Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

Insight logoFor some tour operators -- Globus family of brands, Trafalgar Tours, Insight Vacations, Collette Vacations, Tauck World Discovery, the list goes on and on -- guided motorcoach tours have been their bread and butter for decades.

The challenge is what to do about people who, quite frankly, don't want to travel in a group. There are two options: ignore them, or create a product for them.

While many operators still make the bulk of their money moving passengers on motorcoaches, there might be more opportunities for growth in the independent travel market.

In September, Globus said it will continue to add destinations to its independent travel brand Monograms, which launched in 2004.

"The independent travel market could be as big as escorted travel for us over the next five years," said Scott Nisbet, CEO of Globus.

"We've really been putting more of a spotlight on it," he added. "We've really been trying to push it and expand it."

While escorted touring with its Globus and Cosmos brands still accounts for most of Globus' business, the company sees the most growth in its river cruise and independent travel products, Avalon Waterways and Monograms, respectively.

Consequently, for 2010, Monograms will have a new Costa Rica itinerary that includes San Jose, Guanacaste and Arenal; Phuket is being added to the Bangkok offering in Thailand; and Kyoto is being added to the Tokyo offering in Japan.

In North America, Monograms is adding Kauai to its Maui program; new offerings to Yosemite National Park and Redwood National Park are being combined with San Francisco; and a "Colorado Rocky Mountain High" itinerary is being introduced that includes Denver, Colorado Springs, Durango and Vail.

Globus has grown its Monograms program more than 30% over the past two years and is offering 100 independent travel packages in 2010, including a pre- and post-cruise program that will be relaunched for 2010 that includes two-night packages in 14 port cities in Europe.

Brendan Vacations, meanwhile, long an escorted tour stalwart, has made a big push into the FIT market with its new online booking system, iNavigate, which lets agents view Brendan's FIT product information; see detailed hotel descriptions and locations and points of interest; print itineraries; secure a deposit or final payment; and view their commission levels for each booking.

In May, Perillo Tours got back into FIT packages in Italy after a more than three decade hiatus from the independent travel market.

Perillo started out in 1945 selling exclusively FITs to Italy. It sold independent travel until 1975, when it ended its FIT program to focus solely on a growing motorcoach business.

"We're seeing remarkable growth in independent vacations, from baby boomers down to new generations of travelers," CEO Steve Perillo said at the time of the FIT relaunch.

The bottom line is that if a certain portion of the population doesn't want to travel in a group, tour operators still have the tools -- buying power with suppliers and ground support -- to help those customers travel on their own.

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