The term "guided tours" doesn't evoke images of
young adults jet-setting around the globe creating Instagrammable memories.
millennial-focused tour operator Contiki has managed to make guided tours
relevant to its 18- to 35-year-old customers by adapting to their
Most recently, Contiki created a form of touring that
enables clients to mix and match itineraries and gives them the freedom and
flexibility they say they want.
Launching in Europe in 2018, Contiki's Independent Insider
itineraries are designed to be assembled like building blocks. Travelers can
opt into one block (three nights), two blocks (six nights), three blocks (nine
nights) or the full four-block (12 nights) trip. They can even link all four
12-night itineraries to create a four-week European journey.
Once the itinerary is created, Contiki arranges transfers
and hotel accommodations and offers a menu of activities each day. There are no
wake-up calls or set schedules, and travelers can engage in as little or as
many of the available #noregrets-included excursions or the "free time
add-ons," which are optional excursions for an added cost.
"They want to know that if they want to make a trip
their own, they can do so," said Casper Urhammer, global CEO of Contiki.
Urhammer said that millennial travelers -- especially those
who have already been overseas a few times, have traveled with Contiki before
or have traditionally been FIT travelers -- want to be able to have a hand in customizing
their itinerary so they can do their own thing and not be locked into a tight
schedule or be forced to spend time with strangers.
Even so, what is keeping the concept of guided touring alive
and growing in popularity among younger travelers is the social aspect.
Urhammer added: "What usually happens when we come into
a destination and we say, 'Tonight's your free night. Go and do what you want
to do.' -- and this is the irony of the whole thing: they buy [the Independent
Insider tour] because they want the free time, but when they're there, they
have this cool trip manager, this new group of friends, it is a lot of fun, it
is a great experience. They say, 'No, I don't want to be on my own. I want to
hang out with this group and have some fun.'"
Socializing doesn't necessarily mean partying hard. Urhammer
said that current trends in health, fitness and wellness have made partying, at
whatever age, less of a priority for many of today's travelers.
In an effort to break away from its partying reputation,
Contiki five years ago split off its tours that cater to the late-night crowd
into a category called High Energy. The rest of its tours focus on other
interests, such as immersive cultural experiences and cruising.
Urhammer said today's travelers are much more focused on "authenticity"
(a word he said he is getting tired of using) and on food. In fact, he said,
Contiki research found that good food rates highest among the things that today's
travelers want and appreciate most.
In an effort to combine cuisine and authentic experiences,
the Independent Insider tours include activities such as a progressive food
tour through Berlin, a street art tour of Barcelona and a Vespa-driving tour in