TW associate editor Cathy Carroll accompanied 21 agents, who won a sales contest sponsored by Globus, on a 10-night trip to Hong Kong; Bangkok, Thailand, and Singapore. The departure was the first of the firm's LeisureStyle vacations, aimed at capturing the baby-boomer market. Her report follows:

HONG KONG -- A handful of agents left their shoes at the door of Tilly Liu's apartment, donned the slippers she offered and followed her into the kitchen. They watched intently as Liu pressed delicate wonton pastry into pork dumplings; cooked radish cakes in a bamboo steamer and a wok, and chatted about topics ranging from her daily swimming routine, her cooking show on Japanese television and her previous career as a secretary for Kodak.

She then seated her guests around her dining table and invited them to sample the food along with cup after cup of jasmine tea. "This is just what my clients want," said Joan Bennett of Stony Hill Travel of Bethel, Conn.

The itinerary included three days of city tours. On the remaining days, guests could purchase optional excursions at such as a reflexology session in Hong Kong, spa treatments in Singapore, a trip to the "floating market" of a canalside village outside Bangkok and a trip from Bangkok to the River Kwai.

Globus sees this as the way to attract baby boomers, the market segment with the most money to spend on travel and who also demand more freedom, adventure and education on escorted tours. "This is new for this company because, traditionally, every moment was planned for you," said Scott Nisbet, Globus' executive director of marketing and sales.

Most of the agents who sampled the Real Asia itinerary said Globus, the escorted tour monolith, is right on the mark, while some said the company has not diverged enough from traditional escorted tour elements. "It's the right way of heading, but it needs some tweaking," said Polly Grieger of Casey Travel in Chicago.

She said that prior to travel, clients needed to receive more information about the optional excursions on the tour and a sort of "Top 10" list of attractions in each destination with city maps and transportation guides showing how to get around on their own. This would help guests to better plan, before they leave home, how they will spend their free time during the tour, she said.

Alan Abelson of Travel Agents International in Orlando, Fla. agreed. "It's a great idea, but they are still finding their way," he said. "I have confidence this company will find that way, but right now there are not enough alternatives."

Nisbet polled the agents for their comments on the trip and said Globus would heed their suggestions to provide better destination information to guests prior to travel. He also agreed with agents who said this type of tour would not be right for clients who are well-traveled, regardless of their age.

"People who are militant independent travelers will never be interested in any structure, but people who are interested in hassle-free travel and having someone take care of the headaches are candidates for this style of touring," Nisbet said. "The simple fact of getting a better rate on your hotel and having your bags handled could theoretically be the reason to do this tour." He also said the company would adapt its optional excursions to meet varying interests.

One way Globus will do that is to tap into the experiences the agents had and those that future clients discover during their free time on the tours, Nisbet said. Several agents in this group did their own research and ventured to places not offered as optional excursions and spent more time at some sights which Globus did include in its excursions.

For instance, instead of choosing Globus' optional, all-day excursion from Bangkok to visit the Damneon Saduak floating market, some agents went into the Thai countryside for elephant trekking and spent several hours exploring the floating market by boat. By contrast, the Globus excursion included shopping, lunch and a Thai cultural show and devoted 45 minutes to tour the floating market.

One day, Bennett flew to the beaches of Phuket, a Thai island, while Grieger and others explored Bintan Island in Indonesia.

Several agents said a tour such as this, which is not fully escorted but has some of those elements, is particularly useful for selling exotic destinations such as Asia. "It eliminates the fear of coming to a really faraway place," said Bennett. The operator "holds your hand, gives you a good rate on your hotel, includes orientation sightseeing -- and then you are free to do all these things."

Tours such as this also fill a need because fewer agents have traveled in Asia compared with western Europe, and that makes it more difficult to sell independent tours to Asia, agents said. "With a good guidebook, an inexperienced traveler can have a wonderful time. But the further away clients go, the more traveled they need to be, or they should be on some form of an escorted tour," Abelson said .

Mary Ann Canney of Massland Travel in Kingston, Mass., said the market is ripe for such itineraries. "I'm selling longer trips to people in their 40s and 50s who are staying 10 to 12 nights. They have more money and want to spend it," she said.

And although the concept is targeting baby boomers, several agents said they would sell it to clients of all ages. Aimee Barhite, a 22-year-old agent with AAA Western and Central New York in Ithaca, N.Y., raved about the trip, her first to Asia. She said she would book clients in their 20s because of the shopping, the cultural sights and area beaches.

Heather Lawley, an agent with the on-line agency Travel Navigator of Garland, Texas, said, "It's for people who want to be led by the hand, but you still have younger people who are leery about where to go and what to do."

The tour cost of up to $2,350 including air from Los Angeles, plus the value of the included tours and breakfasts would attract her Internet-surfing clients, she said.

Charlie Sturm of Lindstrom Travel in Rockford, Ill., said he would recommend the LeisureStyle tours to young clients, but is concerned that tour stops at jewelry stores and factories with vast sales staffs pushing gems and gold would be a turnoff. "I don't like group tour shopping agendas where someone is getting a kickback. I would warn my clients about them," he said.

Packages offered throughout Europe, Canada, U.S.

Globus' Europe and North America itineraries also include new LeisureStyle vacations.

The seven-night Italy at Leisure tour offers two- and three-night stays in Rome, Florence and Venice, and a one-night stay in Milan. All prices vary according to date of departure. Land-only rates range from $1,519 to $1,539. Air-inclusive costs range from $2,264 to $2,462 from New York.

The seven-night London & Country tour prices range from $1,279 to $1,299 for land only, and $1,782 to $1,952 for air-inclusive prices from New York.

In North America, the Southern California Holiday offers travelers three nights each in San Diego and Palm Springs, and two nights in Beverly Hills. Land-only prices range from $1,359 to $1,539.

The eight-night Sunny Arizona tour visits Tucson, Sedona, the Grand Canyon and Scottsdale. Land-only prices range from $1,439 to $1,499.

The Great Cities of the East tour offers three-night stays in Boston and New York and two nights in Washington. Land-only prices range from $1,859 to $1,899.

The eight-night Great Resorts of the Canadian Rockies tour visits Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper and Edmonton, Alberta. Land-only prices range from $1,759 to $1,789.

Globus LeisureStyle Vacations can be booked through all major CRSs and include four- and five-star accommodations, daily breakfasts, some dinners, professional tour directors, sightseeing, transportation, hotel taxes and service charges and baggage handling.

Globus, Phone: (800) 999-8800 for brochures, (800) 221-0090 for reservations, Web: www.globusandcosmos.com

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