Long known for offering escorted vacations, Cosmos is branching
out into something new: self-drive packaged vacations in the U.S.
Fly-drive packages have long been a popular choice abroad,
especially in Europe, but less so in the U.S.
That may change, as more tour operators known for escorted
programs jump on the increased interest in FIT travel and as U.S.
travelers look for vacations closer to home.
For Cosmos, the step toward FIT vacations was a natural
evolution of their product line, said Phillip Gordon, chief
operating officer for Group Voyagers Inc., the parent company for
Cosmos and its sister brand Globus.
“It will help us reach out to a different audience, specifically
the family market,” said Gordon, who is based in Littleton,
Cosmos’ “On The Road” tours are commissionable 10 percent on air
and 13 percent on land.
The vacations are designed to appeal to independent-minded
travelers looking for the value and convenience of a packaged
Travelers pick their itinerary, which can be booked any day
within the season (April-October).
There are 12 destination options, from eight days around New
England, to the “Great Southwest,” which takes travelers from Los
Angeles to Monument Valley via Phoenix and back through Las
The package can include airfare, car rental (with Alamo),
pre-selected hotels (Holiday Inn Crown Plaza, Sheraton, Best
Western or Ramada Plaza), and recommendations for sightseeing.
On the first day of the vacation, travelers meet with a Cosmos
official for a briefing on the journey, and receive their “TripKit”
with maps, driving instructions, and suggestions for stops along
the way. There is also a 24-hour call service.
Cosmos has always focused on budget-conscious travelers.
But self-drive vacations will appeal to families in particular
because children under 11 who share a room with two adults stay
free and are not charged in the rental car fee.
Travelers can also choose the land-only option, and drive their
own car. Pre- and post-night extensions are also available.
For a family of four with one child under 11, for example, the
Florida Explorer vacation (8-days from Miami to Cape Canaveral,
Orlando and down the Gulf Coast), including a quad hotel room and
full-size car, would be $1,134 (land only).
That amounts to about $35 per person, per day.
The Travel Industry Association reports that car travel was up 3
percent in the first half of 2002.
But this year gas prices are up again in mid-February they
reached the highest level in 18 months averaging $1.60 per
Still, with war on the horizon, North American vacations are
likely to have more appeal.
Classic Custom Vacations also launched three new self-drive
itineraries this year, in Florida, Arizona, and California.
These tours are fully customized, with options including air,
car, attractions, and pre-booked upscale hotels. Collette
Vacations, which has offered self-drive travel programs in Canada,
also branched out to the U.S. last year.
Charlie McIlvain, chairman of the National Tour Association,
said, “We’re going to be seeing more programs of that type, the FIT
market is emerging more and more.”
Baby Boomers, in particular, “want more flexibility in their
travel plans ... than seniors do or did.”
Sure, car travel offers the benefits of air conditioning and
fewer bugs in your teeth. But what could be better than hitting the
open road on a Harley?
So contends Charlie McIlvain, president and CEO of Idle Time
Tours of Dallas-Ft. Worth. A small tour operator known for escorted
vacations, Idle Time this month launched “Texas by Motorcycle,” for
FIT or group travelers.
The motorcycle tours include rental of a Harley-Davidson
(anything from a “Fat Boy” to a “Dyna Wide Glide”) with the option
of sampling the state’s bed-and-breakfast accommodations, grand
hotels or, for those truly born to be wild, choosing their own
Idle Time also offers “Texas by Motorhome” tours, which include
a rented RV. Travelers can take advantage of state parks, RV parks
and camp sites. And if rolling down hot asphalt doesn’t appeal,
there are also “Texas by Biplane” tours available which is the best
way to see the Chisholm Trail, a former cattle trail from San
Antonio to Abilene, Kansas, said McIlvain.
The motorcycle and motorhome tours are commissionable at 10
percent, but, as of last week, fares had not been set on the
biplane tours. 817-790-7909. www.idletimetours.com