There are different levels of luxury and different expectations for luxury travel, but it’s fair to say the idea of luxury has shifted in recent years.
“It used to be all about thread count and all the amenities,” said Jean Fawcett, media relations manager for tour operator Abercrombie and Kent. “Now that’s sort of expected, and people want that experiential aspect — taking that luxury and turning it into an experience.”
Small group travel delivers the luxury of experience because smaller groups can do things and get into places larger groups can’t. It also provides the luxury of time because small groups aren’t bound by strict schedules and minute-by-minute itineraries.
Here are some companies that specialize in one-of-a-kind experiences for smaller groups.
Abercrombie and Kent
Abercrombie and Kent offers a range of luxury small group itineraries. Its Connections Boutique Journeys have a maximum of 24 guests who stay in boutique, local accommodations. The properties aren’t necessarily four- and five-star — or even rated, for that matter — but are high-quality.
“So it’s not super luxury, but it’s very authentic and caters to the traveler who likes those boutique hotels as opposed to the Four Seasons,” Fawcett said.
Abercrombie’s Luxury Small-Group Journeys, though, are “luxury from top to bottom,” with stays at the Ritz or Four Seasons, for example. Each departure has a maximum of 18 guests and a resident group leader who is with them 24/7. In addition to the group leader, local guides in every city provide in-depth local insight. Abercrombie also has 52 offices around the world, “so we have our own staff on the ground,” she said.
Trips to India and Peru and African safaris in Kenya and Tanzania are perennial favorites, and Egypt has been making a big comeback for Abercrombie, which never stopped traveling there.
Itineraries include insider access, such as getting into the Hermitage before it opens to the public. In India, groups stay in former and, in some cases, current palaces, such as the lavish Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur and the grand Rambagh Palace in Jaipur. In Peru, the group stays at the only hotel on-site at Machu Picchu and mingles with farmers and children of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Abercrombie’s Wings Over the World program flies groups of 12 to 20 on private charter aircraft, which allows them to spend more time at their destination and less time in airports, Fawcett said.
Experience Park Tours
There’s no need to rough it when exploring some of the nation’s most spectacular national parks. Experience Park Tours offers multiday, small group luxury itineraries that showcase the best of America’s national parks and scenic areas.
The company never takes more than 20 people per coach, which are limo-liners with leather-couch-style seating, flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi and charging stations, as well as an on-board chef, a photographer and destination expert guides.
Experience Park Tours always uses four- and five-star accommodations that also offer amenities such as golf, spas and shopping so that “everyone gets to have a good time, everyone can curate their own best day,” Goss said.
Traveling with small groups allows the luxury of making unplanned stops and enjoying spontaneous events. Once, while driving through a park, a group spotted some bears tumbling down a hill, so they pulled over and pulled out a bottle of wine and watched, Goss said. The same applies when a group stumbles across a raging waterfall or a local farmers market that isn’t on the itinerary.
Experience Park Tours offers 11 itineraries but also customizes trips, either off-season in spring or fall or in-season, when a group has 20 people to fill a bus.
The company’s departures in the Canadian Rockies and Pacific Northwest have become very popular, Goss said, in part because of the variety guests experience: whale-watching in the San Juan Islands, wildlife spotting in Yellowstone National Park or wine tasting on the Columbia River Gorge.
New for 2018, the Wine Tasting in Northwest Grandeur itinerary takes guests through wine countries in Washington and Oregon, pairing tastings with meals and with views of and visits to Puget Sound, Palouse Falls State Park and Lake Coeur d’Alene.