Tour Ops to Agents: It’s Not Tuesday in Belgium Anymore (by Maria Lenhart; Travel Market Report)

Below is an outstanding article reprinted in its entirety by Maria Lenhart of Travel Market Report on the changing face, product and demographics of group tours. A definite must read for any tour operator, travel agent or supplier/tourist office who works with group tours.

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Tour Ops to Agents: It’s Not Tuesday in Belgium Anymore

Tour products are growing more flexible and customized, they are no longer just for seniors, and they should in no way be associated with the classic movie, “If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium.” Today’s land tours allow clients to become more immersed in local culture than ever.

These were among key points about the changing nature of the tour industry from tour executives on a panel discussion at OSSN’s recent Home-Based Travel Agent Forum in Las Vegas.

A more personal experience
“Fewer and fewer of our tours are like that,” said Peter Worthing, director of sales for Trafalgar Tours, when an agent in the audience asked about the dreaded comparison to “If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium.”

“More of our tours are regional in nature. We are changing the face of guided tours.”

Today, cruises are far more likely than land tours to fit the see-it-all-in-a-short-time mold, said Ari Marom, president of Vared HaSharon Travel & Tours.

“A land tour is much more in-depth; you see much more of the destination,” he said.

Old style tours still sell
However, agents should not assume that the old-style, destination-packed tour has disappeared entirely, said Bob Faucett, director of Religious Tours and co-owner of Unitours.

“There’s a certain segment that still likes the ‘Tuesday’ tour. Sometimes new immigrants to the U.S. will ask for them,” he said. “So don’t assume that they’ve gone away.”

Traveling at leisure
Trafalgar Tours is getting away from the fast-paced tour in favor of products such as its At Leisure program, which features 9 a.m. or later departures and multinight city stays, Worthing said.

The 65-year-old tour company has also launched such cultural immersion features as Be Our Guest, in which tour participants dine in the homes of local families.

“The first one we did was at a farmhouse in Sorrento, Italy, where travelers are greeted at the front door, stroll through the lemon grove out back and then sit down to a huge home-cooked Italian meal with local wine,” Worthing said.

“Each experience is unique. Travel agents can tell their clients that travelers can go to Europe on their own, but they won’t have a Be My Guest experience.”

Responding to agent feedback
Sceptre Tours, which specializes in programs to Ireland, Great Britain and Italy, also has modified its programs to suit changing traveler preferences, according to Marc Kavanagh, president.

“We listened to what our travel agent partners were telling us,” he said.

The result is Groups Your Way, a tour program for groups as small as 10.

“It works well for a family group,” Kavanagh said. “There’s a choice of daily excursions, based on interests. You can develop a unique experience for your group.”

Demographics skew younger
The stereotype of escorted tours appealing only to seniors is also changing, several panelists said.

While the average age for the Trafalgar Tours customer was once in the mid-60s, it is now down to 58, according to Worthing.

Multi-generational business also is booming, he said.

“Multi-generation business should be putting dollar signs in your eyes,” he told the agents. “And the grandparents are footing the bills.”

Family travel
Also noting growth in the family market, Kavanagh said that Sceptre Tours is serving an increasingly younger demographic who are going for options such as pub crawls and the chance to try the traditional Gaelic sport of hurling.

“It’s a very rough form of football – I call it soccer on steroids,” he said.

Demographics are also skewing younger in the religious travel market, according to Marom, whose company specializes in custom and religious tours in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“Some religious organizations are encouraging young people to participate in tours because of the educational value,” he said. “Churches and synagogues are recognizing that too much learning is coming from movies and TV.”

The trends for family travel and customized experiences have also influenced what Vared HaSharon Travel & Tours offers, Marom added.

“In many cases, people are looking to find their personal roots or self-discovery,” he said. “There will be families traveling to Israel to meet their cousins. We’ll do things like help them arrange a Sabbath dinner. These experiences last for a long time.”

Maria Lenhart
Senior Editor, Travel Market Report
Maria Lenhart has covered the travel industry beat for many years, serving in senior editor positions at Meetings Focus, Meetings & Conventions and Meeting News and contributing to Travel Professional, Business Travel News, TravelAge West and other publications. Her articles have earned awards from the Society of American Travel Writers and the American Society of Business Press Editors. A former assistant travel editor of the Christian Science Monitor, she has written for many newspaper travel sections and consumer magazines and is the author of Hidden Oregon; Destination Specialist: France and other books. She lives in San Francisco.


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