Preview 2020: Luxury

As the crunch of overtourism spreads, luxury travelers in 2020 will continue their quest to find increasingly remote and unspoiled destinations.

Virtuoso, for example, says its advisors report a rise in requests for places ranging from the culturally distinct to those steeped in nature, including Borneo, Greenland and Oman.

Abercrombie & Kent says one of its hottest tickets next year is for expedition cruises to Antarctica.

At the same time, however, hot spots like Italy and France continue to top A&K's and most others' lists of popular destinations for 2020, fueling a continued and growing demand for private, personalized and VIP access to even the world's most visited sites.

Curated Touring offers private visits to the chateaux of Chambord on its small-group itinerary in France's Loire Valley.
Curated Touring offers private visits to the chateaux of Chambord on its small-group itinerary in France's Loire Valley.

High-end operators have in recent years responded, incorporating into their standard itineraries more and more private and exclusive access (i.e., no lines and smaller crowds) to popular sites and museums.

But in 2020, expect to also see a growing number of options from small tour operators offering unique, truly private ways for travelers to experience the art, history and culture of some of the world's most-visited countries, with stops both on and far off well-beaten paths.

One new entrant is Curated Touring, founded in Austin, Texas, by two art historians, Meagan Labunski and Matt Woodworth. Each has a doctorate from Duke University and are using their personal and academic connections to put together small-group tours that most traditional operators couldn't, including viewings of private art collections and behind-the-scenes explorations of medieval castles.

"Some of the best art in the world is in private collections," Labunski said. "We are really trying to take it to the next level. There are some places that we can't even publish that we see. That's a hard thing to market, because we can't say, 'Come with us, and we'll take you someplace really special, but we can't tell you what it is, and you can't put it on social media.'

Their itineraries also offer completely off-hours, solitary tours of major sites and collections that include the Vatican and Sistine Chapel in Rome, the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar, France.

Woodworth said they wanted to be sure to include the big places, but with a fresh and truly private lens.

On one group trip that included Rome, he said, everyone had been there previously, but all left saying, "I never really got it before."

They host all the trips together, offering guests more of what they describe as a "Matt and Meagan" dialogue than a lecture. There is also an on-site tour director working to keep the logistics as seamless as possible.

Just a year old, the company has hosted three group trips and several private tours. For 2020, they have eight small group tours for up to 14 people scheduled in Italy, France and the U.K., and they said they expect to host four to five private trips.

The business model is similar to that of Uncovr Travel, launched two years ago by former art gallery owner Jason Wertz. The main difference is that Wertz offers what he characterizes as "deeper travel" to lesser known locales in Southern Europe, including Italy, Croatia, Sicily, Catalonia and Portugal.

Wertz said he travels the countries himself to find more remote destinations featuring artists, winemakers and other locals with compelling backgrounds to give his groups, which range from six to eight guests, "their personal perspective of what it means to live in these places."

"The formula is wine, food and art," he said. "So each of the personalities we highlight, I think, really have an amazing story to tell that resonates with the visitors. It's more like traveling with a friend than with a guide."

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