YOU TAKE THE REINS

Tai­lored, flex­i­ble, In­sta­gram-friendly itin­er­ar­ies — in­tro­duc­ing next-gen tour­ing

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - BEST TOURS AND TRENDS - PAUL EWART

As hol­i­day-mak­ers be­come more con­fi­dent, de­mand for in­de­pen­dent travel is set to boom, with cus­tom itin­er­ar­ies and self­guided tour op­tions grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity – par­tic­u­larly with Mil­len­ni­als.

Re­cent re­search from Con­tiki sug­gests that 70 per cent of youth trav­ellers want more free time to ex­plore a city their own way, so the tour com­pany has launched its new in­de­pen­dent In­sider trips. De­signed for the next gen­er­a­tion of solo trav­ellers, each of­fers mul­ti­ple ad­dons, cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from a Vespa tour in Rome to cock­tail mix­ing in Am­s­ter­dam.

Sim­i­larly, World Ex­pe­di­tions re­ports that this trend is driv­ing de­mand for self-guided walks and Wendy Wu has re­leased a new Flex­i­ble Tours range. “It gives our guests the op­por­tu­nity to per­son­alise their ex­pe­ri­ence through a range of day tour op­tions,” says Wendy Wu’s head of prod­uct, Bernadette Holmes. “Be it a cook­ing class in Hoi An, or sim­ply en­joy­ing a day ex­plor­ing on foot or by tuk­tuk.”

BIG­GER ISN’T BET­TER

De­spite the pro­lific “big­ger is bet­ter” men­tal­ity, op­er­a­tors are pre­dict­ing a se­ri­ous down­siz­ing in num­bers.

“We’re see­ing a real shift to small group tour­ing,” says Bun­nik Tours man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Den­nis Bun­nik. “A smaller group al­lows for a more im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence with a greater de­gree of flex­i­bil­ity and free­dom for in­de­pen­dent ex­plo­ration.

Chip Popescu, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Europe Hol­i­days, agrees: “De­mand for small group tours is steadily in­creas­ing as spe­cial in­ter­ests have grown and trav­ellers seek more va­ri­ety.” Chip es­ti­mates that this de­mand is as much as 50 per cent for all book­ings and is con­tin­u­ing to rise.

Next year, ad­ven­ture tour com­pany Pere­grine Ad­ven­tures is fol­low­ing the trend by low­er­ing its group size from 16 to 12. “Smaller groups al­low trav­ellers more access to the amaz­ing knowl­edge and lo­cal ex­pe­ri­ence of our lead­ers,” says Pere­grine Ad­ven­tures gen­eral man­ager Robyn Nixon.

YOUNG GUNS

Re­vamped tours are un­der­stand­ably lur­ing younger de­mo­graph­ics which are wak­ing up to the fact that tour­ing doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily equate to im­mov­able itin­er­ar­ies and generic sight­see­ing. Mil­len­ni­als al­ready ac­count for about 20 per cent of the world’s tourists and by 2020 they’ll be tak­ing 47 per cent more in­ter­na­tional trips, which is a lu­cra­tive mar­ket.

Con­tiki is al­ready way ahead, capitalising on the youth mar­ket’s pas­sion for so­cial me­dia with the launch of In­sta­gram SNAP tours. De­signed af­ter re­search revealed that so­cial me­dia is the sec­ond high­est in­flu­encer of des­ti­na­tion de­ci­sions among the youth mar­ket, routes are cu­rated around photo po­ten­tial.

Bus­about have gone one step fur­ther by us­ing user-gen­er­ated pho­tog­ra­phy for their 2018 tour brochures. “We know that Mil­len­ni­als are four times more likely to click through off the back of see­ing a real ex­pe­ri­ence,” ex­plains Bus­about man­ager Tina McIn­tosh.

AS SEEN ON SCREEN

In a sim­i­lar vein, as a re­sult of epic box set marathons, “set-jet­ting” – where fans travel to see the real-life film­ing lo­ca­tions from their favourite movies and TV shows – is fast be­com­ing a le­git­i­mate travel trend.

More and more tour com­pa­nies are re­spond­ing to the in­crease by of­fer­ing tai­lor-made itin­er­ar­ies around the scene-steal­ing back­drops from these iconic shows – whether it’s Twin Peaks in Wash­ing­ton State, or Game of

Thrones’ cap­i­tal of the world, Ire­land.

GET­TING TECH-Y

Of course, with younger trav­ellers comes tech – lots of tech.

“Aus­tralians’ in­creas­ing use of mo­bile in­ter­net, es­pe­cially while trav­el­ling, is mak­ing a big im­pact on how they plan and book their hol­i­day,” says Wo­tif.com travel ex­pert Amanda Behre.

“We’re see­ing more trav­ellers

THIS CRAV­ING FOR IM­MER­SIVE, AU­THEN­TIC EX­PE­RI­ENCES HAS BEEN HEARD

mak­ing tour book­ings through our app and mo­bile site.”

Spe­cific apps to make tour­ing eas­ier are be­ing de­vel­oped. Some of the new­est crop in­cludes Col­lette’s Com­pass Travel – which fea­tures a cus­tomis­able itin­er­ary and de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about at­trac­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences at the touch of a but­ton – and Scenic’s Tailor­made GPS de­vice (on Euro­pean cruises), which al­lows guests to hone their on-board and on­shore ac­tiv­i­ties to their in­ter­ests.

OFF-THE-BEATEN PATH

Get­ting un­der the skin of a place and broad­en­ing your hori­zons isn’t only for the solo ad­ven­ture trav­eller – tour guests now want an au­then­tic and offthe-beaten-path ex­pe­ri­ence too.

