This is Part One of a series on exotic travel.
For tour operators large and small, demand for exotic destinations is on the upswing, fueled by growing client sophistication and vastly improved air accessibility and tourism infrastructure.
The Internet is also playing a part. Many consumers are tapping the vast amount of online information on unfamiliar and remote destinations – and then turning to tour operator programs and travel agents.
Both specialty firms and larger tour companies report rising demand.
“Exotic travel is one of our fastest-growing business lines,” said Jeremy Palmer, vice president/general manager, land division and new ventures, for Tauck Tours. “If you’ve done North America and Europe, it’s the natural next step.
“Americans are getting more comfortable going [to these destinations],” Palmer said. "Airfares and capacity are plentiful and the destinations are bucket list items.”
Drive for authenticity
Another factor: consumer hunger for genuine experiences.
“There’s a lot of drive for authenticity,” said General Tours World Traveler president Bob Drumm, who reported an increase in demand for exotic destinations.
Business is also up at Journeys International, a specialist in small group adventure travel and ecotourism, according to senior director and co-founder Will Weber.
Weber said the exotic travel trend has firmly taken hold because, “people are living longer, are healthier and are taking better care of themselves. We have clients who are long retired and travel is a logical thing for them. They’ve been to so many places they now want something different.”
Air accessibility, hotel quality and price are also less of an issue today, according to Weber.
“[The cost of] getting there hasn’t gone up so much relative to the cost of living, so it’s not as intimidating now as it was 10 or 15 years ago,” he said.
Seizing the opportunity
One larger tour firm that is jumping on the interest in travel to exotic destinations is Globus. The company views the trend as an opportunity to expand, according to Steve Born, vice president of marketing for the Globus Family of Brands, made up of Globus, Monograms, Cosmos and Avalon Waterways.
While the company’s clients, many of them baby boomers, may not take a tour to destinations in North America or Europe, they are seeking tours for less familiar destinations such as South America, Born said.
“There’s a hesitation that they may not quite get all they can on their own,” he said. “That opens up a whole new opportunity for a company like us. As these destinations continue to grow in popularity, a bigger portion of travel there will be by tour operators instead of FITs.”
The growth of interest in travel to remote destinations is a welcome trend for tour operators and travel agents alike — providing both with a wider market and more options to sell.
It also gives travel companies a compelling opportunity to demonstrate their expertise in the face of online booking.
“All of us in the travel industry are doing things differently because we know people can go online, do the research and book hotels,” said Jackie Garrity, product innovation manager for Toronto-based G Adventures, which offers small group adventures, safaris and expeditions.
“But when you talk about remote places, it’s still difficult for people to do that on their own,” she said.
Next time: Larger tour operators are moving into an area once dominated by smaller specialty companies, giving agents and their clients more choice, and more decisions.
This is Part One of a series on exotic travel.
As these destinations continue to grow in popularity, a bigger portion of travel there will be by tour operators instead of FITs.
Steve Born, Globus Family of Brands
When it comes to travel, the meaning of “exotic” is in the eye of the tour operator – and the travel agent and client.
For Globus, South America – particularly Peru, its top seller there – is an “exotic” destination that is proving immensely popular. It’s also part of the tour operator’s strategy for marketing exotic travel.
Steve Born, vice president of marketing for the Globus Family of Brands, said the company considers South America “more attainable” in terms of the exotic. “There’s such diversity when it comes to exotic destinations. We’re trying to break it down into more bite-sized pieces starting with South America. The next step would be Africa.”
Other exotic locales are far less familiar and far more remote for North Americans than South America.
“Southeast Asia is booming and Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos – which were on the frontier – are almost transitioning to mainstream,” said Jeremy Palmer, Tauck’s vice president/general manager, land division & new ventures.
General Tours World Traveler President Bob Drumm cited Tanzania, China and Tibet as hot destinations. Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Uzbeckistan are emerging exotics; places clients might want to see before they become too developed, he added.
Europeans and Australians have been traveling to Indonesia but “we’re starting to see interest now from American and Canadian clients,” said Jackie Garrity, G Adventures’ product innovation manager.
Garrity said the company is also seeing strong interest in Rwanda in East Africa, home to the mountain gorillas; Bhutan, “a hidden gem” in South Asia, and in South America, Colombia, which is being rediscovered.