Tour operators have made a concerted effort in recent years to ensure that their itineraries truly immerse their customers in the destinations and cultures they are visiting. Top tour operator executives tell us they’ve always provided opportunities to help today’s traveler “live like a local” and on the pages ahead they explain how they are continuing to offer — and improve upon — such “authentic” experiences. 

Our tour operators agree that the mindset of their clients continues to change, and year after year they are increasingly fine-tuning programs that take their guests off the beaten tourist path and more deeply into the lands that they’re visiting.

These execs also agree that travel agents are an essential part of their sales force and therefore they continue to provide new tools to help agents succeed and excel in selling their products. For more details on these and other talking points, read on.

Abercrombie & Kent
Keith Baron, president

What are your newest destinations or products in the marketplace? 
Our “Wings Over the World” programs appeal to those who consider time the ultimate luxury. These regional journeys combine the best of our luxury small-group travel with privately chartered flights. We have journeys to China, India, the Mediterranean and East Africa. Perhaps the best example of what makes “Wings” so appealing is Spain & Morocco; there is no direct commercial air service between the cities on the itinerary.

Luxury Travel Advisor’s ULTRA Summit

May 21-23, 2019 | Reunion | Kissimmee, FL

This exclusive, invite-only event focused on the luxury travel market brings together world-class travel agency owners and managers with the most opulent, luxury suppliers to cultivate collaboration, share insights, and help carve a path into the future of luxury travel.

In response to demand, for 2019, we will introduce new “Wings” itineraries in Southern Africa; Egypt, Jordan & Israel; and Northern Europe.

What is your most exotic, unusual new offering?
We recently launched “Cultural Treasures: Around the World by Private Jet,” featuring exclusive experiences in Japan, Mongolia, Nepal and Bhutan, India, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, and Sicily. It is the luxury of experiences on the ground that sets this journey apart.

We just announced a small ship expedition cruise that explores virtually the entire coastline of Italy: “Hidden Treasures from Florence to Venice.” After two days in Florence, we board the brand-new Le Bougainville for a look at Sicily and the Aeolian Islands, Puglia’s Gargano National Park, UNESCO-protected Urbino, and little-known Bastia on French Corsica.  

What’s your “tried-and-true” mainstay offering that clients continue to love? Why do they love it?
We are seeing tremendous growth in Africa, both Tailor Made and Small Group Journeys. “Great Migration Safari in Style” is our flagship East African safari, so in demand that we introduced a Special Edition this year. It’s important for travel advisors to encourage guests to book early for 2019, especially for peak season.

A&K opened an office in Madrid this year to handle the dramatic increase in guests traveling to Spain and Portugal — our fifth office in Europe. 

Are you modifying your offerings to accommodate the desire many consumers have to “live like a local” and to have “authentic” experiences?
All of A&K’s Luxury Small Group Journeys include exclusive, locally inspired moments, such as the opportunity to “Ride Like a Local” and explore a neighborhood by rickshaw or get a taste of local cuisine with a “Chef’s Table” culinary demonstration.

Our Connections Boutique Group Journeys are specifically designed around immersive experiences that deliver a vibrant sense of place. After Geoffrey Kent led an “Inspiring Expedition to Lapland” in March, we introduced our first winter program in Europe — “Northern Lights of Lapland.” Highlights include an overnight in an ice hotel plus sleeping under glass to watch for the Northern Lights. Options include snowmobiling, snowshoeing, dog sledding, even a cruise on an icebreaker where guests can try a survival suit.

Have you seen the age of your customers change at all in the past year or so? 
With the continuing strength of the U.S. economy, the number of affluent consumers is growing. The majority are professionals and entrepreneurs, 50 to 70 years old, with an intense curiosity about the world. They are experience seekers; educated, active, accomplished. Travel is an essential part of their luxury lifestyle. Retired? Not in the classic sense as they have ongoing business and professional commitments, but are not tied down to a schedule. They have the means and the time to visit the places that interest them.

What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2018/19? 
We are focused on educating a new generation of front-line agents about how to sell luxury and what sets A&K apart from other luxury adventure travel companies.

