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Before becoming an escorted and independent tour specialist and San Franciso-based affiliate of SmartFlyer, a Virtuoso agency, Leslie Fineman worked as a trip planner and guide for Butterfield & Robinson and as a South Asia director for Geographic Expeditions. After making the leap to become a travel advisor, she says she has kept her focus where her roots are the strongest.
Here, she weighs in on the state of the industry.
What were a few stand-out tour trends in 2016?My favorite trend is the caliber of local escorts that are emerging around the world. The best local tour operators have realized that people crave human connection, not just scripted history lessons, and thus they are picking escorts from a variety of different fields and backgrounds. My clients love spending time with their escorts, who invariably turn into friends, and are often the most memorable aspect of the tour. Given that people are craving immersion, authenticity and special access more than ever before, the role of the escort has become more crucial and more nuanced.
Looking ahead to 2017, what trends do you foresee emerging or evolving?A trend that is sure to continue is the move away from escorted group tours toward privately escorted tours. The group tours that will continue to thrive will be niche, such as cycling or hiking tours; culinary tours; tours led by prominent authors or historians; and tours to places that lend themselves to group travel, such as Iran and Cuba.
Safety and security issues are a major traveler concern. How will this affect business in 2017?Between terrorism, super viruses and natural disasters, this has been quite a year. And none of these occurrences show any sign of abating. My touring clients who are in search of the far-flung and exotic, but prefer to mitigate risk, are turning to countries that have skirted these conditions but still feel cutting-edge: Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Colombia, for instance. Advisors more than ever have to stay on their toes, keep abreast of world events and be armed with a Plan B (and even a Plan C).
Have you seen a rise in specialty/niche tours? If so, which are most popular?The No. 1 complaint I get about group tours is people not connecting with their fellow group members. For better or worse, people seem to want to travel with people they can relate to. Thus, I’m seeing a rise in requests for things like all-women tours, gay tours, tours geared toward millennials and tours offered by members-only clubs.