Europe is the world's leading tourist destination and it shows no signs of giving up the title.
On the contrary, tourism to Europe is booming this year due to several factors, including a stronger dollar.
Travel Market Report asked agent Europe specialists and tour operators to share insights, trends and advice about selling Europe today. Here’s what they report.
Perennial favorites rule
When it comes to selling Europe, perennial favorites such as France and Italy still bring in the bulk of bookings. But Spain, Turkey and Greece have shown the strongest growth recently, according to the European Travel Commission (ETC).
That jives with what tour operators tell Travel Market Report.
“Our Family Journey to Spain has really taken off. So many people are looking to connect to a deeper heritage when they travel to Europe,” said Richard Harris, senior vice president of product content and operations for Abercrombie & Kent.
“Spain provides so much of that on a thought-provoking level,” he added. “You have an extremely Catholic country which was part of the Islamic world at one time. And of course, there’s a great Jewish history there as well.”
Political unrest in Greece and Turkey kept visitors away in the past year or two. But the tide has turned.
“Greece is coming back strongly,” said Harry Dalgaard, founder and president of Avanti Destinations. “We started to see it last year. There’s definitely a rising interest, not just for the islands, but the mainland as well.”
Another clear trend when it comes to Europe sales is interest in the road less traveled. Destinations previously outside the mainstream are now in hot demand.
Iceland, for example, experienced the highest year-over-year increase—up 30% in 2014 over 2013—in Europe, according to the ETC.
Icelandair’s stopover program, which allows stays of up to a week without additional cost, is a big incentive.
“Iceland is one of those mysterious destinations people really want to see,” said Jen Halboth, director of channel marketing for the Globus Family of Brands. “Our new four-day Iceland stopover provides an opportunity to add this destination to any Europe vacation. It’s selling really well.”
In addition to Iceland, interest in Central and Eastern Europe is also on the rise, according to the ETC. Romania, Lithuania and Croatia, have all experienced visitor increases of 20% or more.
Alex Datsev, custom travel manager for Exeter International in Tampa, Fla. understands the trend.
“Most of these countries were off-limits until ten or fifteen years ago. There was a perception that they were unsafe or unfriendly toward Americans,” Datsev said.
“Now, many are part of the EU. They’ve adopted pro-Western values and are extremely welcoming.”
Datsev said agents needn’t look too far to find a clientele either.
“If your clients have been to Paris, Rome and the French countryside, get them thinking about Eastern Europe for the next trip,” he said. “They’ll find medieval fortresses, castles, mountains, seaside resorts and wineries.”
Value: A top draw
Another big enticement is value.
“The eastern countries, such as Romania, Bulgaria and Lithuania, have all the beauty of Western Europe, at half the price,” Datsev added. “For the price of five days in Paris, you can spend two weeks in Eastern Europe. And the people are so much friendlier.”
And if agents don’t take the initiative to suggest Eastern Europe their clients may.
“Countries such as Serbia, Romania or Bulgaria are becoming more popular because river cruise ships are going to the Black Sea,” according to Terrence Regan, president of Berkeley’s Northside Travel in Berkeley, Calif.
“An awful lot of people who take river cruises want to come back to see these regions in more depth,” he said.
Flexible and independent
River and ocean cruise clients are prime candidates for flexible, short stays before or after their cruise. And tour operators are tailoring new land programs directed at the market.
Classic Vacations has launched pre- and post- cruise land packages in 45 port cities throughout Europe.
Cox & Kings’ new Spotlight Journeys offer three-night stays that clients can use to unwind from activity-filled cruise itineraries before heading home.
In addition to flexibility, clients are also looking for independence when traveling to Europe. Agents whose clients aren’t keen on traditional tours have plenty of options to choose from.
Monograms, for example, combines aspects of escorted tours with FIT travel. It’s a winning strategy for boomer clients.
“Boomers are interested in both support and freedom when they travel,” said Steve Born, vice president of marketing for the Globus Family of Brands.
“They want their own agenda and schedule as well as some added services. We’ve found a sweet spot,” Born said.