What is your key strategy these days and why? 
Over the past 10 years, the definition of luxury has changed. It is much more about the luxury of experience, rather than thread count. Luxury is the privilege of discovery, adventure, relaxation and insight, enjoyed in a context that perfectly suits the experience. Seamless service, safety and security are a given. We guarantee all departures with a minimum of just two guests. But it is the unexpected touches, what we call “& moments,” that inspire our guests and elevate an adventure into a true luxury experience. 

ALG / Apple Vacations
Tim Mullen, president

What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2018/19? 
For 50 years, Apple Vacations has been a travel trailblazer. We were one of the first to introduce the “all-inclusive” concept to the U.S. market, and we developed programs to Cancun and Punta Cana before they were household names. We will continue our legacy of leadership as we look for new destinations and new U.S. gateways to open up. In fourth quarter, Apple Vacations will begin booking through VAX for travel after May 1, 2019. Additionally, over the next several months, travel agents can expect more benefits to be unveiled as Apple Vacations, Travel Impressions and Funjet Vacations unify their travel protection programs, loyalty programs, commission opportunities and more.

What is your key strategy these days and why? How does it vary from years past?
As the flagship brand of a rapidly growing ALG, we’ve been able to provide agents with … attractive packages and pricing to help close sales. Recently, we’ve expanded that focus to include digital marketing initiatives. As part of our revamped Travel Agent Café, we now provide a Social Media Agent Resources and Training (SMART) program for travel agents featuring marketing content and tools to help them promote their brand on social media and, ultimately, increase bookings.

What are your newest destinations or products in the marketplace? 
We recently introduced the “Karisma Gourmet Inclusive Experience,” providing enhanced commission opportunities and marketing tools for agents selling premier Karisma Hotels & Resorts brands throughout Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. We’re also in the process of adding 50 new hotels to our portfolio. These include brands such as Generations and El Dorado Spa Resorts by Karisma, as well as La Colección by Fiesta Americana. Our travel agent partners have requested these properties and we are now able to offer them. We are also happy to have Reflect Resorts (formerly the popular Krystal Grand hotels), a new brand from AMResorts. 

What is your most exotic, unusual new offering?
We are offering several new luxury resorts in Arenal, Costa Rica, which is a great base for touring the Arenal Hanging Bridges, hiking amazing trails around the volcano or spending the day in Tabacon Hot Springs.

What’s your “tried-and-true” mainstay offering that clients continue to love? Why do they love it?
Our Exclusive Vacation Flight program is the evolution of our original charter program that remains one of our most praised initiatives within the travel agent community. These flights provide cost savings and convenient schedules between popular routes in addition to operating in smaller markets where agents would otherwise have fewer options. We currently offer Exclusive Vacation Flights to Mexico, Jamaica, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic from more than 25 U.S. gateways and are eyeing further expansion in 2019.

Are you modifying your offerings to accommodate the desire many consumers have to “live like a local” and to have authentic experiences?
This year, Apple Vacations launched the “Agents Give Back” program, which offers travel agents across the country the opportunity to take part in numerous volunteer and donation initiatives. So far, we’ve had travel agents paint a school and plant a garden at a senior center in Punta Cana, and help Mayan women jar honey for sale in the market in the Riviera Maya jungle. The demand for these programs is huge. Our generous travel agents love to spend a day in service in the destinations they love, and many of them have collected bags of supplies to take to the volunteer site. Groups can now book a volunteer day through our groups department.

Have you seen the age of your customers change at all in the past year or so? How about their mindset?
From dietary preferences to cultural interests, younger travelers approach vacationing with a completely different attitude. Authenticity is one of the key factors agents need to keep in mind in order to be successful with this growing segment. The digital marketing tools we recently introduced to our Travel Agent Café are a great starting point for agents looking to tap into the Millennial market.

ALG / Funjet Vacations
Ron Jacobs, president

What are your newest destinations or products in the marketplace? What’s the reasoning for them?
AMResorts is new to Funjet and will fill a prior gap in our product offering. We’re also adding charter routes as a result of the merger with Apple Leisure Group. We will now have 19 departure gateways, compared to 12 previously [so] more agents will be able to increase their commissions while offering cost savings and flexibility to their clients. We are the only tour operator that allows agents to book Southwest Air right in our system, including newly launched St. Louis departures to Punta Cana and Jamaica as well as new Southwest flights to Cancun out of Milwaukee.

