Open Jaw

Hop On The Coach, Folks!

Get On Board This Growing Sales Opportunity

Escorted touring is an idea whose time has finally come.

For decades, group travel via motor coach has endured mockery, personified in the title of the 1969 film about a tour group on a whirlwind journey through Europe: “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.”

In the 40 years since, cruising has become a multi-billion dollar industry, while escorted touring has remained an unsung niche player, loved by the initiated, misperceived and largely ignored by most.

Things have changed. The product – in fact the whole concept of escorted touring - has evolved tremendously since Ian McShane chased Suzanne Pleshette around Europe in 1969. There’s a depth, richness and diversity that wasn’t there in the days of regimented groups marching behind a guide’s upheld umbrella. Touring has grown up along with its devotees, many of whom are retiring Baby Boomers now.

The modern escorted tour – also known these days as a ‘guided vacation’ - is all about choices and experiences. The pace has slowed. The options have broadened. You can still take in several countries in a week or two if you desire, but you can also spend a week exploring a region in-depth.

With today’s touring your clients don’t just see Europe’s great museums, they’ll also be invited into European homes, farms, vineyards and restaurant kitchens. They can learn how to pour a pint of Guinness in Ireland or blend a wine in Sonoma, while their kids (or grand-kids) can wield a sword at gladiator school in Rome or play cowboy at a Wild West dude ranch.

That’s right: these aren’t your grandmother’s coach tours.

Trafalgar Canada President Doug Patterson has spent 25 years with the Travel Corporation of Canada, serving with all 3 of its flagship brands, Contiki, Insight and Trafalgar. He sees a vastly improved product, yes, but he also says TravCorp is doing a much better job of communicating the reality of an escorted tour, hammering away until the misconceptions begin to crumble.

“We’ve always had a great product. Our guests love the hassle-free experience and they return hugely satisfied. But we’re telling our story better. Our branding is more consistent than ever and our messaging is clear. Agents get it and they’re promoting our products with more enthusiasm than ever.”

Patterson is asked the million-dollar question. “Is this the year of the escorted tour?” He’s of two minds on the issue. “In many ways the terminology works. We expected a better year, because our pricing is lower due to currency fluctuations, the Olympics and Royal Jubilee are over and things are calmer in Greece, Spain and Portugal. But 2013 sales have exceeded all of our expectations, across the board.”

In other words, Patterson and his colleagues at Insight and Contiki believe that while 2013 is shaping up to be a big winner, it’s only the beginning of something good. “I believe we have crossed a threshold and are entering new territory,” says Patterson. “Escorted touring really is a product whose time has come. Among our 3 brands we’ve got something for just about everybody. We’ve got retail agents excited about selling us and past passengers who are telling everyone about their wonderful experiences.”

Could it be that escorted touring is becoming cool, after so many years of being unfairly maligned?

Jeff Element, President of the Travel Corporation of Canada, laughs at the question. “Contiki has always been cool,” he says. “But when it comes to Trafalgar and Insight, I’d say yes. What we’ve done with the product really fits with the desire for experiences, authenticity and low-hassle that so many travellers are looking for. People are taking notice and bookings are way up. I think that’s pretty cool.”

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