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What’s Trending Now in Group Travel

Some of today’s hottest travel trends have little — or less — to do with actual destinations and more to do with conveniences along the way. Travelers want constant connection to the Internet, and they’re relying on technology to enhance their experiences. They’re boarding river cruises in droves, seeking outdoor activities and looking for shorter trips that they can squeeze into their busy schedules.

Technology and Travel

Today, travelers expect to be connected to the Internet from the time they leave their house until they return to it, and Globus is doing everything it can to offer Wi-Fi on every stage of its itineraries, said Jeff Russell, director of e-business for the Globus family of brands.

In 2013, the company added Wi-Fi to its Globus motorcoaches in Europe. This year, it is rolling out Wi-Fi on all Cosmos motorcoaches in Europe, he said. Wi-Fi is also available on all Avalon Waterways ships, and the company makes sure the hotels on its Monograms trips provide free Wi-Fi, something that’s so important to travelers that Globus always notes it on itineraries, Russell said.

“One of the big efforts we’ve made is letting people be connected on travel; we’re getting that request from all of our travelers, be it on a bus or cruise ship,” he said.

Globus also launched its “Passport to Travel” application two years ago — currently only available on iPhones — to “provide content you wouldn’t otherwise get,” Russell said. Travelers can use the app to learn in-depth or behind-the-scenes information about sites and attractions, and the app also provides “local picks,” such as a hidden gelato stand or a perfect photo op.

“We’re trying to use content in a way that enriches the travel experience and deliver that in a digital means,” Russell said.

The same applies to the company’s new approach to sending information to travelers. Globus developed an email system to break up pretravel information into “bite-sized” chunks that are sent to travelers at key milestones.

“We’re using technology to deliver content at the right time, and it really personalizes it for them,” he said.

Tapping technology to make things easier on the trade side is another trend. Globus recently launched a new agent portal with several self-service tools to “help agents manage their groups,” Russell said. For example, agents can now create online digital “fliers.” These hosted web pages act as living documents where group leaders “can customize content and itineraries and pricing, then use it as a marketing tool and as a communication tool,” he said. Globus’ new agent tools also allow group travel leaders to assign rooms, separate invoices and make individual payments under a group.


Swell in River Cruising

River cruising has taken hold among U.S. travelers only in the past 12 years or so, said Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-owner of AmaWaterways. But once river cruising caught on, it boomed, especially with groups. Today, about 40 percent of the company’s business is group travel, said Karst, who is also one of the company’s three founders.

AmaWaterways launched two new ships this year, bringing its total to 17, and the company will debut another three ships in 2015. On those ships, passengers expect luxury, Karst said, which is why AmaWaterways “started to build very large cabins.” The largest suites are about 350 square feet, and they’re “the first to go,” and the smallest staterooms, about 160 square feet each, sell last, she said.

Passengers also want balconies. AmaWaterways started building its ships with French balconies, but most clients came from ocean cruising, which has full balconies, Karst said. AmaWaterways’ “twin balcony” concept offers the best of both balconies: Half of the stateroom’s outside wall is a French balcony, and the other half is an outdoor balcony.

Although Europe still dominates the industry, Southeast Asia will likely see the most growth, Karst said. AmaWaterways broke into Asia in 2009 with its first itinerary on the Mekong River. The company put a second ship on the Mekong in 2011 and will launch a third on that river next year. AmaWaterways will debut in Myanmar in November when the AmaPura sails its maiden voyage on the Irrawaddy River.

“There’s quite a trend going in Asia,” Karst said. She said the latest trend is cruising in Myanmar, a country whose borders were closed to the world until last year. “People want to go there, they want to explore it, but they want to go in the shell of a river cruise. They feel safe in this environment.”

Another growing trend is themed cruises. AmaWaterways started offering themed cruises five years ago with its wine cruises. Today, the company has 22 different wine cruises that feature excursions to vineyards and wineries, private tours of wine cellars and onboard talks by expert wine hosts, Karst said.

This year, the company has about 30 departure dates for themed cruises alone. Although wine cruises are the most popular, the company also offers Jewish Heritage cruises, Christmas cruises and themed trips for beer, chocolate and, new this year, knitting. AmaWaterways is also introducing In Celebration of Life cruises to celebrate cancer survivors, remember lost loved ones and donate $500 per cabin to the American Cancer Society, Karst said.