We’re also looking to expand our hotel, tour and transfer offerings in Europe, encouraged by a surge in bookings that began last fall. 

What is your key strategy these days?
Funjet’s strategy has been and continues to be helping travel agents become more productive and profitable. We accomplish this in a number of ways, from having a most sophisticated booking platform to providing the right tools and earning opportunities for our agent partners.

Our charter flight program and the higher commission levels it provides has been a central part of this core strategy and we are excited to expand [it] with new destinations such as Puerto Plata and Huatulco. We will also serve new gateways, including Boston (BOS), Columbus (CMH), Detroit (DTW), Indianapolis (IND), Lansing (LAN), Minneapolis (MSP), Philadelphia (PHL), Pittsburgh (PIT) and Chicago’s Rockford International Airport (RFD).

What is your most exotic, unusual new offering?
We define “unusual” differently than operators who sell more obscure destinations. To us, product such as Hotel Xcaret, where you get unlimited entrance to multiple parks with transportation to and from your hotel included, offers a level of value that goes beyond the traditional all-inclusive vacation.

We’re also looking forward to the first Nobu Hotel in Mexico, slated to open in May 2019. Born out of the partnership between Robert De Niro and chef Nobu Matsuhisa, this venture will combine the upscale dining and hospitality in a beachfront setting [in Los Cabos] that blends contemporary Japanese minimalism with locally sourced Mexican materials.

What’s your “tried-and-true” mainstay offering that clients continue to love? 
Mexico remains our top destination. Clients simply love it because of the warmth of the people and the hospitality culture. Mexico also scores high points for ease of travel and unmatched value. Our charter flights to Cancun and other popular destinations within Mexico further enhance that value in addition to providing agents with opportunities to earn higher commissions.

How are you serving the desire many consumers have to “live like a local” and to have “authentic” experiences?
We’ve seen the most demand for authenticity and local experiences in Costa Rica, but have observed this trend in Mexico and other destinations as well. This is demonstrated by the success of partner hotels such as UNICO 20°87°, where authenticity is at the center of their hospitality vision. This “best of both worlds” approach provides the comfort and value of an all-inclusive resort, but clients are surrounded by genuine Mexican architecture and natural resources. 

We also offer condo and rental home options in destinations such as Orlando and Hawaii, which provide travelers with more freedom and flexibility to experience life as a local.

What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2018/19? 
We’re essentially doing what we’ve always done — giving agents the tools they need to maximize their success and increase their bottom line. This means putting agents in control of their own earnings and profitability as well as giving them the marketing support and content they need to more effectively reach out to their customers. Tools like Creative Connection have been revamped to make them more relevant to agents’ needs, while a lot of emphasis has been placed on education, putting business-enhancing knowledge at agents’ fingertips. Our Ultimate Agent Rewards incentives for front-line agents, which include Upgrade Bonus, Agent Bonus Cash and the Stars program — as well as the 500 Club at an agency level — also remain popular.

ALG / Travel Impressions
Scott Wiseman, president

What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2018/19? 
What we have always done: continue to make their success our number-one priority and provide them with the tools and education they need to be the best in the game. And as part of one ALG, we can push even harder to give agents every advantage. We’re banding together to support our agents by pooling resources, sharing best practices, and proactively collaborating in their interest.

One way is by enhancing our booking platform by migrating over to VAX VacationAccess. This puts so much more control in our agents’ hands as they are given the ability to self-service their bookings. We’re really excited about how much this will simplify their lives and increase their productivity so that they can better reach their goals. We’re also looking at enhancing our incentives and rewards, because we feel there’s nothing more important than being appreciative every day for the partnership we have enjoyed since 1974.

What is your key strategy these days and why? 
Since Travel Impressions was founded, our strategy has been to focus exclusively on travel agents. When I took the reins two years ago, one of my first objectives was to really listen to what agents were saying. We solicited feedback to determine what agents liked about our business model and what we could do better to become an even better wholesale partner. We’ve been focusing on driving incremental business for agents with options such as Flex Groups, and supporting them with initiatives that have also touched other areas. For example, over the last year, we’ve been implementing a number of upgrades based on that feedback, from enhancements to our booking technology to an automatic callback system to reduce telephone hold times. 

