Destinations editor Eric Moya spoke with Liam Dunch, Abercrombie & Kent USA's product manager, Europe, about this year's revamp of its Connections offeringsQ: What have been the biggest changes to Connections since the tours launched in 2013, and what was the thinking behind the changes?A:
It's been a brand that's been gaining focus until we had this relaunch for 2017. How can we connect an American traveler to the local culture and have a feeling like they've experienced a destination rather than just seeing it? So that's what we're trying to do with the whole portfolio now.
I think there were visions at the beginning that Connections was going to be sort of a non-A&K product that would appeal to a whole different level of traveler. And I think the realization has been that that's actually not what we're doing and not what we want to do. Really, Connections is a product that appeals to the same A&K traveler as our other products, it's just about the style of travel. Q: Is it a challenge to find boutique hotels to accommodate a group of 24?A:
Hotels are always a challenge, in some cities more than others. The targets that we have are between 50 and 150 rooms. The problem is, if you get too small there's too much competition with FIT travel, and it's really hard to get hotels that are in the 20- to 30-room range to work with you on a group.
If you get too large, then you're in competition with other, much larger tour operators that are bringing groups of 40 to 50 people. And we don't want to be with them. We want the guests to feel almost like they're traveling individually. Q: I was struck by how much free time the tour included.A:
The goal is to have generally at least a half-day free every two or three days. It's not a homogenous group; it's a group of individuals traveling together, and they all have different interests. So when you're in a major city like Madrid or Seville, you don't want to dictate everything that everybody does. Individuals need space to explore on their own. It's a crucial part of the design of the tour: to allow those individual experiences to develop, to unfold.