What constitutes a ‘tour’ is evolving to encompass everything from wine tasting in luxury with your own sommelier to an intrepid trek through wild territory. It could be a group escorted tour by coach or a carefully planned self-drive for an independent-minded couple – whatever it is, sales for touring are on the rise.

“Recognition about the role that agents can play in advising clients on more complicated touring itineraries is driving an increase in the number of operators working with the trade.”

Perfect 10

  1. Romantic Sicily: Suggest a self-guided tour, staying in three different properties including Relais Torre Marabino, a former 16th century fortified grain tower.

  2. Historic Colorado: Discover the US state’s heritage railways on an escorted tour of Pikes Peak Cog Railway and Durango & Silverton Narrow-Gauge Railroad.

  3. Glacier and Bernina Express: A summer group tour taking in the Glacier and Bernina Express railways that compete to be the most scenic.

  4. Prosecco, Italy: The UK is the biggest consumer of the drink after Italy so this self-guided cycling tourshould leave Brits fizzing with excitement.

  5. Wonders of Peru: Explore Kuelap and Chachapoyas, recently excavated Inca ruins, described as the Machu Picchu of the north, and made more accessible in 2018 by a new cable car.

  6. Battlefields: 2018 marks the centenary of the end of the First World War so demand for specialist tours of Flanders and the Somme will be high.

  7. Iran adventure: Tour Tehran, opulent Golestan Palace, Kashan on the edge of the Maranjab desert, Atashkadeh fire temple and other lesser-known treasures.

  8. New Zealand’s North: Visit Auckland, Bay of Islands, Coromandel, Rotorua, Lake Taupo, Napier, Martinborough and Wellington, with hire car.

  9. Best of Egypt: Marvel at the Great Pyramids of Giza, visit a traditional Nubian village, tour the vibrant bazaars of Aswan and Luxor and sail the Nile in a traditional felucca.

  10. Danakil volcano trek: Fly into Addis Ababa and venture to north-east Ethiopia to experience dramatic nature and nomadic life in the Afar Triangle. 

Striking out

This desire for adventure ‘with a safety net’ is driving a boom in guided and self-guided touring holidays. “Travellers are increasingly keen to go somewhere new and different and away from the tired and cliched,” says John Telfer, Managing Director, Explore, which has introduced new tours in Kazakhstan, Ghana and St Helena for 2018.

Concerns about ‘over-tourism’ are also spurring operators to expand into lesser-known places. For Example, Intrepid has introduced a 13-day Moldova (the least-visited country in Europe), Ukraine and Romania tour, running from April to September.

But this doesn’t mean the old favourites are fading out of the picture: Italy has always been popular for escorted groups while Inghams has introduced two new tours this year to meet demand, including the seven-night Jewels of the Veneto, covering Venice and prosecco tasting in the Valdobbiandene region.

Recognition about the role that agents can play in advising clients on more complicated touring itineraries is driving an increase in the number of operators working with the trade.

Travel the Unknown is turning to independent agents for the first time to sell its trips to far-flung corners of the world including Ethiopia, Iran, Bhutan and the Balkans and founding Director Rahul Aggarwal says: “We offer end-to-end agent support, and are more than happy to step in to speak to clients on the agent’s behalf if needs be, to help them to secure the sale and the commission.”

Independent versus escorted

Trade-focused Travel 2 has reported year-on-year growth in touring bookings – 29% in rail tours and 19% in escorted and independent tours, with Southeast Asia leading the charge with a two per cent growth in bookings followed by the Indian Ocean and India up 34% and 32% respectively. To satisfy demand, Travel 2 has added 130 new tours to its 2017/18 brochure.

But when it comes to touring one size doesn’t fit all and both independent and escorted touring products are evolving to meet these needs, so that hand-holding can be as protective or as relaxed as the customer wishes.

Many operators cater for escorted and independent clients. InsideAsia’s small group/tailored split sits at about 25:75 and Agent Sales Manager Matt Spiller says escorted business is on the up: “After introducing more tours in 2017, about 97% of the tour seats were full to capacity with 2018 looking even stronger,” he claims.

However, he admits that the majority choose to go alone, while still benefiting from the planning and expertise of the destination specialist.

For group tours, clients tend to look for one that fits their age bracket. Contiki, G Adventures’ 18-to-Thirtysomethings and Tucan Travel’s Adventures for 20s and 30s target a younger crowd, while Titan, Saga and Collette cater for the grey market. Adventure operators, like Explore, G Adventures and Intrepid, attract a mix of ages.

For solo travellers there are specialists such as Just You as well as a growing range of product from the likes of Kuoni, Great Rail Journeys and Riviera Travel waiving single supplements.

What’s new

Tours: A common theme across Travel 2’s 130 new tour additions is more immersion, says Mark Henderson, Senior Product and Commercial Manager, Touring: “We’re adding exclusive experiences from enjoying lunch in the homes of the indigenous community of Lake Titicaca (Peru), to the Janbanbarra Jirrbal Rainforest Cultural Experience (Australia), where guests enjoy a private lecture about the history and culture of the rainforest people.” 

Prestige Holidays’ new 16-night-fly-drive package, Newfoundland Discovery, starts from £2,498pp (twin-share). August and September are the best months to see whales and icebergs are at their most visible late May to early June.

Destinations: Shearings reports a 70% increase in sales for Croatia and Slovenia last year and has introduced two new tours of Slovenia, including a 12-day highlights tour which takes in Lake Bled, Ljubljana and Postojna Caves.

Before its political and civil demonstrations at the start of the year, Iran was looking like one of those ‘hot’ destinations in 2108. Intrepid has three different itineraries including the 10-day Iran Real Food Adventure, with departures in May, September, October and November (from £2,295pp excluding flights).

Expect enquiries for Russia to gain traction on the back of this summer’s FIFA World Cup. New for G Adventures is a Backroads of Russia tour, from £1,549pp for a 12-day trip St Petersburg- Moscow, with departures from May.

China’s Terracotta Warriors are coming to Liverpool’s World Museum this year (from February 9). Newmarket Holidays and Shearings have packages that include their original home, X’ian.

Where to book it

Travel 2’s  new 17-day Grand Vietnam Experience, as an independent tour, is from £2,869pp, based on two sharing. It includes 16 nights’ in boutique hotels B&B, three lunches and two dinners, sightseeing, tour guides, transfers and flights from Gatwick.

G Adventures has a new eight-day Highlights of Oman tour starts from £1,499pp, twin share, with departures from September. The deal includes breakfast plus a lunch and dinner, but flights are extra.

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