Marc Kazlauskas shares details about Insight’s new Croatia-only itinerary and other new tours for 2014. // © 2013 Thinkstock
TravelAge West recently spoke with Marc Kazlauskas, president of Insight Vacations, about the company’s new packages for 2014, including a journey through Croatia and other new itineraries that reflect the uptick in travel to Europe. From touring a French vineyard and sampling wine with the owner to exploring an exclusive part of the Vatican, Insight gives clients special access and unique, hands-on experiences.
What new vacation packages has Insight added for 2014?
This will be the largest Europe offering Insight has ever had. Europe’s on fire, and we’re one of the best tour operators and specialists to Europe. We’ve added 15 new itineraries next year: eight full itineraries and seven new mini-trips.
One that I think is pretty cool is the Principalities of Europe, which features all the major principalities, such as Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican.
The second one is Croatia – we’ve seen an incredible take-up in Croatia over the years. We have a 15-day tour that basically does the entire country from north to south.
The third new itinerary that I’m most excited about is our Treasures of Eastern Europe tour, which moves through all the former eastern European republics. We now go to 46 of the 47 countries of Europe, so if you want to go to Europe, Insight has got every destination for you.
Why did you decide to create a Croatia itinerary and to expand your Eastern Europe offerings?
Croatia, we’ve seen, is a growth destination. We’ve never had a Croatia-only tour, so we decided now is the right time, and there is a demand there.
Eastern Europe has grown exponentially. Most people are not going to do Eastern Europe on their own — they’re going to look for an escorted journey because they want to be taken around by a tour director.
As for the principalities tour, those are destinations that customers have been requesting, and we decided to make that a key selling point.
How else does customer feedback help shape your tour packages?
That’s primarily where we find our new ideas: what customers write on their comment cards. We also ask agents ‘what’s hot, what are you seeing, what’s selling and what are people requesting that no other tour operator offers?’ One of the things Insight has been known for is our unique itineraries. We are usually the first to explore a destination, and we’re always looking for new itineraries we can offer our clients.
One of your brochures mentions that Insight Vacations “opens doors that are closed to the majority.” What are these experiences like?
We’ve adapted to what guests want, and they want more experiential, hands-on tours, such as going to a winery in France where you meet the owner, who walks you around the vineyard, shows you how he picks the grapes, takes you back into the storehouses and lets you taste the wine. It’s a very hands-on experience that you probably couldn’t get on your own.
Another experience that’s very special to us is in the Vatican. We are one of only three tour operators in the world that has access to the Bramante staircase, a highly exclusive part of the Vatican that tourists don’t have access to. That’s what we give at Insight — these backdoor passes that you can’t get on your own or that would be very expensive if you could.
How do you achieve this special access for your clients?
One way is our buying power. There’s no question that we’re one of the world’s largest producers in Europe. Our longevity and tenure in the destination has helped too — we’ve been doing Europe for 38 years.
Also, our product department has sought out and found these amazing experiences. Being part of an escorted journey also means no queuing. That’s a big deal. When you go to a destination on your own, such as the Eiffel Tower or the Vatican, you could wait hours to go in. We pre-book the times months in advance so that when we arrive, we go right to the front of the line. It would be impossible for you to do that on your own.
Why should clients from the U.S. and Canada tour their own countries with Insight?
Our tour director is going to introduce a destination to you the way you could never do it on your own. By not going with someone who’s an expert, you miss out on so much.
What’s also interesting about Insight is that we sell to an international clientele: the entire English-speaking world. How neat is it to see your own country sitting next to an Australian or a Kiwi or a South African and to be able to experience a destination with them? Imagine driving through Washington D.C. with what’s going in the world and being there with Australians and getting their perspective. It adds a whole different dimension to a vacation.
What other trends have you observed in the industry, and how is Insight responding to them?
We’re seeing that people are coming back to escorted journeys. They’re coming back to touring because they realize it’s the best way to see a destination. So many clients have realized that they could not get an in-depth experience on a cruise or by doing a trip on their own.
We’ve also seen a push toward enjoying the local cuisine, so we’ve added signature dining. One of these experiences is a dine-around, where you get to pick one of three restaurants for that particular evening. People really have become more interested in food and epicurean travel.
Do you have any suggestions for agents to help them book Insight tours with their clients?
To help agents get clients off the fence early, we’ve put an early payment discount into the market so that if clients book and pay in full by Jan. 15, they get 10 percent off. It could be a savings of up to $1,500 per couple — there are huge savings to be had. We encourage agents to use that as a tool to close their Insight Vacations sale.
Also, always suggest to clients a pre-tour hotel stay, because if you’re flying from the west coast, it’s nice to come in a day early to refresh and get to know a destination before you meet your fellow travelers.