What are some of your newest destinations or products in the marketplace? 
In August, we introduced more than 70 new tours across 20 destinations throughout Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region. This builds upon our efforts to expand our global product in 2017, which saw the introduction of new product throughout numerous European and Asian destinations. 

What is your most exotic, unusual new offering?
Newly added destinations include Africa’s Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Morocco, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Additionally, Israel, Jordan, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates will be added to the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf portfolio. These programs are equipped with more in-depth experiences and memorable encounters with authentic local cultures. 

What’s your “tried-and-true” mainstay offering that clients continue to love? 
We just wrapped up our annual “31 Days of Giveaways” flagship promotion, which provided even more opportunities for agents to earn multiple entries on each booking, increasing their odds of winning one of more than 40 vacation stays. Beyond that, our value-added promotions help our partners compete with the large OTAs with exclusive room upgrades, resort credits and enhanced amenities their clients won’t find elsewhere.

Are you modifying your offerings to accommodate the desire many consumers have to “live like a local” and to have “authentic” experiences?
We recently partnered with Back-Roads Touring Co. to add memorable small-group journeys that transcend the typical tourist experience by introducing a seldom-seen, authentic side of Europe via scenic back roads. This includes an Iceland program that features a “Secret Lagoon,” interactions with local Vorsabær farmers, and a Viking sushi boat cruise.

Have you seen the age of your customers change at all in the past year or so? How about their mindset?
The mindset of today’s travelers con-tinues to evolve and this is one of the areas in which we’ve focused our EducaTIon First initiative. Millennials tend to crave adventure and cultural authenticity much more than Gen Xers and Boomers. Programs such as #OnLocaTIon and our #WeekendLearning series arms agents with insights into some of the ways our hotel and destination partners are accommodating these changing travel habits, while providing the insider knowledge they need to close more sales. For example, with properties like Hotel Xcaret Mexico, the attention to detail is so minute that the only way to learn about it all is with these programs.

Avanti Destinations
Paul Barry, chairman

What is your key strategy these days and why? 
Our major strategic objectives include deepening our product offerings and unique experiences in destinations we currently serve, especially in our most popular destinations. In September, we launched our large group business initiative and expect it to be a major growth factor as it gains traction. Previously we limited our maximum group size to 16 travelers; now that number will be uncapped. We have hired a highly experienced group team with many years to staff the program and have opened new offices in Barcelona, Spain, and Kirkland, Washington, to support the operation.

We have also embarked on a broad expansion of cooperative marketing programs with a number of our tourist board partners, most notably Visit Britain. This campaign features the food and drink in various locales in the U.K. 

Working with our consortia partners to improve the booking conversion rate is another strategic objective. Although Avanti has a strong conversion rate compared to the industry, improving it through technology and education boosts productivity and therefore commissions for our agency partners. Avanti has more than doubled in size over the past five years. (There is now no slow season for Avanti.) With that growth, Avanti has added additional resources to service our agency partners.  

With the change in ownership, significant new investment in people and technology is being made. We are installing a new phone application to better manage our calls and resources. It will eliminate the need for agents to hold for long periods of time as a result of a call-back feature similar to those many airlines use today. The other major benefit of the new system is the ability to expand our work-at-home program, which will further help to balance our daily call volume load.

We are updating our website with a new look and feel — the first phase of a multi-phased project with new navigation improvements coming in a subsequent phase.

What are your newest destinations and products? 
Our custom large group program is an addition to our customized FIT lineup. It is something that agents have been asking us to support for quite some time and we now have resources to fulfill it. This June, we launched “Avanti Journeys,” which contains airfare, hotel, transfers and experiences at a fixed price. We launched our custom FIT program for Asia in 2015 and bookings continue to grow rapidly.

What are your most exotic new destinations or unusual offerings?
In Europe, we launched the Baltics: Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. The previous year we added Slovenia and Malta. We have a constantly expanding menu of unusual gastronomic and culinary products, like Pierogi-making classes in Poland, and a private cooking class in a Viennese home. We are also highlighting the Puglia and Viareggio regions of Italy.

In Latin America, we have added Chachapoyas in northern Peru, a “Flavors of Bolivia” experience, and an excursion to the Uyuni salt flats by deluxe Airstream trailer. In Asia, we have added numerous culinary experiences, such as the “Hanoi Street Food Tour” and other exotic tours, including “Hug a Panda” in Chengdu, China, at the research center dedicated to preserving this magnificent species. 