“From a des­ti­na­tion per­spec­tive, we’ve no­ticed more in­ter­est in the more re­mote and less crowded routes in iconic des­ti­na­tions,” says World Ex­pe­di­tions CEO, Sue Bad­yari. “Trekkers are choos­ing the In­dian Hi­malaya or a more re­mote trek in Nepal over the of­ten vis­ited trails in the Ever­est or An­na­purna re­gions.”

This crav­ing for im­mer­sive, au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ences has been heard by Avalon Wa­ter­ways, which has upped the ante with an of­fer­ing of more ad­ven­tur­ous and per­son­alised river cruises for 2018, in­clud­ing a new eight-day Ac­tive Dis­cov­ery on the Rhine, which fo­cuses on off-the­beaten-path gems.

LO­CA­TION, LO­CA­TION, LO­CA­TION

While the old stal­warts are still there, the new des­ti­na­tion on next year’s tour hit-list in­cludes a few sur­prises.

On The Go Tours is see­ing huge in­quiries and book­ings for Egypt in 2018, partly due to the sched­uled open­ing of the Grand Egyp­tian Mu­seum. “It will con­tain more than 100,000 arte­facts cov­er­ing 3000 years of Egyp­tian his­tory,” says On The Go Tours gen­eral man­ager, Natalie James. “This will make it the largest ar­chae­o­log­i­cal mu­seum in the world.”

The pop­u­lar­ity of Trav­el­mar­vel’s 2017 Egypt de­par­ture has led the tour op­er­a­tor to add Jor­dan to next year’s itin­er­ary to cre­ate a 16-day tour, Trea­sures of Egypt & The Nile with Hid­den Jor­dan.

The Jor­dan leg vis­its UNESCO world her­itage-listed won­der, Pe­tra, and the Dead Sea.

An­other blip on the 2018 radar is Sri Lanka – a des­ti­na­tion that will be­come in­fin­itely more ac­ces­si­ble with the launch of di­rect flights from Mel­bourne to Colombo with Sri Lankan Airlines last month.

In Asia, Ja­pan con­tin­ues to be hugely pop­u­lar.

“It’s go­ing to be­come even big­ger with greater air­line ca­pac­ity sig­nalling sig­nif­i­cant growth,” says Tom Wal­ley, Flight Cen­tre head of leisure travel . “And Scan­di­navia is an­other of next year’s hottest des­ti­na­tions.”

Trafal­gar man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Matthew Cameron-Smith agrees: “Scan­di­navia was a sell­out des­ti­na­tion for us this year.”

In 2018, the ex­pert pre­dicts that trav­ellers will be set­ting their sights on a Span­ish so­journ. “Year-on-year Spain con­tin­ues to be one of our topselling des­ti­na­tions. In­ter­est in Por­tu­gal is rapidly ris­ing, the com­bi­na­tion of these two coun­tries will be an un­beat­able pair­ing.”

Closer to home, AAT Kings sees Vic­to­ria as a stand­out state for do­mes­tic tourism and, across the Ditch, Princess Cruises is rolling out 50 new shore ex­cur­sions in the next 12 months to cater to de­mand.

“Aus­tralian tourism ac­counts for more than 50 per cent of in­ter­na­tional cruise ar­rivals in NZ,” says Stu­art Al­li­son, Princess Cruises vice pres­i­dent Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

SUS­TAIN­ABIL­ITY RULES

Sus­tain­abil­ity is be­com­ing more of a fo­cus for tour op­er­a­tors as a re­sponse to con­sumers seek­ing out ecofriendly travel op­tions.

Next year, Pere­grine Ad­ven­tures has banned all sin­gle-use plas­tics such as straws, cups and wa­ter bot­tles on board its cruises, while Bus­about has just launched its most en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly fleet of “green coaches”.

Trafal­gar is part­ner­ing with not­for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion One Tree Planted from April 2018, com­mit­ting to plant a tree for ev­ery guest that opts to get their itin­er­ary updates on­line rather than printed.

TRACKS

Walk­ing and cy­cling tours are be­com­ing even big­ger busi­ness in 2018. “We’ve seen a 20 per cent yearon-year in­crease in book­ings across our walk­ing trips,” says Caitlin Ryan, But­ter­field & Robin­son sales man­ager.

“Walk­ing trip book­ings from 2010 to 2016 have shot up

188 per cent!”

As a re­sult, But­ter­field & Robin­son is launch­ing three new walk­ing trips for 2018 in Basque Coun­try, Hol­land and the Cotswolds.

One fac­tor be­hind the rise of cy­cling hol­i­days is the elec­tric bike takeover. These E-bikes are pre­dicted to rev­o­lu­tionise the ac­tive travel in­dus­try in the next decade.

“It has ex­ploded in Europe in re­cent years,” says UTracks gen­eral man­ager Kate Baker. “Sales on the con­ti­nent are more than dou­bling and they’re re­ported to in­crease by 54.7 per cent over the next nine years.”

UTracks will of­fer elec­tric bikes on 80 per cent of its cy­cling itin­er­ar­ies in 2018, while World Ex­pe­di­tions is ex­pand­ing the use of E-bikes on all Viet­nam trips next year.

PIC­TURES: ISTOCK

There are new kids on the block when it comes to global roam­ing. And they want to do things dif­fer­ently. It could be sled­ding in Scan­di­navia, ex­plor­ing Ky­oto, Ja­pan, in a small group, pick­ing tea in Sri Lanka or pho­tograph­ing old store­houses in Trond­heim, Nor­way. Travel firms are lis­ten­ing and tai­lor­ing ad­ven­tures to suit.

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