A&K builds on Asia boom

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NEW YORK -- Abercrombie & Kent continues to grow in the Asia/Pacific region, as the company added eight itineraries for 2006, six of which are in Asia proper.

India was a particularly good destination for A&K in 2005; business to the country was up 55% from the year before.

In fact, business has been booming so dramatically in the subcontinent that A&K opened an on-site office in Jaipur in 2005 to handle its ground operations.

Our most dramatic growth in Asia is probably in India, said Pamela Lassers, A&Ks director of media relations. But were up in pretty much all of the region.

The emergence of quality accommodations and airline operations in India has helped fuel an increase in travel there.

Two particular hotel chains -- Oberoi Hotels and Resorts, and Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces -- are responsible for much of A&Ks growth, said Lassers.

Even for many of our well-traveled people, the [Oberoi and Taj] hotels are like nothing they have seen before, she said.

And in terms of interior transportation, the quality of domestic air travel has improved with the emergence of Jet Airways.

Chinese tiger

But while A&Ks gains in India are impressive, the companys 48% growth in China in 2005 over 2004 represented an even larger dollar-for-dollar gain because it is predicated on a much larger base.

China is still growing dramatically, said Lassers. Thats why we opened all these new itineraries, new product and new departures.

A&K last year opened two offices in China, in Beijing and Shanghai.

In the past, we managed everything from Hong Kong, said Lassers. But the Chinese government is easing restrictions and allowing us to open on the mainland.

Foreign tour operators are no longer required to work through government-controlled China International Travel Service. A&K can now use its own employees, supplemented by specialist guides at various sites.

With a clientele consisting of predominantly high-end, well-traveled customers, the bulk of A&Ks growth in Asia is taking place on the frontiers of mainstream travel, to exotic destinations such as Mongolia, Bhutan and Tibet.

So many of our clients have traveled to China before. Theyve done the highlights: the Yangtze, Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, said Lassers. Now they are exploring beyond.

A&Ks customer base wants authentic experiences outside of the Western world and an escape from the information explosion, the Internet and satellite TV, she said.

One of the new tours for 2006 designed to meet that need is Temples and Dragons of Bhutan and Darjeeling.

Few Americans have been to Bhutan, which has recently become more open to Westerners, with more accommodations that are up to Western standards.

Explorers club

The Temples and Dragons tour is part of A&Ks Explorer series, which is designed for groups of 10 to 16 people touring remote destinations.

A&K generally develops new tours for the Explorer series by observing which destinations are popular with FIT clients, crafting an itinerary and then inviting its most frequent travelers on a trial Marco Polo trip, to gauge the reaction of clients.

Explorer programs use the best available accommodations in the area, which are not always five-star but are always culturally authentic, Lassers said.

The 12-night Temples and Dragons itinerary starts with a tour of Delhi with two nights at the Oberoi Delhi hotel. Clients then fly to Bhutan, where they stay at the Hotel Druk in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. There, the group visits the Textile Museum, the Traditional Medicine Hospital and the School of Arts and Crafts.

The group then drives high into the Himalayas, visiting monasteries, villages, museums and monuments in Paro and Phuentsholing in Bhutan, and then Darjeeling, India.

Other new A&K itineraries for 2006 are Highlights of Vietnam, Grand Siam and Asian Wonders, Highlights of Imperial China, Footsteps of the Khans and Tibet and Beyond.

For more information, call (800) 323-7308 or visit www.abercrombiekent.com.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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