Talking with the Pros: What do Travelers Want?

We reached out to several tour operators to see what trends they were noticing in the business. Last week, several operators talked about the ongoing trend of last-minute bookings. Now, we ask that unanswerable question: What do travelers want?

Like several of last week's commenters, Nigel Osborne, president of Virgin Vacations USA, said that he is noticing more impulse consumers (30 percent of their business is booked for travel within 60 days). But, he cautioned, last minute doesn't mean low-price. "Last week, we had a booking for two [that was] over $10,000 to Italy." The tour, he said, took the guests by train to small towns and small hotels as well as Rome and Florence. "The consumer is looking more into value than low price," he noted.

Marc Kazlauskas of Insight Vacations agreed. "Customers are definitely looking for more inclusives and less nickel-and-diming," he said.

Meanwhile, Paul Wiseman, president of Trafalgar, said that travelers are looking for exclusive experiences in destinations that are unique to that destination as well as experiences that give them an “inside” perspective on the local culture.

Pamela Lassers of Abercrombie & Kent pointed out the increased need for a genuine escape in an overly connected world. "Clients stressed out by checking [their] phone and e-mail are searching for places completely off the grid—no phones, no fax, no Internet," she said. Extreme adventures (like dogsledding or skiing to the South Pole) are also popular, she added, as are journeys to endangered destinations like Antarctica, Mt. Kilimanjaro or the Himalayas.

Melissa McKee of Collette Vacations said that small group tours have grown in popularity. "Typically younger than the traditional escorted tour passenger, these travelers find hands-on cultural immersion an appealing component of their vacation," she said. "The benefits they associate with touring with a small group are a more leisurely paced tour, freedom to explore on their own and cultural discovery. Travelers are also looking for culinary experiences—perhaps a cooking demonstration, a wine tasting, or dinner at smaller, more intimate restaurants that provide local atmosphere."

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