TOURS TRANSFORM TO
MEET THE DEMANDS OF
THE MODERN TRAVELER
Of Escorted Tours
BY JANEEN CHRISTOFF
When people thought of touring, it used to be that the first thing that came to mind was
the film “It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium.” The movie became a stereotype of the escorted
tour industry. Over the last decade, however, tour operators have gone to great lengths
to dispel this idea, and the industry is enjoying some of its most successful years ever,
despite turmoil in Europe, clashes in the Middle East and volatility with airfares. While the
industry is transforming, it isn’t headed in the direction travelers may think.
“Back in the ’70s, people told my dad that by the ’90s
touring would be gone,” said Dan Sullivan IV, director of
sales at Collette Vacations. “Now, touring is bigger than
ever. I think that it will continue to change and evolve.”
Tour operators have been working hard to replace
words that are associated with touring such as whirlwind
and whistle-stop with a new vernacular that includes
phrases such as authentic experiences, in-depth sight-
seeing and hassle-free vacations. While travelers used to
complain about barely having enough time to take a photo
of momentous sites such as the Colosseum in Rome, they
now rave about how well-managed their time is in a desti-
nation while on a tour.
“Travelers don’t want to be wasting their time,” said
Steve Born, vice president of marketing at the Globus
Family of Brands. “The idea of not missing something is
a huge benefit for the escorted tour market.”
So, which has changed more: today’s traveler or
“Escorted group travel was built on the basic promise
of providing a no-hassle vacation,” said Born. “Hassle-free,
easy and simple are the main drivers for clients booking
this type of travel.”
Research conducted by Globus found that 17 million
Americans were open to touring and that the biggest
driver was that the experience was hassle-free.
“This section is bigger than all of the cruisers in a
year,” said Born.
Sullivan agrees that the industry is becoming more
“The tour industry has transformed like television,”
said Sullivan. “Now, when you ask someone what their
favorite channel is, there is a diverse range of answers.”
In the mid to late ’90s, many people believed that
touring was an antiquated way to travel and that FIT
was the best way to get an authentic experience. Over
the years, travelers have realized that it’s not as easy —
or time effective — to go it on their own.
EVOLUTION OF THE INDUSTRY
“Clearly, escorted tours have seen headwinds increase,”
said Jeremy Palmer, vice president of product develop-
ment at Tauck. “Blame it on mother nature or economic
volatility or the popularity of cruising, but the industry has
responded with a more robust product.”
Longer stays are one of the ways in which the industry
has transformed for the next generation of travelers.
“We’ve adapted and changed for what the customers
and agents have asked for,” said Kazlauskas. “We went from
doing multi-country tours to doing two- to three-night
stays in a destination. We now go in and spend two hours
in the Colosseum. Before, clients wanted to be sightseers.
Now, they want to get under the skin of a destination.”
While the escorted tour industry is transforming, it’s
focus is more on diversification.
“No one trend seems to be taking over,” said Sullivan.
“What’s happening is that the industry is becoming more
While the bones of the escorted tour experience
remain the same, many features have been enhanced.
“We have changed the pace, locations, inclusions, style
and format of our product,” said Paul Wiseman, presi-
dent of Trafalgar. “We are completely focused on deliver-
ing unique and exclusive insider experiences such as our
Be My Guest dining. But we have not changed the fun-
damental business model of carrying a group of people
together, and that group average remains 40 people. We
have changed the product to suit the modern traveler.”