Photo courtesy of Tauck
With Election Year tensions about to be wiped away (hopefully) and setting the stage for consumers to start feeling free enough to unleash their pent-up demand for travel, tour operators are getting set for what could be a strong 2017. And the dominant trend underlying the diverse areas of growth: small is big.
The National Parks Boom
Tauck has been riding a wave of demand for travel to the national parks and is preparing for the new season with an expanded range of exclusive access opportunities and new small ship ocean cruising opportunities.
In spite of a softening of demand for Europe, Tauck has had a strong 2016, thanks in part to the raging popularity of the national parks.
“We continue to be excited about the energy around the national parks,” said Jennifer Tombaugh, president of Tauck. “We’ve seen record demand this year. We are nearly double where we were this time last year in terms of demand.”
The demand for the national parks is fueled by a confluence of trends: one of which is the 100-year anniversary in 2016 of the establishment of the U.S. National Parks Service.
“Certainly the centennial has created more enthusiasm,” said Tombaugh, “and our partnership with Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan underscore the insider access that we are able to provide.
The Ken Burns’ 2009 film series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, helped to fuel the wave of enthusiasm for the national parks. Uncertainty about overseas travel has also helped to encourage domestic travel.
“‘America’s Best Idea’ is something that really resonates not only with U.S. travelers but also with international travelers,” said Tombaugh. “It’s really thrilling to think that although there are so many undiscovered places in the world, given some of the guest comments of the last year I think there is a desire to take a step back and say, ‘Let’s do this! Let’s explore some of these grasses that happen to be greener right here in our nation.’”
READ MORE: Tauck Reveals 2017 Roster of Bridges Family Trips
Expanding Small Ship Cruising
River cruising continues the vigorous growth curve it has been on for the last 15 years and that popularity has now overflowed into Tauck’s small ship ocean cruising offerings.
“I am very excited about our new small ship cruising platform,” said Jennifer Tombaugh, president of Tauck. “We have four new small ship programs coming on board in 2017. We’ve seen robust growth continuing on river cruising, but also people are having these wonderful river cruise experiences and saying, ‘You know I really love the intimate feel of smaller vessels.’ We’ve really seen that parlay into increased demand for small ship cruising generally.”
Small Groups and Insider Access
Tauck’s newest coup in the area of exclusive insider access is an agreement with the Louvre museum in Paris that will give Tauck guests special after-hours access to the Louvre.
Travelers on three Tauck tours will be able to enjoy a private after hours gathering in the Louvre where they can see incomparable masterpieces such as The Mona Lisa in the company of a small group of 30 or 40 fellow travelers.
Under the terms of Tauck’s arrangement with the Louvre, guests on some departures of the company’s “A Week In… London and Paris” and “A Week In… Paris and Provence” itineraries and the Tauck Bridges “Castles and Kings” family itinerary will have the special after-hours access to the museum.
The arrangement with the Louvre is the latest of Tauck’s roster of insider access arrangements. It has a similar agreement in place with the Vatican which gives Tauck guests the opportunity to experience the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel with only their group of 30 or 40 travelers present.
Tauck has similar arrangements in lesser known places, such as Palacio de Queluz, a former royal residence in Portugal dating back to the 18th century.
The Louvre attracts 9 million visitors a year. As a result of the massive demand for the museum, it can be difficult to get a good close up viewing of a painting such as The Mona Lisa that every single visitor to the Louvre wants to be sure to see. The insider access provides a rare opportunity to get outside of the tourist crush.
“I don’t know how long it has been since you’ve been to the Louvre, but if you want to see the Mona Lisa, if you can get past the selfie sticks and other hazards of just trying to navigate your way into that room … it’s a zoo.”
Insider Access is one of the advantages of small group travel, which provides the benefits of the purchasing clout of a group combining its buying power, but without having to be part of a large group of people.
“I continue to be excited about the continued demand for smaller group experiences,” said Tombaugh. “As one of our travel advisors said to me the other day, ‘Small is the new luxury.’ People are looking for more personalized intimate experiences when they travel. We’ve seen great growth in small groups and in those programs that have that unique access where feel like they are truly an individual that is separated from the crowd so that they can be fully present to take in some of the wonders of the world, whether it’s sunrise over grand canyon or standing privately over the Mona Lisa. Those are experiences that truly are priceless.”