Connections guests can visit Sicily as part of one of the new programs. Photo: Jean-Pierre Bazard
Abercrombie & Kent has revamped its Connections small group journeys, first introduced in 2012, to focus on boutique experiences, including everything from small boutique hotels to exclusive interactions with locals in order to fully immerse travelers in their destinations.
A&K President Phil Otterson said Connections Boutique Small Group programs are lower in price (roughly 30%-35% less depending on the destination) than other products offered by the company. With the revised Connections Boutique Small Group line, guests stay in smaller boutique hotels and get special experiences. “We don’t use the L word a lot,” says Otterson, “But it’s the same client, the same demo looking for something different in the experiential part.” A&K relies on its 56 owned offices and destination management companies around the world to select the top boutique hotels and local experiences.
For 2017, A&K’s expanded Connections product line features 12 new journeys, including programs to Latvia & Lithuania, Cornwall & the Cotswolds, Burgundy & Loire Valley and Sicily & Puglia. The active adventures in Iceland—including a new Family journey—complete the offerings.
“These journeys are designed to connect our guests to interesting places, local cultures and people in a very personal way,” Otterson said. “For 2017, we have worked closely with our offices around the world to curate boutique hotels, selecting smaller properties that are locally or family-owned, and reflect the distinctive character of the destination through their history or style.
The new line of Connections Boutique Small Group Journeys features groups of no more than 24 guests, led from start to finish by resident tour directors who have lived in the destination for decades, if not their entire lives.
“Sightseeing is not just looking, but experiencing, gaining deeper insight into the culture and having an authentic encounter,” Otterson said. “What we describe as ‘Boutique Connections.’ Dining is also an important part of the experience, featuring vibrant restaurants favored more by the locals than by tourists.”
Boutique Connections can range from programs that introduce guests to the crafts and produce markets where locals gather, such as the Mercato Centrale in Florence, to a private tour of Badminton House, the country estate of the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort. Guests can sample the local flavors of Burgundy’s most famous white wines, meet the brewer of a family-run Bavarian brewery, or try their hand at Icelandic fishing and let a chef prepare their catch for dinner. They can join an Estonian sculptor for a master class at his gallery work or enjoy private performances with local musicians at the Salzburg Museum.
Separately, Otterson said, as previously announced, A&K is on track to be purchased by China’s Zhonghong Holdings by roughly Sept. 15. Zhonghong, a large conglomerate, already has tourism holdings, including amusement parks and hotels in China. Otterson said his team has been told there will be no management changes after the deal closes and that it will be “business as usual,” with the Chinese company providing access to capital and greater growth opportunities for A&K, including in the Chinese travel market itself.
New Connections Boutique Small Group Journeys include:
The Baltics & Helsinki: Visit three UNESCO World Heritage sites and tour the Rundal Palace. Explore Riga's National Opera House during a backstage visit. Enjoy Nordic walking and a Finnish sauna. Accommodations include a historic hotel opposite Helsinki's Esplanade Park and a hotel in Tallinn's Old Town that is decorated with the owner's Italian art collection (11 days from $4,695).
Bohemia & Bavaria: Visit Munich, Salzburg and Prague to explore the Bavarian Alps, including Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein Castle and Oberammergau, and discover the region’s World War II history, including a visit to Hitler’s wartime getaway, the new Documentation Centre in Munich and the Mathausen Concentration Camp Memorial. Accommodations include a Benedictine abbey set in the Salzkammergut lake district and a former 16th-century Jesuit abbey in old Cesky Krumlov (10 days from $4,495).
Britain: Visit Cornwall, Wales and the Cotswolds, stroll the streets of Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its Georgian architecture and Roman baths. Accommodations include a 12th-century former monastery in Coventry’s countryside, a stylish Victorian-era townhouse in South Kensington, and a reimagined historic home just outside Windsor Castle (10 days from $5,995).
Sicily, Puglia & the Amalfi Coast: Experience a private tasting with a cheese maker and a cooking class with a Puglian chef. Explore Sicily’s Greek and Roman ruins and the mountain-carved city of Matera. Stay in several UNESCO World Heritage sites (11 days from $6,595).
Iceland: Drive on Europe’s second largest glacier before descending into man-made ice tunnels. Drop into an extinct volcano. cruise the northern coast to spot different whale species. Accommodations include an eco-friendly hotel with geothermal baths, a historic landmark next to Parliament and Reykjavík Cathedral and a modern wilderness lodge (11 days from $8,995).
Classic China: Discover the capital of Beijing, ancient Xian and Shanghai, with stays in a curated collection of design hotels. Walk atop the less-visited Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. View the Terra Cotta Warriors with an archaeologist. Take a walking tour with a local historian along the Bund in Shanghai (nine days from $3,995).