Travelers can unplug in destinations such as India. // © 2016 Intrepid Travel
Feature image (above): Privel's private jet charter visits eight national parks, including Yellowstone. // © 2016 Austin Adventures
Gone are the days of a one-size-fits-all approach to group tours. Today’s clients want vacations that are as unique as they are — whether that’s a cause-related tour that aligns with their core values or an over-the-top adventure that suits their luxury lifestyle.
While floating down Munich’s Eisbach (Ice River) with my family this summer, I started stressing about not having my GoPro to capture everyone’s smiles, shrieks and shivers. How could I be doing this crazy-awesome activity without documenting it for social media? What was the point? (I know. I have a problem.)
Unplugged guided tours are targeting digital addicts like me and encouraging them to taste their food instead of Instagramming it; to chat with locals instead of obsessing over Snapchat; and to ditch the selfie stick for a bit of self-discovery in real life.
Adventure tour operator Intrepid Travel currently offers four Digital Detox Trips that ban social media, computers and phones. Its 10-day Highlights of Thailand - Digital Detox includes an immersion into the ancient Hmong tribal culture, a cycle through the UNESCO-recognized Sukhothai Historical Park and a Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai. The email-free excursion starts at $1,625 per person, based on double occupancy, and includes a carbon emissions offset on the travelers’ behalf.
Similarly, Cox & Kings asks travelers disconnect from their daily routine and reconnect with the great outdoors on its eight-day Southwestern Spa and Healing Immersion through Santa Fe, N.M.; Arizona’s Petrified Forest; and Sedona, Ariz. The Private Journey, starting at $8,950 per person, based on double occupancy, includes a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Taos in New Mexico and a private tour with a Native American healer, during which guests will meet local residents and artists of Taos Pueblo.
United States Tour Operators Association members surveyed by TravelAge West have reported an uptick in voluntourism and social-impact travel. In response, several tour operators are adding programs that appeal to social causes of all kinds.
“Cause-related travel is increasingly relevant,” said Paul Wiseman, president of Trafalgar. “Consumers care about making a difference, and doing so via travel can offer them an enriched experience.”
In May 2017, Trafalgar will offer the 11-day Pink Ribbon Italy Trip, with $1,000 per seat donated to nonprofit Susan G. Komen. The itinerary combines Susan G. Komen’s largest Race for the Cure event in Rome with sight-seeing in Florence, a full day at Cinque Terre and a visit to Giudecca Island for a Venetian glassblowing workshop.
In the same vein, Collette is launching its first volunteer tour to Ecuador in October, with plans to expand the volunteer arm of the business in 2018. CEO Dan Sullivan, Jr. will attend the inaugural nine-day tour, which allows guests to give back to organizations such as Children International and La Magdalena Karanki Community.
As part of its faith-based tours, Cosmos, from the Globus Family of Brands, offers “Get Out and Give Back” volunteer opportunities. On the eight-day Holy Land Discovery tour from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Jerusalem, for example, clients will participate in hands-on volunteer work at The Nazareth Trust, a Christian hospital and nursing school.
As a woman, I have definitely found myself in situations abroad where I’ve felt unsafe or threatened, and there are some destinations I just won’t visit on my own. According to Mary Barnett, concierge sales for SITA World Tours, this shared sentiment among female travelers has created an opportunity for travel sellers.
“Our women-only travel programs have increased exponentially in the last five years,” she said. “The itineraries are colorful and enhanced with speakers, inside visits and culinary experiences. We find that more than half of the women on these trips are traveling solo and often find new travel buddies on our tours.”
SITA, along with Phyllis Stoller, president of The Women’s Travel Group, launched a women-only product line in 2012 and now offer itineraries to far-flung destinations such as India, Morocco, Brazil and Southern Africa.
Perillo’s Learning Journeys has also watched this travel segment grow in popularity. It offers a women-focused series of its own in Italy, India, Bali, Peru, Malta and Costa Rica. The eight-day Mystical Malta – A Womens Journey of Wellness, Gastronomy and Culture includes yoga, a jewelry or ceramics workshop with a local artist, wine tasting in Gozo and meditation in the Hagar Qim temple area. Land-only, the tour starts at $2,190 per person.
In a bid to attract loyal luxury travelers, suppliers have turned to private jet service. Crystal Cruises, for one, launched its Crystal Luxury Air product earlier this year with the 12-seat Bombardier Global Express XRS. The $8,000-per-hour charter is ideal for transportation to and from Crystal’s port destinations. The luxury hospitality brand plans to add 14- to 28-day itineraries on an all-first-class Boeing 777 next year.
Abercrombie & Kent offers private jet vacations for up to 50 guests, such as a 24-day around-the-world tour with founder, chairman and CEO Geoffrey Kent. To ensure that clients are rested each day for a full day of touring, the operator's Boeing 757 is decked out with lie-flat leather seats that feature massage settings and lumbar support.
Privel, a new private luxury travel brand launched by Xanterra Parks & Resorts and Austin Adventures - Adventure Travel, is celebrating the centennial of the U.S. National Park Service with a 12-day private jet vacation, departing Sept. 18, that visits eight national parks. Guests can expect farm-to-table cuisine, accommodations in historic in-park lodges and world-class guides, starting at $48,898 per person. The operator also arranges high-end custom jet tours for any occasion.
“One of our favorites was a 60th birthday party adventure on Kauai for 12 travelers on a private jet,” said Dan Austin, founder and president of Austin Adventures - Adventure Travel. “We flew helicopters to the top of waterfalls for a champagne brunch and organized a private luau, complete with a Hawaiian music trio. It was all topped off with a toast at sunset in the surf with a helicopter dropping rose petals on the birthday girl.”