What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2018-2019?
Travel agents are the lifeblood of Avanti. A few dynamic things are happening in the agent segment and we are intently focused on them. The trend toward home-based agents continues to accelerate. Our annual survey shows for the first time that more than 50 percent of our respondents were home-based, and our survey is only sent to agents that have booked with us in the last 18 months. We have implemented new tactics to reach them in person and electronically, plus our regional sales team continues to identify, register and invite them to our event presentations.

We are also seeing an increasing number of Millennial agents…noticing many more Millennials at the consortia conferences and our own home-based events. We have increased our social media presence and are participating in industry Millennial symposiums.

Classic Vacations
David Hu, president

What is your most exotic, unusual new offering? 
Within Bali, we are offering the tented experiences through Capella Ubud … the first tented-camp experience in Bali catering to the five-star market. It is a new-build that opened in July 2018. The tents are built on stilts in the jungles above the sacred river, surrounded by rice terraces. It really is a holistic, authentic, cultural experience. 

What are your newest destinations or products in the marketplace? 
Last year, we launched Southeast Asia because customers were looking for more experiences and Asia seemed like the right fit, with amazing cuisine, authentic experiences and beautiful destinations. We expanded further by adding several more hotels in Bali, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bhutan and Philippines. Coming this year are hotels in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Vietnam along with suggested and pre-packaged itineraries.

On the other side of the world, we added Mandarin Oriental, Canouan Island … with world-class beaches, lush rolling terrain with the elegance and luxurious service of Mandarin Oriental.

Within our established Europe product, we continuously add more to the portfolio to truly become a one-stop shop so that clients can complete their full itineraries.

We have expanded our Rail Europe offerings; we added Montenegro, and expanded selections within Switzerland and Greece. We launched Ireland and are continuing to add more cities within our established countries such as Italy, Spain and Turkey.

Are you modifying your offerings to accommodate the desire many consumers have to “live like a local” and to have “authentic” experiences? 
We are working on adding key products that will enable us to provide our customers more “authentic” experiences. For example, we are working on flexible itineraries to provide off-the-beaten path packages. With the demand for “live like a local,” we also added locations that have more cultural experiences, such as Merida and interior Mexico.

Our Savour campaigns are designed to assist our clients in “living like locals” and becoming culturally immersed in their surroundings. For example, “Savour Spain” focuses on the gastronomy of Spain, with Spanish tapas daily as an inclusion. “Savour Italy” provides culturally “Italian” inclusions, such as free tours, tastings, cooking classes, authentic Italian welcome amenities, site tickets and city tours. It encourages people to get out of their comfort zone a bit.

We started working with IC Bellagio at the start of 2018. We now offer stand-alone villas in the Lake Como region (as well as our existing products in Tuscany and Lake Como). We see clients wanting to be on their own more, to actually live in an Italian home… prepare their own food, go to the store on their own, have a more independent and immersive experience. Villas cater to this 100 percent. 

What is your key strategy these days and why?
Our strategy has always been about providing the best service to our clients. What has changed is our definition of service. Not only do we believe that service is about making sure that the traveler has a good time during the travel journey, but it is more about making sure that the entire travel process from the planning and booking to the traveling parts are covered by better service. And service in our minds has broadened to ensure that we have not only the best and deepest portfolio of products beyond just the hotel portion, but also the informational content/technology that helps travel advisors sell the complete experience. 

What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2018/19? 
Our focus for the foreseeable future is continuing to build on the services that we provide to travel advisors as well as their customers. We are ultimately middlemen in the distribution channel and our services need to continue to add value to the travel journey. We believe that continuing to add product, services and technology that round out our one-stop shop proposition will enable us to add to the entire travel process.

Leibl-Cote with her father, Collette CEO Dan Sullivan Jr.

Jaclyn Leibl-Cote, president

What are your newest destinations or products in the marketplace? 
We recently launched an Explorations product line. After a great deal of market research and consumer focus groups, we realized that we wanted to make some changes to the product line in an effort to meet the demands of our travelers. The new Explorations product line is different from anything we have ever offered. These tours include meaningful experiences that are hard to replicate. For example, guests can hunt for truffles with a chef and his trained dogs on “Journey Through Southern France” or snorkel with sea turtles on “Machu Picchu & The Galapagos Islands.” Explorations does more than show you a new place. It connects you to new culture and shows you a fresh perspective of the world.

