With summer in full swing, Travel Agent reached out to several tour operators to get the scoop on which European destinations are trending this season. Many of the usual popular destinations have again topped the list this year, namely Italy, France, Spain and England. However, some operators we spoke with report a growing interest in travel to the countries of Portugal and Croatia during this summer.
“Looking at our bookings for June, July and August this year, the most popular European destinations – both in terms of top countries and top cities – are very similar to those that are best-sellers throughout the year,” says Harry Dalgaard, founder and president of Avanti Destinations. “It is true that while some destinations are popular all year long, a higher percentage of European bookings (nearly 50 percent of the 12-month total) are for the summer months. That is true in England and Iceland, in particular. Almost all of our Croatia bookings are for the summer months.”
Dalgaard notes that Avanti’s top-selling European countries for this summer, in descending order of volume of bookings, are Italy, France, England, Spain, Ireland, Germany, Scotland, Greece, Switzerland and Austria. Meanwhile, in terms of sales for European cities, Rome, Paris, London, Florence, Venice, Barcelona, Sorrento, Edinburgh, Munich and Dublin all rank at the top in terms of popularity.
The majority of Avanti’s bookings throughout all destinations are customizable and are booked exclusively through travel agents. However, the operator offers a number of European packages involving products that are typically only available during the summer months.
The “Military Tattoo in Edinburgh, Scotland” itinerary runs from August 4 through August 26. Travelers spend three days and two nights in the capital city and will experience the Military Tattoo, which consists of an evening of music from the Massed Pipes and Drums of the Scottish Regiments. Avanti also offers several small-ship cruises through Croatia which are only available during the summer, including the “Croatian Highlights” cruise, an 11-day/10-night itinerary that can be booked for travel between May and September. Guests will see some of the country’s most popular tourist destinations including Opatija, Split, Hvar, Korĉula, Dubrovnik and the capital city of Zagreb. There is also the 10-day/nine-night “Scents of Croatia” itinerary, which begins with a walking tour of Zagreb and an opportunity to visit Upper Town, St Mark's church and the Croatian National Theatre.
Travel Agent also spoke with Adrian Hall, director of business development at The International Kitchen (TIK), about some of the trends he’s seen regarding culinary-based travel to Europe this season.
“In Italy, summer 2018 has been a great season for perennial favorites Tuscany and Campania,” he tells us. “As more mass market suppliers enter the culinary segment of the market, the challenge for tourists in these heavily trafficked regions is to find the kind of authentic person-to-person experiences that Italy is known for.”
Hall reports that TIK’s “Mediterranean Cooking Experience” continues to be a best seller for this reason, and notes that in Tuscany, one of the operator’s new program called “Living the Real Tuscan Dream” has been met with positive feedback from travelers. The week-long program allows for guests to experience farm-to-table cooking in the vineyard setting of a chef’s childhood home. TIK’s other best-seller in Tuscany this summer is “Antinori's Noble Tuscany,” which offers a mix of cooking activities, sightseeing, and an emphasis on high-end Tuscan wine.
Most recently, Hall says Portugal continues to grow in popularity during the summer months. “Word is getting out that it offers great food and wine, historic cities, natural beauty and plenty of coastline without the crowds and cost of better established European tourist destinations,” he says, adding that the country represents an opportunity for something new and “slightly exotic” to seasoned European travelers who have already visited Italy, France, and Spain in past seasons.
TIK’s most popular itinerary for 2018 is “Delectable Portugal in Historic Évora,” a UNESCO World Heritage city, which draws interest among history and architecture buffs. Guests can learn about the culinary traditions of the Alentejo region from a chef, as well as gain knowledge about the area’s history.
Jon Grutzner, president of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, reports similar patterns in volumes of bookings to European destinations this season.
“Insight’s top European destinations this summer include Ireland, Portugal, Croatia, and of course Italy, the perennial favorite,” he tells Travel Agent, adding that as the market continues to be strong, premium escorted trips remain very attractive to guests. “The direction the market is going is toward more authentic experiences that allow for human connection.”
This trend can be observed on some of Insight’s sold-out itineraries, including the “Country Roads of Croatia” tour. Guests accompany Tomislav, an oyster farmer, to his floating barges and watch him harvest oysters directly from the sea, and later sample fresh seafood. Another sold-out itinerary is the “Country Roads of Portugal” trip, where guests travel to Quinta de Marrocos, home of the Sequeira family, to learn about wine making and have a farm-to-table dinner.
“Of course Great Britain and Ireland are always popular destinations,” Grutzner adds, reporting that Insight’s “Britain & Ireland Explorer” itinerary is one of the operator’s best-selling trips this year. On this trip guests meet a master craftsman at the House of Waterford Crystal in Waterford, Ireland, and learn how the items are made. Later, in County Kildare guests join an equine professional for a behind-the-scenes look at the Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens.