Thought LeadershipSponsored by the Austrian National Tourist Office

Europe: Beyond the Obvious

Photo Credit: Sebastian Stiphout

Send clients off the beaten path for unique Europe travel experiences.

With all the world-famous attractions throughout Europe, clients might think they already know everything that’s out there to see and do. They would be wrong! While traditional favorites continue to rank high on travelers’ wish lists, the quest for authenticity is encouraging curious globetrotters to go off the beaten path—and European nations offer seemingly infinite possibilities to go deep, exploring both new destinations and new sites within popular destinations for more immersive and authentic experiences. 

Travel agents are especially well positioned to take advantage of this trend, channeling their in-depth destination knowledge to create fresh tourism options for their Europe-bound clients. 

And recent statistics prove the sales potential for selling lesser-known destinations, attractions and activities in Europe. According to the latest statistics from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, international tourism arrivals to the continent jumped an impressive 8 percent in 2017. With regions like Northern Europe and Central/Eastern Europe each recording robust 5 percent growth for the year, it’s clear that as more travelers land in Europe, more people are moving beyond the crowded tourist centers and focusing on a wider range of destinations, sites and activities. 

What’s Motivating the Shift
A variety of factors are encouraging travelers to seek new experiences in Europe. For one thing, as the number of travelers arriving in the region grows each year, the most popular cities and sites become increasingly crowded, encouraging visitors to look toward new destinations and experiences. In addition, travelers who are after bragging rights—those who want a travel experience that most others have not had access to—will find more such opportunities by heading off the beaten path.

For Ethel Hansen Davey, an agent at Uniglobe Enterprise Travel in Toronto, another reason travelers are becoming more adventurous is the improved communication tools available today. “There’s less of a language barrier nowadays,” she says. “Now we have devices that translate for you, so you can go anywhere. The world is opening up. And people are less afraid of doing things that aren’t in the brochures.”

Nathalie Nagy, an independent consultant with New York City-based Protravel International who also runs her own agency, Boutique Journeys, also credits increased access and connectivity for the growth of travel beyond main city centers. “The world gets smaller every year with technology, availability and ease of travel for everyone,” she says. 

And then there’s the unstoppable growth of experiential travel, one of the most important motivators in travelers’ search for immersive experiences in Europe. The 2018 Virtuoso Luxe Report, for example, showed that top travel motivations now include exploring new destinations, seeking authentic experiences and personal enrichment, and also pointed out the importance of creating trips where clients can “be a traveler rather than a tourist.” 

New Twists on Old Favorites
One way to give travelers that sense of local immersion is to put a unique spin on a classic destination, particularly for clients who don’t want to completely miss Europe’s big-ticket cities and attractions, or are returning to a place they have visited before.

“Many people have been to Europe and have seen the cultural highlights—Big Ben in London, the Colosseum in Rome, Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna,” Nagy says. “But not everyone has visited the Schonbrunn Palace at night, when there is nobody else there, or gone to the Lobmeyr workshop (part of the Wiener Werkstatte) to watch them actually preparing their beautiful, timeless glass products.”

Michael Gigl, director of the Austrian Tourist Office in New York City, agrees that many travelers are looking for in-depth exploration of legendary destinations. “There’s always been a segment of the traveling population that’s looked for the hidden secrets and off-the-beaten-path programs,” he says. “Even with places that you already know, just having a deeper, richer experience is the key to a successful trip. It’s about doing things that really give you a sense of the place.”

Advisors who want to create this type of experience for their clients have a number of tools at hand. One major asset is the growth of niche travel experiences that tap into personal interests—health and wellness, genealogy, history, and food and wine are just a few examples—which can be used to give a familiar destination a unique and personalized spin, as well as to get clients out into less-touristy parts of major cities for more immersive opportunities.

In Vienna, for example, travelers interested in history can immerse themselves in the lives of the princely family of Liechtenstein at the City Palace and Garden Palace, those interested in music can learn about Mozart’s brilliance at Mozarthaus Vienna, and art lovers can indulge their passion at both the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) and MuseumsQuartier Wien (MQ), one of the world’s largest art complexes.

Diana Hechler, president of D. Tours Travel, an Ensemble Travel Group agency in Larchmont, New York, says that history and cuisine are especially big draws for her clients. “If people are going to Europe, they want to see the things they read about in the history books,” she says. “And interest in food and wine is definitely increasing, as well as cooking classes.” 

Parts Unknown
The search for authenticity is also driving travelers toward off-the-beaten-path destinations in Europe. In fact, on Virtuoso’s 2018 Luxe Report, three of the list’s top five emerging destinations were European countries (Iceland, Croatia and Portugal), pointing to the growing popularity of unusual opportunities in the region. 

Travelers are also looking to explore new parts of favorite European countries, whether it be repeat visitors choosing to explore a new region or even first-timers who are seeking a more locally immersive opportunity.  

Austria is a prime example of this trend, according to Gigl, offering a range of less-visited areas with plenty of unique and authentic experiences for travelers. “There are destinations that are not necessarily at the top of people’s minds when they think of Austria,” he says. “One is Graz, Austria’s second largest city. It’s a food and wine destination, where ‘farm to fork’ isn’t a new concept. The landscapes surrounding the city are in some ways similar to the rolling hills of Tuscany.”

And with travelers increasingly willing to head out of Europe’s cities and into the countryside to explore local life, Gigl also recommends the Arlberg region for off-the-beaten-path vacations. “In the skiing world, it’s known for having some of the most fun, challenging and upscale ski resorts, but in the summer, Arlberg is a great hiking destination,” he says. “It also hosts the very successful Mountain Yoga Festival.”

Destinations like these, which offer a good mix of unique local experiences, are key for travelers right now, according to Nagy, who says that about 75 percent of her Europe-bound clients combine traditional tourism with alternative, lesser-known experiences. “We have seen a great increase recently in culinary travel and experiential/active travel—experiences and activities, versus traditional touring,” she says. “We arrange lots of hiking, biking, rafting, ziplining, foodie and cooking tours.”

Amassing Expertise
As travelers seek increasingly diverse ways to experience Europe, travel agents can use their connections and experience to open the doors to insider experiences around the continent that clients wouldn’t know about on their own. 

“People who are going to Europe can sometimes do it themselves, but as soon as you get away from the really basic stuff, the more expertise you have, the better off you are,” says Hechler. “The more that I can offer them in terms of authenticity and things they don’t know, the stronger my business becomes.”

In order to craft unique and authentic travel, it’s also imperative that agents stay up-to-date on Europe’s ever-evolving options. “I make it a point to travel through my specialty region often,” says Nagy. “I consult with our guides and drivers often for ideas and brainstorming sessions, and we also attend trade shows to learn about new products and ideas.”

To make sure she has the most recent and interesting options available for her clients, Hechler relies heavily on building and sustaining professional contacts around Europe. 

Hotels, for one, can be a valuable resource for agents looking to immerse clients in local culture. The Austria Hotel Collection, for example, represents unique hotels in that nation’s top tourism destinations, including one-of-a-kind options like arthotel Blaue Gans, a design-focused boutique property set in Salzburg’s oldest inn, and history-infused accommodations at Hotel Stefanie, Vienna’s longest-running hotel. 

Sales Success
Off-the-beaten-path means unique, different—even quirky. For a segment that’s so individualized, some sales tactics work better than others. 

Nagy, for instance, uses the qualification process to zero in on the most appropriate type of experiences. “We find out as much about the client as possible, asking questions about their personal interests, their travel history, what created memorable trips for them in the past, what things they did not enjoy that we should avoid moving forward,” she says.

Davey finds success by sharing personal experiences via social media to show clients some truly unique vacation opportunities. She also points out that agents should make sure to target the right audience, noting that educated young people as well as experienced travelers are more likely to appreciate alternative vacation ideas. 

“Clients who’ve already done a tour or river cruise, for example, may have seen something that piqued their interest and made them want to go back and explore,” Davey explains. 

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