Tour operators have evolved their itineraries over the past few years so that their customers are more immersed in the destinations they are visiting. Rather than standing around and watching a glassblower create a beautiful sculpture, clients might today visit his home studio instead, learn about the life he is living and even try their hand at the craft themselves.
Today’s travelers want to have real conversations with the people they meet along the way, rather than silently observe what they do and then move on. They want to know what it’s truly like to live in the city they’re visiting, where to shop, where to eat real food and not something off a menu designed for tourists. It’s enticing to forego the traditional city tour to go to the edge of town where a new neighborhood might be emerging, with unique shops and cafes and artist studios.
We asked our top tour executives what they are doing to help today’s traveler “live more like a local.” All noted that they’ve always provided opportunities for their customers to be immersed in the cultures of the places they’re seeing. In fact, that’s the premise on which many of these companies were built.
With each passing year, however, it’s clear that programs are increasingly taking their guests off the motor coach, or out of their luxury hotel, and smack into the pulse of the place that they’re visiting.
One of my favorite responses was from Jack E. Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays.
“The majority of our travelers actually don’t want to live like a local; that is not our market. Our travelers want a vacation with a well-appointed room that comes with daily maid service and an incredible view. They do, however, want an authentic experience of the destination,” he told us. For that reason, his Pleasant Activities brand is adding in immersive cultural experiences, private tours and the chance to eat at local restaurants.
Our tour operators agreed that the mindset of their clients continues to change. Today’s traveler, no matter the age, wants to be more active on vacation. They’re curious, hands on, and certainly not sedentary.
David Hu, president of Classic Vacations, says it’s not just about how old the traveler is.
“I would not attribute recent trends toward authenticity as age driven, but rather people have been saturated with the ‘run-of-the-mill’ experiences and continue to strive for that story that they can tell,” Hu told us.
Today’s consumers are also more health conscious, realizing that laying in the sun for five hours or over-indulging in the evening on fatty foods and alcohol isn’t the healthiest thing to do. That’s clear to tour operators as well.
“Wellness and adventure travel are continuing to grow across all age groups,” says John van den Heuvel, president of GOGO Vacations. He adds that, “Multigenerational travel is becoming increasingly popular, and in long-haul destinations as well.”
All told, our executives noted that the travel agent distribution channel is incredibly important to them. It’s their lifeblood and for that reason they’re constantly adding to their toolboxes that will allow agents to be more successful in selling their products. Technology is getting better every year, so that agents can seamlessly book a sophisticated itinerary. You are very important to the players in the tour operator arena.