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
"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
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
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,"
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.