In Canada, Escorted Tour Market Gains Ground

by Judy Jacobs

Fly-and-stay packages to the Caribbean and Mexico have long been Canada’s mainstay vacation product. Now travel agents report growing interest in a range of escorted tour experiences.

“Everybody’s so used to doing a [fly-and-stay] package – from the charter to the transfers to the hotel – that it’s sometimes difficult to break them out of the mold,” said Philip Houde of River East Travel & Cruise Center, an Ensemble agency in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

But it’s happening. “Every year the numbers of [escorted] package tour bookings goes up. In the last three years, I’ve noticed a big increase,” Houde said.

Many of his package tour clients are groups of female friends in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

Active travel is a specific area of interest, said Houde, whose clients are requesting small group adventure travel, including biking and hiking tours. Recently he booked a trip for a yoga instructor and 16 of his students.

Family travel
As in the U.S., multigenerational travel is increasingly popular in Canada. Agents said they’re noticing a wider variety of tour packages for grandparents to purchase and bring their families along.

“We’re seeing motor coaching in Europe increasing, and tour operators are letting children on now,” said Pat Johnson, of Flair Travel Planners a TRAVELSAVERS agency in Lethbridge, Alberta.

“It used to be limited, but Disney [Adventures by Disney] came out with a motorcoach product for little people,” she added.

This has helped grow the market, she said.

Creative offerings
As Canadians move away from the standard fly-and-stay packages toward escorted tours, some expect something a bit more unusual.

Creative agents like Ian Biddlecombe of Travel TST, an Ensemble agency in Richmond, British Columbia, are taking advantage of that demand.

“People are looking for unique and different things,” he said.

Biddlecombe said he was working on a themed event for a group of Masons and Shriners going to the U.K. and visiting lodges. “It’s a standard tour package but we’re adding special things that a normal package doesn’t include.”

Mainstream goes niche
Suppliers are getting more creative too, and several big Canadian package tour companies have expanded their offerings to attract a different sort of customer and give former customers new travel opportunities.

“We’re seeing the major tour operators coming out with more and more product of the type of trip operated by niche tour companies in the past,” said Houde.

Air Canada Vacations has added pre- and post-tours and day trips to its offerings, and Transat now offers niche tours, making what was niche more mainstream, Houde said.

Transat Discoveries
Transat has been growing this market since it acquired Quebec-based Revatours three years ago and renamed it Transat Discoveries.

With Transat Discoveries, the firm aims to carve its niche as a small group tour operator for the mass market, offering coach tours and packages around the world that are centered in “authenticity and flexibility,” according to its website.

A safari package to Kenya and Tanzania, a trip to South Africa and a package to Rajasthan, India, are hot sellers this year, a spokeswoman told Travel Market Report.

So far Transat Discoveries has focused on the Quebec and Ontario markets, but it has plans to expand across Canada. The company sees huge potential in Alberta and British Columbia, according to the spokeswoman. 

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