Hot Destinations: Clients Choosing Roads – and Rivers – Less Traveled

by Maria Lenhart

Whether it’s Burma, the Galapagos, Vietnam or Europe’s smaller cities – emerging, exotic and less-visited destinations are enjoying a rise in demand among travel agency clients.

At the same time, river cruises continue to grow in popularity – presumably because they feed clients’ desires for in-depth, off-the-the-beaten path experiences. 

This trend for exotic, more complex destinations is great news for travel sellers, said Lindsay Pearlman, co-president of Ensemble Travel Group, at the recent Ensemble conference in Las Vegas.

Where in the world 435

“People may be able to book their own trips to Paris and London online, but they need a travel agent to help them with exotic trips,” he said.

Of course, not all clients are opting for the exotic. Italy remains a “perennial favorite,” agents said. And this year visits to U.S. national parks and cruises to Alaska have been up, some reported.

Travel Market Report spoke with agents and tour operators to learn which destinations are sparking the most client interest these days.

Going for big ticket items
“People want exotic, emerging destinations. The hot destinations are Ecuador, the Galapagos, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, African safaris. People are going for big-ticket items. It’s like they want to spend money now because they don’t know how things will be later on.” – Judy Ruffini, regional sales manager, General Tours

“People are looking for adventure, something different, expedition cruises to places not everyone else has been to. Myanmar is a new destination that is drawing people – it’s a beautiful country and you can combine it with Cambodia, Laos and other places in the region. The Galapagos and the Amazon are big. Of course, there are still people who want traditional cruises. People are spending. The economy has not been that great, but they are saying they want to go.” – Betsy Campbell Walsh, CTC, Lido Travel (TRAVELSAVERS), Cohasset, Mass.

Cruising the Med, Alaska
“For cruises, the Mediterranean has been very big this year, despite the high airfares. For families, Alaska cruises have been huge – bigger than ever.” – Susan Disney-Greenberg, MCC, Edgewood Travel (Ensemble), Savannah, Ga.

Viva Italia
“I’ve been doing a lot of Europe, especially Italy. I do a lot of honeymoons for people in their 20s and 30s. Italy is romantic and, for a lot of people, it’s their dream destination. It can be affordable. The airfare is the biggest chunk, but there are budget options once you’re there. – Lisa Kennedy, Cruise Planners, Folsom, Calif.

“Italy is a perennial favorite – that never changes.” – Diana Hechler, D. Tours Travel (Ensemble), Larchmont, N.Y.

Bragging rights
“A lot of my clients, especially those in the 25- to 35-age group, are really interested in the more intimate cities of Europe. For example, Bilbao in the Basque country of northern Spain is very popular. They want a unique experience that goes beyond the traditional. They want exclusivity, to be able to say, ‘I’ve been there.’” – Rosemary Torres Guziejka, Laugh Live Travel, Aliso Viejo, Calif.

Australia and Vietnam
“We’ve had a lot of inquiries about Australia this year. I’m not sure what’s driving this. There’s also a whole lot of interest in Vietnam. I went there two years ago and wrote about it in my newsletter. It generated a lot of interest from my clients.” – Diana Hechler

Middle market discovers Down Under
“We’ve seen a fair amount of interest in Australia and New Zealand. They are popular because they’re off the beaten path for a lot of people. They’ve been popular with high-end travelers, but now are popular with mid-range travelers as well. This is also a result of people becoming resigned to the fact that airfares are high and are not coming down. It took awhile for the rabbit to work its way down the snake.” – Charlie Funk, Just Cruisin’ Plus (, Nashville, Tenn.

Seeing the USA
“The [U.S.] national parks are way up for us this year. High airfares to Europe may have something to do with this.” – Scott Nesbit, president and CEO, Globus Family of Brands

“As always, there is still a lot of interest in domestic travel. The national parks are places people always want to visit. We’re a beautiful country.” – Betsy Campbell Walsh

“We’ve not seen a groundswell of interest in domestic travel, but it’s part of our business. We started promoting the American Queen steamboat about 10 months ago. We’ve had several good bookings on it.” – Charlie Funk

Europe by land
“I’ve been in business a year and a half. What has surprised me is that land tours are bigger than cruises. It’s about 60% land versus 40% cruise. My biggest request for land tours are for those in Europe.” – Lisa Kennedy

River cruises to new places
“We’re seeing a big spike in river cruising, especially to Europe. A lot of our clients are seasoned travelers who have already been to the major cities in Europe. With river cruises, they get to explore the secondary cities in Europe. They like that they are docked right in the middle of the city – you’re not an hour from town as you are on some ocean cruises.” – Michael Daw, Lone Star Travel (NEST), Vero Beach, Fla.

“River cruises in Europe are really popular, especially Amsterdam to Basel, Prague to Budapest and the French rivers. Why are river cruises so big for travel agents? People are more likely to book a river cruise with an agent than they are with a traditional cruise as they are relatively new and more complex. People are likely to stay in Europe before or after the cruise, so there is more need to call an agent for help.” – Charlie Funk

Now you tell us! Where in the world are your clients going? Click here to take a brief survey and win an iPod Touch!

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