“We’re doing well with our water trips — ocean cruises, river cruises or land tours with a water component. We’re also doing well with tours that include airfare in the total price. People tell us they don’t like to deal with the airlines, and it’s nice to know the flights are prearranged and included in the cost. We’ve also seen an interest in shorter tours. Sometimes, people will book a few shorter alumni tours within one calendar year rather than one longer tour.”
— Brent Hurley, associate director, alumni travel and education, Penn State University
“We’re seeing more special-interest groups — museum groups, arts groups and similar groups that are looking for luxury accommodations and services. Our concierge class of service, where we customize trips, is doing very well right now. People are looking for unique experiences they can tell their friends about. Bragging rights, so to speak. They want things outside the brochure.”
— Mark Grundy, president, USA Division,
Wendy Wu Tours Inc.
“Dubai is very hot right now, so that interests us. When we did China a couple of years ago, we had built-in business sessions offered by companies based in Kentucky with operations in China. And the tour operator we used set up business opportunities for some of our group. We’ll do that sort of thing in Dubai. We’ll have an entire day of business with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce. And we’ll meet with the equine interests there as well.”
— Lynda Bebrowsky, senior vice president,
“We’re offering high-end accommodations and restaurants exclusively. We don’t do franchise restaurants. And the venues we look for are out-of-the-way sites. A good example would be a trip we just planned to the East Coast with a stop in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A local insider told us to take our group to the Horse Inn in their historic district. It was originally a stable, and stalls are still in place for seating areas. The food was outstanding.”
— Doug Robinson, travel director,
Morton Community Bank, Illinois
Those are just a few of the comments we heard when, prior to the Select Traveler Conference in Huntsville, Alabama, March 30 to April 1, we checked in with industry leaders on travel trends they are seeing. A few they seemed to agree on were interest in upscale dining options featuring local fare, enjoying meaningful educational components and interest in emerging destinations.
Grundy agreed with Hurley that water-based trips are currently popular.
“River cruising has grown exponentially over the past decade,” he said. “That whole model is very popular on the Yangtze in China. But now we’re combining ocean cruising as well. We’re working with Windstar and Azimara cruise lines to offer land tours in China in combination with their cruises in the Pacific.”
Grundy also underscored the consumers’ current interest in authentic dining experiences.
“We’re offering some trips in China right now in association with Chinese chef Ching He Huang, trips we promote on the Food Network. She accompanies our groups and offers cooking courses along the way.”
Hurley said that the educational value of Penn State trips is key to his travelers.
“The majority of people who travel on Penn State alumni tours seem to understand we’re offering experiences that are a bit different from what they could easily arrange on their own as independent travelers,” he said. “The trips are offered by companies that specialize in alumni travel and, therefore, utilize expert local guides and have excursions that are, by design, more experiential and educational than what a typical tourist might be looking for.”
Count many of Hurley’s travelers as fans of smaller groups.
“For our private departures, such as our Odysseys Unlimited tours, we have a maximum of 24 in the group — only Penn Staters on those tours,” he said. “These small-group exclusive departures are very popular with our travelers. In fact, once people experience this type of tour, they often say it’s the only way they want to travel in the future.”
Bebrowsky said that like many other affinity group members, her chamber travelers like the idea of traveling with people they know.
“Most of our people are doing these trips with us on their vacation dime,” she said. “They’re bringing their spouses and enjoying themselves; but anytime we can offer business opportunities as part of the package, we will. And we always have a staff member on a trip. We don’t want to just be a conduit for travel. We’ve made a conscious decision as a chamber not to do that.”
She also cautions against returning to an emerging destination too soon.
“We took 90 to Cuba and turned some away,” she said. “But there was an initial rush to go to Cuba, and then some of that fell off. We’re not sure yet about when we might go back.”
Robinson said over time, he has gravitated away from using numerous tour operators and instead focuses his efforts now on one or two.
“Long-term relationships with a couple of companies now interest me more than just price,” he said. “Our customers will pay more for a top-drawer experience. They want that attention to detail that some companies specialize in.”
Select Traveler Conference
Watch for coverage of the Select Traveler Conference being held March 30 – April 1 in Huntsville, Alabama, in the May/June issue of Select Traveler magazine!
For registration details, visit www.selectravelerconf.com.