Dutch expect blooms to sprout travel boom

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NEW YORK -- Can flower power help transatlantic travel blossom once again? Dutch tourism officials and a group of U.S. tour operators think so, and they're counting on the gigantic Floriade floral exhibition -- opening in April outside Amsterdam -- to prove them right.

The once-a-decade event that started in 1962 is considered the World's Fair of horticultural shows, and it will run for seven months this year.

Because niche travelers are likely to be among the most willing to book overseas tours in 2002, several U.S. operators are hoping retail agents will market Floriade packages to gardening groups and individual enthusiasts.

Petal pushers

Mayflower Tours of Downers Grove, Ill., is reporting strong bookings -- particularly by groups -- of its eight-night Netherlands & Floriade tour, which combines a day at the flower show with other sites in Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany.

"It's pretty amazing, considering what's going on," said Jill Carol, director of marketing at Mayflower, referring to post-Sept. 11 aftershocks.

"Still, we need to get the word out to travel agents," she said, adding that Mayflower took 25 group specialists on a sneak preview trip last year. "Many more still don't know about Floriade," she said.

Fresh back from the Mayflower fam, agent Nancy Cox, owner of Florida Travel Center in Altamonte Springs, Fla., decided to target the gardening niche for the first time.

"I have clients who are particularly into horticulture, but everyone seems to be interested in this trip," Cox said, comparing Floriade to the Passion Play at Oberammergau in Germany.

"It's not something you'll see every time you go," she continued.

In fact, garden enthusiasts are a bit of a captive market, said Michael Italiaander, president of Litchfield, Conn.-based speciality operator Expo Garden Tours.

"If gardening's their hobby, they're willing to go -- and don't say they can do it next year because they can't," he said of the show, which won't be held again until 2012.

Floriade's organizers initially expected about 100,000 Americans to be among the 2.5 million estimated showgoers, said Conrad van Tiggelen, director, North America, for the Netherlands Board of Tourism in New York.

"But now, after Sept. 11, it's hard to say," he said, adding that marketing will largely focus on neighboring European countries.

Floriade 101

Floriade aims to showcase the best in Dutch and international gardening, with 300 indoor and outdoor displays and exhibits -- including a valley of flowers planted with more than 1 million bulbs -- located on more than 160 acres of parkland in the Haarlemmermeer district, near Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.

Using the theme "Feel the Art of Nature," Floriade also will incorporate pavilions contributed by 26 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. A futuristic "Green City," housed on four of 10 man-made islands, will ponder the ecological aspects of life in 2010.

Floriade 2002 will run from April 6 to Oct. 20, and be open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

One-day tickets cost about $15 for adults and $7.50 for children ages 4 to 12; season tickets also are available.

For more information, call (011) 31-23-562-2002, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.floriade.nl.

Tiptoe through the tulips

Of course, the Netherlands also offers perennial floral attractions that can be tacked onto any Floriade-focused trip.

For example, the six-night Amsterdam Stay & Floriade tour from Expo Garden Tours -- which pays 10% to 12% commission -- combines the exposition with visits to such sites as the Aalsmeer Flower Auction and the 70-acre Keukenhof Gardens, home to 6 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths.

Other tours and cruises from operators such as Witte Travel & Tours, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Uniworld, Encino, Calif., and Expo Garden Tours also add private garden viewings, the Ledien Hotus Botanicus garden and other stops to their itineraries.

Lawrence, Kan.-based Maupintour -- which pays 10% to 15% commission -- crafted, among other itineraries, a seven-night Chelsea Flower Show & the Floriade program, which combines floral exhibitions in London and Amsterdam.

Getting There

Below is a partial list of tour operators that offer Floriade itineraries. For a complete list, contact the Netherlands Board of Tourism in New York at (888) 2-HOLLAND.

Expo Garden Tours
(860) 567-0322
www.expogardentours.com

Insight Vacations
(800) 582-8380
www.insightvacations.com

Maupintour
(800) 255-4266
www.maupintour.com

Mayflower Tours
(800) 323-7604
www.mayflowertours.com

Uniworld
(818) 382-2720
www.uniworld.com

Witte Travel & Tours
(800) 469-4883
www.wittetravel.com

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