Three Virtuoso-affiliated advisors and preferred partners who specialize in Europe landed on Travel + Leisure's 18th annual A-List of top travel advisors. All three of them let me pick their brains about trends, and while some of the answers were not surprising -- more multigenerational travel, for example -- others, like emerging hot spots, were unexpected. Here's what they had to say:
Who goes there?
"Three-generational travel using both exclusive-use villas, lodges and castles as well as luxury hotels is still popular," said Siobhan Byrne Learat of Private Luxury Travel by Dublin-based Adams & Butler. "We also find that clients are willing to take young children out of school," she said, "as they believe the experience they gain traveling is worth far more for those few days. This also is reflected in the growing trend whereby children share the same experiences as the parents and do fewer 'children-only' activities."
Ellison Poe of Poe Travel in Little Rock, Ark., has also seen an uptick in multigenerational travel, which she described as "a growing trend over the past several years," and added, "We've also seen a rise in solo travel, especially among women."
Siobhan Byrne Learat
Meanwhile, Ellen LeCompte of Richmond, Va.-based LeCompte Travel, an affiliate of Travel Experts, said boomers are "really using their passports as they embrace retirement, traveling as couples, with friends and as multigenerational groups with grandchildren."
Where are they going?
"The latest European hot spots are smaller Mediterranean islands [like] Sardinia, Corsica, Malta, Mallorca and Crete, to name a few," LeCompte said. Poe said Portugal, Croatia and Scandinavia are increasingly on the radar for her clients.
England is "back in vogue," according to Learat, thanks in part to the "Downton Abbey" movie (the film debuted in the U.S. on Sept. 20), and she said that other hot destinations include such secondary cities as San Sebastian, Bilbao, Valencia, Cordoba, Seville and Granada in Spain; Lyons and Carcassone in France; Oporto in Portugal for the foodie scene; as well as regions such as northern Portugal and Galicia in Spain.
Learat cited Sicily and Corsica as being especially popular as well as Finland; Ljubljana, Slovenia; and Bratislava, Slovakia; and "unlikely spots such as the Azores and Madeira."
She also noted the reemergence of Turkey, especially Istanbul, among her clients as well as Biarritz, France, which is "popular with the young set for surfing and yoga retreats, especially in the shoulder season."
Also, the way travelers are exploring these destinations has taken on some interesting wrinkles. Some Adams & Butler clients are opting for private drivers, helicopters and even motorcycles, for example. And Poe Travel is "chartering more boats than ever these days, many of them gulets in Turkey and yachts in Croatia," Poe said, "Nothing beats experiencing those destinations by boat."
What are they asking for?
"Luxury travelers to Europe want special access," said LeCompte, "[which includes] getting behind the ropes, meeting experts, priority entrances, going off the beaten track. Most have done the iconic cities such as London, Paris, Rome. If they go again, they want to drill down a level or two to really get to know the 'real' city."
Learat identified the two biggest trends as privileged access to private places and people and affordable luxury.
"At Adams & Butler," she said, "we find that clients are now looking for travel itineraries that they simply cannot do themselves, whether around a theme, a private experience or meeting people who are not normally accessible to the public."
She also noted an increased demand for outdoor activities and said, "The expectations that clients have for food when they travel has risen to a very high level."
Wine tours are becoming very popular with young people in their 20s and 30s, she said, along with "young whiskey enthusiasts... [and] a surge in gin tours."
Poe said that while culture is always key in Europe, "there is a growing appetite (pun intended) for culinary tourism. We've found that companies like Eatwith are taking this trend to the next level by offering authentic culinary experiences with locals, from chic Parisian dinner parties to gourmet cooking classes in Tokyo."
LeCompte's clients are increasingly value- and experience-driven, she said. "They aren't necessarily bargain-hunters and don't mind paying for special access," she said, "but their return on investment is often based on 'going local' for unique experiences, frequently with a hands-on or educational element."
Learat summed up the overall mood of today's travelers: "They want to discover their own cherished moments and their own hidden gems; the lesser known the better. They want to be travelers and not tourists and be on a journey of personal discovery."