today’s world.

Also available on Contiki’s new “Portugal City & Surf” itinerary is the new “Cascais Through Art” experience; this urban art gallery is part storytelling experience, part-art gallery, part-open-air museum. It hass revitalized Bairro da Torre, as young, local artists have dressed up the grey, damaged buildings with bursts of color, expression and positivity. As guests walk the streets of Cascais, the tour guide will share thought-provoking stories of transformation and unity.

So, as Americans call their travel advisors for European touring options in 2021 or 2022, more than usual will likely be seeking a tour to one country or two, rather than a tour with six countries. Yes, some will still want those, but the balance is tipping. Consumers are also likely to ask about how to see cities in creative ways or use secondary cities for exploring and to dive deeper into a country's lifestyle. And, increasingly, they’ll ask about sustainable options.

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