Ayers Rock with Collette VacationsThe rise of an active baby boomer generation has been attracting the attention of tour operators for several years, and both Collette Vacations and Tauck World Discovery last year created tour product lines geared specifically toward this growing demographic.

Unfortunately, they launched their active boomer brands right into the global economic crisis. Nevertheless, both companies said they planned to move forward with those brands, regarding them as long-term investments in a lucrative market segment.

"It launched at what couldn't have been a worse time," said Melissa Snape, executive vice president of product at Collette, which in January 2008 introduced Explorations, a small-group-trek division geared toward active boomers.

But she added that despite the economic setbacks, "I really believe that Explorations has the potential to be as big as [the Collette Vacations brand] within the next five years." Already, she said, Explorations has grown to make up about 15% to 20% of Collette's overall business.

After Tauck introduced its ambitious active-boomer concept, Culturious, in December 2008, the brand scaled back its initial offering from seven destinations to three.

"When the economy stumbled last year, we naturally scaled back our forecasts for Culturious," said Tom Armstrong, corporate communications manager for Tauck. "Our overriding, long-term goal was to develop and successfully launch a premium-quality brand extension that would position Tauck and our agents to serve the active, affluent boomer market, not just in 2009 but in 2010 and the years beyond. We definitely accomplished that, despite a challenging environment."

The new active-boomer products Collette and Tauck introduced are for smaller groups: Collette said its Explorations groups range from 16 to 24 people, while Tauck said its Culturious groups average about 16 travelers. They offer more immersive experiences geared for travelers ranging in age from their mid-40s to their mid-60s, for a slightly higher price than their traditional product.

For example, travelers on the Culturious itinerary in Tuscany and Cinque Terre, Italy, visit an art restoration specialist in Florence; cycle along the medieval walls of Lucca; hike between the coastal villages of Cinque Terre; and travel through the Vasari Corridor, an art-lined, private passageway above Florence's streets that was built in the 1500s for the Medicis.

Snape said Explorations launched with 11 destinations and will have 14 destinations in 2010 and probably an additional three destinations in 2011. The new 2010 destinations are Provence, France, which includes activities such as a cooking demonstration, wine and cheese tasting and visiting an olive oil facility; an Australia and New Zealand combination tour; and a tour that explores Mayan ruins in Topal, Copan and Antigua in Guatemala. Of all the destinations Explorations offers, Guatemala is the only one offered exclusively by Explorations and not by Collette.

"We like to find destinations where there are more culturally rich experiences in a smaller geographic area," Snape said of Collette's selection process for its destinations.

In addition to the Tuscany itinerary, the 2009 lineup for Culturious, which had its first departure on Aug. 22, includes Manitoba and Peru. In 2010, South Africa and Namibia; Provence; and Costa Rica are being introduced.

"When the economy didn't perk up ... we altered our launch from a full launch to a staggered launch," Armstrong said in August. "What we really wanted to avoid was to cancel any departures."

Armstrong said that thus far, Culturious has operated every departure of every itinerary and in some cases added departures.

As for why the companies see potential in this model of touring, Snape said, "a lot of clients that are entering the world of touring are doing it as an experienced traveler, which is very different than where we sat 15 or 20 years ago. If you look at a lot of the growth that's taken place in our industry, it's been with smaller groups."

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI