Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

InsightEvery time you turn around, it seems another tour operator is introducing a new independent travel program or adding more small-group itineraries, the latest example being the newly expanded Boutique Journeys by Brendan Vacations.

Brendan, which built its brand around traditional tours and packages to Ireland, is introducing small-group tours to a combination of destinations it already offers (such as France and Italy) and exotic destinations it has never served before (such as Vietnam, South Africa, India, Guatemala and Colombia). The guaranteed departures can go out with as few as two travelers, and no more than 24. Brendan has also beefed up its independent travel offering. And there are countless other tour operators introducing similar products.

So what's going on with us as travelers that all these escorted tour companies keep evolving their product offering to cater to smaller, more intimate groups, or to travelers who'd rather go it alone?

One theory is that we're just a bit more exclusive than our traveling predecessors. Some people just don't want to travel in larger groups. They'd rather travel with their friends, family or perhaps a small group of people with similar interests.

So let's face it, we're kind of becoming a bunch of "mean girls" -- a bit cliquey, if you will. We've prejudged potential traveling partners before we've even met them and decided we don't want to travel with these elusive strangers. The question is, why? Have we bad experiences on group trips? Are we foreseeing potentially awkward or unsavory encounters with our faceless travel companions?

What's interesting is that tour operators often tout that the hidden secret to success of many tours is the bonds that form among the passengers on these trips. True, you might not click with everyone you are traveling with, but there might be some potential lifelong friends in the mix, or at least some very fun traveling pals.

Nevertheless, tour operators also can't fight market trends. And if the market seems to want more independence right now -- if the market wants to choose whom it's going to sit with in the cafeteria -- then the product is going to reflect that.

For news on tour operations, wholesalers and river cruising, follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.

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