NEW YORK -- Agents looking for an active vacation to recommend to
clients may want to explore walking vacations, a fast-growing niche
in the adventure travel arena.
According to the Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America,
walking-hiking is the nation's leading outdoor activity. The number
of people who walk for fitness has grown by 40% since 1987, up to
32.5 million, according to American Sports Data.
Walkers, an international operator based in Waterbury, Vt., expects
to handle 2,800 passengers this year, more than double the number
in 1997, a year when business was up 100% compared with the
Butterfield & Robinson, the Toronto-based operator of
high-end walking tours, anticipates that it will accommodate 15% to
20% more travelers on its walking programs in 1998 compared with
What is the appeal of a walking vacation? "It's really fun,"
said Bob Maynard, who owns Country Walkers with his wife, Cindy
Maynard. "You're with 14 or 15 people who come from the same mold
demographically, who have the common interest of getting a little
exercise, eating great food and learning a little bit," he
One key benefit of walking tours is that they give travelers a
more intimate experience of an area. Paloma Martinez, operations
director for Progressive Travels in Seattle, which offers walking
tours in Europe, said that the tours give travelers the chance to
experience the "back side" of a destination.
"While walking, you see more of the countryside," Martinez said.
"We go on roads that only farmers use with their trucks, secondary
roads used by the people who live in the area. Our guides know the
people there, so when we're walking and see the farmers and say
"Hello," they stop and talk to us."
Martinez said that her firm's clientele for walking vacations
consists of well-educated and well-traveled people who typically
have been to Europe many times and are eager for a different, less
touristy experience there. "They are people in their 50s, on
average, who are in good shape and who have a healthy lifestyle,"
Walking vacations are "really doable by anybody," said Country
Walkers' Bob Maynard. "If you can walk from three to five miles and
feel comfortable, or play tennis and do some aerobic activities,"
you can take a walking vacation, he said.
The following is a sampling of walking and trekking tours
(prices are per person, based on double occupancy):Country Walkers prides itself on programs for travelers who are
"interested in learning while they walk," according to Maynard, who
said that is especially true of the firm's seven-night Ireland
trip. Trip highlights include walks in western Ireland on the
Dingle Peninsula, around Bantry Bay, through the Gap of Dunloe and
Gougane Barra Forest; a boat trip to three lakes in Killarney and
Inishfallen Island, and visits to local pubs for traditional Irish
The price is $2,250, including breakfast and all but one dinner.
Available departures are June 21; July 5 and 19; Aug. 2 and 16, and
Sept. 6. Commission is 10% to 20%.
Country Walkers, Phone: (800) 464-9355Butterfield & Robinson has been operating bicycling trips
in France's Burgundy region since 1966 and now offers a walking
trip there called Burgundy: Walking the Classic Wine Route of
France. This year, the operator added a two-night stay at the 13th
century Chateau de Bagnols. "It's probably the nicest chateau in
France," said Cari Gray, director of travel agent marketing.
Trip highlights include walks in Burgundy's Cote de Nuits past
world-famous vineyards such as La Tache and Romanee-Conti; wine
tastings; dinner at Les Millesimes, a restaurant boasting one of
the most extensive wine lists in Burgundy, and a tour of Beaune, a
town surrounded by medieval ramparts. Other highlights are vineyard
walks in Puligny, an area that produces what some consider one of
the world's best dry white wines, and walks in Beaujolais, a region
which, sometimes is compared to Italy's Tuscany. The trip begins in
Dijon and ends at the Lyon Train Station.
The price is $3,750, including six nights' accommodations, all
breakfasts, two lunches and five dinners. Available departures are
July 6, Aug. 21 and Sept. 10. Commission is 10%. Butterfield &
Robinson, Phone: (800) 678-1147Walking tours to Italy, especially to Tuscany, are strong
sellers this year, and Progressive Travels offers a six-night
program visiting the Cinque Terre on Italy's Ligurian Coast. "This
is an area where you find several little fishing villages that 40
or 50 years ago could only be reached by boat or hiking. This is a
very unspoiled area," said Martinez, who cautions that the walks
include numerous staircases built into the coastal cliffs, making
it quite challenging.
Tour highlights include walks through the five villages of the
Cinque Terre, following ancient trade routes through olive groves
and pine forests; visits to San Fruttuoso, a 12th century abbey,
and Cornigilia, perched more than 300 feet above the sea, and a
boat crossing to the resort town of Lerici.
The price is $1,895, including two or three meals daily.
Available departures are Sept. 9 and 30 and Oct. 21. Commission is
10%. Progressive Travels, Phone: (800) 245-2229For clients who are seeking a real "high" with their trekking,
Above the Clouds Trekking in Worcester, Mass., offers a 23-day High
Solu trip in Nepal, featuring 15 days of moderate trekking at
elevations extending more than 16,000 feet above sea level. "This
has become our most popular trip. We spend most days seeing no
other trekkers and little or no sign of the outside world," said
Steve Conlon, the firm's director.
Trip highlights include ascents to Jantre La at 9,990 feet,
along the Lamje Dande ridge to Pike at 13,333 feet and to Milk Lake
at 16,500 feet; views of Mount Everest; visits to the Thupten
Choling monastery; the village of Taksindu, whose monastery is a
classic of Sherpa architecture, and to Chiwong Gompa, perched atop
a 1,000-foot sheer cliff. Accommodations are in tents with very
basic toilet facilities and at a hotel on the last night. Prices
run from $2,250, depending on group size.
Available departures are Oct. 31 and April 10, 1999. Commission
is 10%. Above the Clouds Trekking, Phone: (800) 233-4499
Walking, Hiking, Trekking
Ask 10 experts what the difference is between walking, hiking
and trekking and you probably will get 10 different answers,
according to Steve Conlon, director of Above the Clouds Trekking,
Here is Conlon's answer, based on his 17 years' experience as a
provider of trekking vacations in the Himalayas: "The simplest
explanation [of the terms] is the degree of difficulty. Walking
tends to be the easiest and involves flat or hilly terrain. Hiking
usually implies the use of different footwear, which means you're
on more rugged trails in the mountains. Trekking is the most easily
differentiated. By definition, it means an extended hike from point
to point to point, usually fully supported by guides, cooks and
Conlon calls "mental flexibility or toughness" the single most
important element that will determine someone's capacity to enjoy a
trek. "Many people think the essence of a trekking trip is the
physical level of exertion required. That's not the case," he
"Depending on the trek, it can be fairly easy or quite arduous.
The single thread is the unexpected. How you deal with the
unexpected is probably as important to your overall enjoyment or
satisfaction as anything else."
For clients considering their first overseas trekking vacation,
Conlon suggested that agents recommend a test-walk first.
"Even a three-day weekend in the Rockies would be a great way to
find out how you hold up physically and mentally under those
conditions," he said.