Europe is poised to be an especially big seller as U.S. travelers take to the skies again after a year of being grounded — especially in the luxury travel segment, according to numerous reports.
The Global Travel Collection found that Europe was the most popular international destination in its October 2020 survey of luxury travelers. In addition, 64 percent of respondents are dreaming of when they can travel again, while 18 percent have already booked a future trip and 16 percent are starting to plan future trips.
The “Green Pass”
Europe, as a whole, is preparing for an increase in travel. The European Commission has revved up plans to implement a Digital Green Certificate, which would allow member nations to welcome travelers with proof of COVID-19 vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test or a positive antibody test. While the program would only apply to European Union citizens, currently, the recent announcement by the commission's president, of plans to reopen Europe to vaccinated U.S. tourists by summer, point to a broader implementation of this "certificate" and a positive step toward reactivating tourism.
“Austria is very much at the forefront of pushing for what we call the ‘green pass’ in Europe,” says Michael Gigl, regional manager for USA and Australia at the Austrian Tourist Office. “The question is: how would that work for people from outside the region? We knew that things could move quickly, especially when such a digital system already exists.” Now that Austria has made the decision to reopen its hotels, restaurants, museums and cultural institutions to leisure travelers May 19, a widespread solution may already be in the pipeline.
"While we cannot yet definitely say that American travelers will be allowed in as early as May, we can say that we are in the planning process to welcome them back."
Suppliers, too, are gearing up to meet what they expect will be growing demand for travel to Europe. In November 2020, a study by the United States Tour Operators Association found that 50 percent of members expect to return to Europe by the second quarter of 2021.
European Travel Trends
The concept of travel has evolved. Upscale travelers are, in many cases, looking for different experiences as they begin to plan vacations again. In Europe, several key trends will affect how luxury travel is sold and experienced.
According to Skyscanner, the concept of “slow travel” — spending longer periods in one destination, to allow for a deeper appreciation of local culture, life and attractions — was one of the top travel trends last year, and that popularity is likely to continue as travelers head back to Europe.
“I believe that leisure travel will ‘slow down’ in a way that guests will linger in destinations longer to truly experience the culture and vibe,” says Simone Dulies, general manager at Hotel Bristol, a Luxury Collection property in Vienna. “People have been deprived of live cultural events for a long time and are craving to go back to concerts, operas and museums.
Vienna State Opera © Vienna Tourism, Peter Rigaud
Indeed, the European region offers plenty of opportunities for upscale travelers to take their time and get to know its diverse destinations. The Austrian capital of Vienna is home to diversions ranging from vineyard tours to market visits and self-guided walking tours that follow the footsteps of world-famous musicians like Mozart, Schubert, Hadyn and Beethoven.
There’s even a tour operator with an especially apt name for this niche: Slow Tours, a company that offers itineraries ranging from Austria to the Netherlands, with immersive experiences that include culinary outings, photography tours and bike and barge tours through Europe’s countryside.
Nearly everyone has become accustomed to avoiding crowds during the past year. It’s only natural that this tendency translates into an increased desire for more private vacation experiences. According to this year’s American Express Global Travel Trends Report, “ultimate privacy” is one of the most sought-after features when traveling today.
“We will be offering private dinners in our opera suites,” notes the Hotel Bristol’s Dulies. “This is extremely nice when opera performances will be broadcast live on the big screen outside the opera. We will also offer banquet events with a live performance by an opera singer, [and] guests can pick arias from their favorite opera. We are also collecting ‘Bristol favorites,’ where Bristol team members share their favorite places in Vienna. These are recommendations off the beaten track for sightseeing, music, art, restaurants and bars.”
A number of luxury tour operators also provide personalized experiences around Europe.
- Exeter International offers a vast portfolio of extraordinary private tours to exclusive venues such as the Lichtenstein Palace in Vienna to view its renown art collection, for example, and will customize just about any experience for visitors.
- Audley Travel, well-known experts in the region, can design tailor-made itineraries based on clients' interests.
In a November 2020 survey by PhocusWright and TripAdvisor, 62 percent of respondents said they have become more likely to favor an outdoor-oriented trip, versus just 6 percent who say they are less likely.
Europe specifically continues to make noteworthy progress toward better protecting its natural resources. The European Commission has established a number of initiatives like cycling routes, nature tourism and cultural routes around the continent. It also developed the European Tourism Indicators System, which measures the performance of sustainability efforts around the region.
Some European destinations are rethinking their approach to mass tourism by focusing on the quality and sustainability of travel. Travelers are increasingly aware of the positive impact they can have on local communities when they travel — and so are some tourism offices. In Vienna, for example, the Austria Tourist Office touts how visitors can savor cuisine made from produce from three organic city farms, indulge with eco-friendly body care and shop for “fair fashion” — a term used to describe clothing made in conditions that are favorable for workers.
Vineyard dining © Austrian Tourist Office, Peter Burgstaller
Europe is well positioned to capitalize on nature’s allure. Several tour operators already focus on sustainable travel experiences.
- Mountain Travel Sobek, specializing in immersive outdoor adventures all over the globe, offers scenic treks in Austria with an emphasis on local experiences, starting in Salzburg — the birthplace of Mozart and home to "The Sound of Music."
- Austin Adventures designs itineraries for smaller groups, adding wow-factor touches. With programs in 16 European countries that can include hiking, biking, rafting and more, trips are enriched with unique local culture and postcard-worthy landscapes.
Getting Ready to Sell
As more people get vaccinated and more luxury travelers dream about their next trip, the time is ripe for travel advisors to prepare for a growing interest in Europe as an upscale vacation destination. Joining a traditional, in-person familiarization may be out of the question for now, but tourism offices and suppliers have upped their game by offering diverse educational opportunities.
- Join countless webinars, virtual tours and other educational programs, all of which are designed to make it easier to stay up to date on the latest offerings. The Austrian Tourist Office, for example, created an extensive list of webinars and destination videos.
- Keep clients engaged and interested by sharing content from past trips on social media and offering online presentations.
- Look for enticing new packages like the Hotel Bristol, for example, is offering. It gives an extra hotel credit for stays of at least three nights, a suite promotion that includes limousine transfers to and from the airport, as well as a family offer that includes a 50 percent discount off the second room.
Travelers in the United States have been waiting a long time for the opportunity to enjoy a luxurious European vacation again, and suppliers around the region are getting ready to welcome them back.