Last updated: 09:46 AM ET, Mon August 29 2016

A&K Relaunches its Connections Series as ‘Boutique Small Group Journeys’

Tour Operator | Abercrombie & Kent | David Cogswell | August 26, 2016

A&K Relaunches its Connections Series as ‘Boutique Small Group Journeys’

PHOTO: Seville, Spain. (Photo by Justin Weiler, courtesy of A&K)

Abercrombie & Kent has relaunched its Connections series of small group tours under the name Connections Boutique Small Group Journeys. After three years of successful growth with the product, A&K was ready to make a few tweaks.

Connections by Abercrombie & Kent was introduced in late 2012 for the 2013 season with 17 small-group itineraries. The idea of the series was to provide the A&K luxury experience but with prices trimmed by 30 percent from its traditional tour products.

As luxury travel evolved toward a greater emphasis on authentic experience and cultural immersion and less on creature comforts, a “value priced” luxury product became possible.

A&K met the shift in demand by introducing a product line that retained the adventure and immersion of its previous tours, but pared down the luxury amenities. The tours still include high-end hotels, but not always the most luxurious and expensive hotels in each destination.

Interest in the product line had continued to grow, but A&K felt they needed to somehow do a better job getting the idea across to clients and travel agents how the product differed from A&K’s traditional product, which is now marketed as Luxury Small Group Journeys.

A&K had always been super luxury, the top of the line in every aspect. A&K had to figure out how to communicate to travel agents how they could offer a reduced price product without sacrificing the company’s signature luxury status.

“We felt we needed to better define what a Connections journey is,” said Otterson. After a series of meetings, the company came up with the word “boutique.”

READ MORE: Abercrombie & Kent Set to be Sold to Beijing Developer

“The word attracted us because it is not widely used in the world we live in [tour operators], yet it does describe something that is relatively specific,” said Otterson. “The first thing that comes to mind is a store, a small store with nice interesting stuff in it, a boutique. Then that can easily translate that to a hotel.”

Instead of housing guests in Madrid a the Ritz on the Plaza Mayor, A&K’s Connections program places them at the Madrid Reina Victoria on the Plaza de Santa Ana.

“It’s a nearby neighborhood,” said Otterson. “It’s a very local neighborhood. The tourists are in Plaza Mayor. The locals are in our neighborhood, where bread is being made downstairs in the bakery. The family that owns hotel, which is a boutique hotel, are involved in interacting with the guests in various ways, whether with the cuisine or the service. It’s a whole different kind of feeling.”

A&K has extended the boutique concept from the hotels to other parts of the tour experience.

“If you further apply that concept to other components that are normally included in a product like this, then you have more interaction for the people,” said Otterson. “You have a culinary boutique experience, meaning a smaller more intimate and personal local experience. You have a Connections Boutique marketplace experience, where you don’t just walk through the marketplace with a tour guide with a flag in front of 50 people. You go into the marketplace, you meet the vendors, you know the vendors, you taste their fruit. You may have a cooking class with two or three people, and so on. The word boutique has been redefined by us.”

A&K is able to probe deeply into the personal side of its destinations because of its 52 destination management offices in destinations around the world.

“We are able to connect with the locals because of our DMC [destination management company] network,” said Otterson. “Nobody has what we have when it comes to that. When you have that local knowledge, you’re able to reveal the destination because the guy who owns the stall in the marketplace is a friend with José, who is my colleague who works for the same company under the same umbrella. It makes a difference.”

In addition to repositioning and renaming the Connections product line, A&K has added 12 new programs to the series, including visits to some lesser-visited regions of Europe including Latvia and Lithuania, Cornwall and the Cotswolds, Burgundy and Loire Valley and Sicily and Puglia.

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