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The tourism market is flourishing of late, but while exotic product offerings seem to be dotting the marketplace, the destinations receiving the most attention are surprisingly close to home. Nico Zenner, president of Brendan Vacations, discusses how the industry has transformed and where touring is headed in the future.
Q. What has changed with escorted tours over the last two to five years?A. A lot of very positive changes have been made over the years: There are more tours, and more departures to many more destinations around the world. There are now tours of different sizes, for specific interest groups, that are shorter or longer, that run during the off season, that are more leisurely paced, that are great for families with kids and some that stay at one great hotel for the entire time to allow clients to discover the region. There are also tours that are higher end and tours that are budget conscious. Additionally, the travel director’s role has evolved into that of an insider who can show clients things that they wouldn’t experience on their own.
Q. How have these changes been implemented?A. The changes have been implemented seamlessly. The extraordinary selection of tours, improvements, features and changes have been introduced quietly and with fanfare and to great acclaim by the travel agent community and its clients. Technology has helped greatly, and many changes were made based on customer feedback and changes in the market.
Q. What effects have these changes had on the industry?A. New destinations have been added and have opened up touring to a wider audience. These days many destinations also benefit from greater accessibility and have taken their rightful place on many travelers’ bucket lists. By offering a wider selection of travel options, the travel industry is able to better meet the demands of an ever changing traveling public.
Q. Has there been an increased interest in touring over the past five years?A. Yes, most certainly. While some destinations have matured, others have emerged as new touring destinations or have been rediscovered. A good example is the renewed interest in close-to-home touring. The demand for our tours to the national parks, the colonial cities, the wine regions and fall foliage is amazing.
Q. What is the biggest obstacle for selling escorted tours and how is the industry trying to overcome this? What is the industry’s biggest competition?A. I wouldn’t say there is an obstacle. A tour is a wonderful opportunity to discover a region in a more intimate setting. It allows passengers to discover countries and regions that are not ready for individual travel or that are too far from the nearest cruise port. Cruise lines have a great product but have a hard time showcasing destinations such as Switzerland, the nightlife in Paris, the Iguassu Falls, Sonoma wine country, the Canadian Rockies or the Copper Canyon in Mexico to name a few. Travel agents marvel when they discover how convenient touring is (no hassles with luggage and no worries about checking into hotels or getting around) and really like the commission they earn.
Q. Have you seen a lot of interest in niche tours, such as culinary or religious offerings?A. Yes, Brendan Vacations has seen demand for its line of Boutique Journeys surge. Boutique Journeys are tours that have no more than 24 guests. Only Ireland was offered but because of the demand, we are adding a dozen countries where we will offer Boutique Journeys. Those itineraries are more immersive, are more leisurely paces and are also higher end. New for next year are also Culinary Tours in partnership with the Slow Food organization. Brendan will offer an exciting assortment of Slow Food tours in Tuscany, Umbria, Piedmont, Sicily, the Loire Valley and in the Provence. Culinary also ranks very high in our new Boutique Journeys in Thailand, Vietnam, China, India and many other emerging destinations.
Q. What are some of the most popular tour destination right now? Has there been any shift in these destinations?A. The National Parks, Costa Rica, The Dalmatian Coast, Ireland are all very popular this year.
Q. Which destinations are showing the most growth?A. The U.S. and Canadian national parks and tours closer to home are very popular as are our Boutique Journeys in Ireland.
Q. What do you see as the outlook for the next five years? Where do you expect to see the most growth?A. We expect our Boutique Journeys to grow really well. We will open new destinations and provide unique travel opportunities at a very competitive price.
Q. What do you think will be the next new trend for tours?A. Smaller groups, more unique destinations, themed tours (e.g. culinary) and unique activities and hotels. I also believe that there is going to be a better use of technology.