Tours court 'boomers,' sophisticates

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NEW YORK -- They're not your grandmother's tour companies anymore.

Of course, escorted motorcoach tours still offer multi-country jaunts in Europe with a few nights in the capital cities, but a new crop of programs emerged in the past few years catering to the more active and adventurous baby- boomer generation.

Nigel Osborne, president of Boston-based Insight International, echoed some of the major players in the escorted market when he said the average age of his passengers is going down by about one year annually.

"We're seeing the 50s market become a dominant force for the first time," he said.

But even those operators with older clients said these "sophisticated and experienced" travelers demand tours that spend more time in one city or one country, explore backroads and venture into areas previously considered remote.

A more in-depth approach to Europe, with a focus on themes and interpersonal exchanges, has also gone beyond boutique operators and into mainstream brochures.

Following are some examples:

  • Insight three years ago launched Country Roads, a program dedicated to taking Europe-bound passengers into "turf not overrun by tour buses," said company president Nigel Osborne. Passenger loads have doubled since the product launch, Osborne said, with 1999 marking the first year Country Roads is offered as a separate brochure.
  • Tours include Austria/Germany, Italy, Spain and, new this year, France. The 15-night program, priced at $2,240, land only, takes in Epernay, Reims, Dijon, Chablis, Beaune, Chamonix, Grenoble, Annecy, Monaco, St.-Paul-de-Vence, Aix, Montpellier, Arles, the Carmargue, Carcassonne, Toulouse, Rocamadour, Brive la Gaillarde, Sarlat le Caneda, Bordeaux and Paris.

    Although an all-France operator might feature some of these stops, most travelers would be hard-pressed to find such an extensive program in a typical escorted tour brochure, according to Osborne. Unique activities include a visit to Les Eyzies and a tram ride up the slopes of the pilgrimage town of Rocamadour.

  • An in-depth look at France is also one of Lawrence, Kan.-based Maupintour's new programs for 1999, Wine Villages & Castles of Alsace & Burgundy, priced from $3,850, double, with air from New York. The tour is more active than a typical Maupintour, with a lot of walking on cobblestone streets where buses don't have access, noted Terry Rood, manager of product development. Highlights include wine tastings at cellars and chateaus.
  • Rood said that although the tour is active, it is not as sports-oriented as the company's MaupinTreks, a new product that makes walking and other soft-adventure activities the cornerstone of a European visit. This year, the firm offers a six-night MaupinTrek in Austria's Tyrolean Alps, priced at $2,970, air included, with accommodations at the deluxe Inter-Alplen Hotel, plus visits to Innsbruck and Salzburg. River rafting, swimming, mountain biking and hiking are offered in combination with cultural tours, but visitors can choose to stay at the hotel and spend time at the spa.

  • To cater to the boomer market, Abercrombie & Kent has taken a three-pronged approach in Europe: walking tours for active travelers, family programs and more tours to lesser-known destinations. "Even when we bring people to less-visited areas like eastern Europe, we don't just do the capitals," said Alistair Ballantine, A&K's president.
  • New this year is a 12-night tour of Venice and Croatia's Dalmatian coast ($7,445, land only), as well as 10-night and 16-night trips to the Czech Republic, Poland and Moscow, with St. Petersburg included on the longer itinerary ($6,245 and $10,875, respectively, land only).

    The Croatian portion of the the 12-night tour spotlights the Plitvice Lakes, where 16 lakes cascade into 92 waterfalls, along with the islands of Hvar and Korcula, with their Venetian-style guesthouses perched on terraced hills.

    The eastern Europe programs feature a private lunch in the home of Countess Diana Sternberg, Castle Castolovice, in the Czech Republic as well as visits to the country's Konopiste Castle, filled with relics of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

    In Russia, there is an excursion to Trinity St. Sergius, outside Moscow. This church holds one of the most important collections of icon paintings.

  • Tauck Tours will also explore the one-time Eastern Bloc this year in one of its series of one-week tours. A Week in Eastern Europe, priced from $1,890, land only, features the capital cities of Budapest, Prague and Vienna, but it also stops in the Czech Republic's Cesky Krumlov, a medieval fortress town and a United Nations World Heritage Site.
  • This year marks the first time Littleton, Colo.-based Globus paid much attention to the baby-boomer market, according to Scott Nisbet, executive director of marketing and sales. Globus introduced three European Leisure Style vacations for 1999 that spend up to one week in a city at a single hotel and emphasize free time as much as guided sightseeing. Programs cover Britain, Ireland and Italy.
  • Since so much time is spent at one hotel, the Leisure Style programs feature five-star properties.

    Leisure Style vacations include London & Country, priced from $1,782, with air from New York and a stay at the Grosvenor House Hotel. The tour takes in the Cotswolds, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Leeds and Canterbury. Built in are two-and-a-half days of free time in London.

  • Three years ago, Trafalgar began offering leisure packages similar to the Globus product just described. Gavin Tollman, president of the New York-based firm, said, "There seems to be some correlation with the fact that our clients are getting younger and that we're getting more requests for single or two-country tours," he said.
  • Like Tauck and A&K, Trafalgar has seen an increased demand for eastern Europe and will explore Croatia this year in the two-week Best of Italy & Dalmatian Coast, priced from $1,950, land only. Along with key Italian cities such as Florence and Rome, the tour ventures to Croatia's Split and Dubrovnik.

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