Vaccines Propel European Tour Desires; Operators Talk Trends


Increasingly, consumers eager to travel to Europe are saying, “sooner rather than later" when planning a European tour. Simply put, as more people become vaccinated, "they’re starting to feel a lot more comfortable about traveling,” reports Guy Young, president, Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold.

Late last year and early in 2021, Young’s brands experienced strong pent-up demand for European bookings, but he says those bookings were “heavily skewed into 2022. Now, it’s more of a ‘recalibration,’ and we’re seeing more clients booking for 2021."

Globally, “we’re currently pacing at nearly 200 percent over this same time in 2019 for advance bookings,” says Steve Born, chief marketing officer, the Globus family of brands. He, too, is seeing a steady rise in new bookings for travel in the latter-half of 2021 including those for Globus' and Cosmos' European products “with booking volume seeming to match the acceleration of vaccinations.”

Demand for European touring is definitely building, “the floodgates are going to open once again and Europe is going to be as popular as ever,” believes Stefanie Schmudde, vice president, product development, Abercrombie & Kent.

At the same time, Schmudde says "what we have seen from our guests is that people desire to slow down" and more fully savor the vacation experience. That's one emerging trend for European touring, and here are others cited by the three executives.

More Small Group Departures: For Europe, “Insight has definitely seen an increase in inquiries for small group departures,” says Young, noting that the brand recently introduced a number of small group journeys, which are limited to a maximum of 24 people. 

Guests have a wide choice of small group tours that visit such European destinations as Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Sicily, Malta, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and eastern and northern Europe, among other spots across Europe. For example, an 11-day "Country Roads of Bavaria, Switzerland and Austria" itinerary travels in 2021 between Munich, Germany and Zurich, Switzerland. Fares begin at $4,059 per person double. One highlight? That tour includes a travel experience on the famous Glacier Express, through tunnels and viaducts in the Swiss Alps

Young also reports that many of these small group departures are increasingly being booked and customized as private groups with as few as 12 people. That's ideal for a family or a group of friends and guests say they feel more secure traveling with people they know and in an even smaller group.

Globus and Cosmos have been “focused on ensuring we keep guests comfortable and safe, both in mind and body," says Born. His company has introduced "Small Group Discovery" options for all 2021 and 2022 tours worldwide, as well as created heightened health and safety protocols that go above and beyond local guidelines."

One "Small Group Discovery" option is the nine-day “Warsaw, The Baltics and Helsinki” tour, which starts in Poland, continues through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and ends in Finland. It begins at $1,994 per person double occupancy for 2021 travel or $2,069 per person double occupancy for 2022.

A&K also has many smaller group options too, among them "Connections Boutique Group Journeys" for a maximum of 18 guests. These include authentic local interactions, boutique accommodations and a A&K Resident Tour Director. 

Desire for Culinary/Wine Enrichment: Culinary and wine experiences continue to soar in popularity with tour goers, and most European tour operators have added new dining options, whether dine-around, special event dining or culinary-focused shore excursions.

For example, "we’ve added a new feature for 2021-22," Schmudde says, pointing to a Basque cooking club experience within A&K’s “Bilbao to Bordeaux: Celebrating Cuisine and Culture” tour. Traveling between Spain’s Basque country and France’s Bordeaux region, that nine-day tour is priced from $9,295 per person double occupancy, and the tour is limited to 18 guests.

Basque cooking clubs or “Sociedades gastronomicas” are private members-only cooking clubs and a staple of Basque culture. So, A&K’s tour guests will delve into the local lifestyle as they come together with local families and their friends to cook, eat and share stories. 

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Young, too, cited culinary programs as continuing in popularity including dine-around programs, such as in Dubrovnik's Old Town (shown in the photo above). Separately, he  mentioned the opportunity for foodies to meet a local oyster farmer and learn about the cultivation of oysters on an Adriatic region shore excursion. 

Flexibility Becomes a Macro Trend: “Flexibility within the touring itinerary is a macro trend,” says Born. "Choice Touring by Globus" offers a series of tours with a choice of excursions throughout the itinerary, and the company added more of those this year.

In other words, flexibility rules and even more so during this era. “Travelers can put their personal stamp on their tour experience by choosing from a curated selection of engaging, experiential and fun excursions during the course of their tour," Born stresses.

For example, on Globus' "Oh My Goddess: Greece By Design" itinerary, guests can choose "On a Roll in Volos," a leisurely half-day bike ride in the Greek coastal port city of Volos. Accompanied by a local guide, travelers can soak up the great outdoors/nature while pedaling along trails past ancient landmarks.

One of Born's personal favorites? It's a truffle hunting outing in Umbria, Italy; tour guests learn about the art of truffle hunting from local farmers and watch a truffle-hunting dog in action.

“Bucket List” Trips with Private Air: A&K's Schmudde notes that as the vaccine rollout expands, travelers are responding by planning bigger and more rewarding trips to celebrate missed milestones. Newly redesigned for fall 2021, A&K's “Wings over the Mediterranean,” a 13-day vacation, priced from $29,995 per person, gives up to 13 luxury travelers (maximum capacity) great “geographic reach” to discover ancient and modern sites around the Mediterranean.

The plus is that the itinerary covers more European territory than normally possible in one journey yet isn’t stressful or tiring, thanks to timesaving private air. Highlights include art and history in Portugal and Spain, ancient artifacts and ruins in Naples and Pompeii, Italy, visiting Dubrovnik, Croatia and a traditional silk weaver, and more.

In addition, "Wings" journeys can be customized for private parties and guests stay at five-star hotels and explore with their own local guides.

Other European tour trends? Young cited women's group travel, while Born mentioned that in today's booking environment, "trust and reliability are just as important as experience" to potential guests.

Look for more stories about these emerging trends—such as stories focusing on creative city touring, a focus on nature/outdoor adventure, off-the-beaten-path travel and more—in the coming weeks here on this Europe page.

One fact is clear, though. Increasingly, guided European tours are being viewed as an important safety net for people who opt for a European vacation in 2021 or beyond. Travelers vaccinated against COVID-19 increasingly desire to travel but in this pandemic era, even experienced travelers are somewhat leery of being alone in a foreign land during an era of changing rules and travel regulations.

One of the best benefits of a guided tour is that "we take care of all details," emphasizes Young. "That’s always been one of the great selling features of tours, but in the current environment, it’s all magnified.”

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