What is your most exotic, unusual new offering?
We’re really excited about offering Morocco right now. It’s trending as a hot destination and we’re thrilled to bring a program that we’re confident our guests will love.

What’s your “tried-and-true” main-stay offering that clients continue to love? Why do they love it?
Our “Shades of Ireland” tour continues to be a top seller year after year. On the domestic side, National Parks tours always do really well and I think it’s for a few reasons. Some of our travelers want to stay in the United States.

Have you seen the age of your customers change recently? How about their mindset?
The age of our customers hasn’t dramatically changed, but we have noticed a big difference in how active the more mature traveler has become. There are many myths about guided travel that include older folks becoming passive in their travel. We think this is so far from the truth. We’re hearing more and more from our guests that want to get out and explore at any age and live like a local. It’s keeping them young.

What is your key strategy these days and why? How does it vary from years past?
We are really working to listen to our customers in every decision that we make; from the planning and execution of a tour to the choices that the guest has on tour. We know that our travelers have the opportunity to travel with anyone and we want to make an impact when we’re developing tour itineraries and new destinations. 

Are there any key challenges for your business in the foreseeable future? Are world economics or dynamics having any affect?
We’re always mindful of world dynamics being something that’s difficult to predict. We know that many Americans are traveling right now and we’ll continue to offer tours to many destinations that peak their interest both domestically and around the world.

What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2018/19? 
We want to ensure that our agents are getting the resources and training that they need to be successful. Our agent resource guide is an opportunity for agents to have a tool right at their fingertips when clients are in their office; it’s a brochure that actually helps them to sell. We’ll continue offering incentives and learning opportunities to increase agent commission and earning potential. 

Excite Holidays
Andrew Yell, vice president: global sales, product contracting & operations

What is your key strategy these days and why?
We value the importance of the trade, and our strategy focuses on helping our agents grow their businesses. Our motto is “Made for Agents,” and we always look to put the agent first in everything we do, from our product contracting to our technology development and marketing efforts. 
What are your newest destinations or products in the marketplace? 
We sell an enormous range of product across destinations all over the world. We have over 250,000 hotels, 63,000 activities and tours, and transfers in more than 100 countries. We want agents to know that they can find the perfect product no matter where in the world their clients are going. We give agents the choice to find the right product for their clients with flexible conditions depending on their needs. 
What is your most exotic, unusual new offering?
One of our strengths is having a large product range … there are some really interesting options for both our accommodations and tours. We have castles in Ireland, traditional Ryokans in Japan, converted silos in New Zealand and even an Italian hotel built into caves. We have activities to satisfy all tastes, from adventure and cultural to food-oriented activities. Our more unique and exotic tours include safaris in South Africa, caving in Iceland, “Game of Thrones” tours in Croatia and swimming with pigs in the Bahamas. 
What’s your “tried-and-true” main-stay offering that clients continue to love? Why do they love it?

Agents are loving our accommodation options domestically in the U.S., as well as in Europe — Italy, France and UK have been popular destinations for us. Our activities in Europe have also been popular, particularly some of our “skip-the-line” tickets for major attractions. One destination we are seeing a bit of growth in tours is Japan, where we offer a wide variety of cultural and day tours like traditional geisha experiences, tours of the famous Tsukiji fish markets and the always popular day trips to Mount Fuji by bullet train.
Are you modifying your offerings to accommodate the desire many consumers have to “live like a local” and to have “authentic” experiences?
This is an important trend, one that is normally attributed to Millennials and Gen Z, but we believe [such] experiences are sought out by travelers of all ages, and we are seeing more interest in some of our experiences that allow visitors to immerse themselves in a local culture, particularly our food tours. We have a fantastic experience in Bangkok, where guests are welcomed into a local chef’s home for a private traditional dinner where they not only get to taste incredible food, but also understand a little more about its preparation and significance in Thai culture. 
Are there any key challenges for your business in the foreseeable future? Are world economics or dynamics having any effect?
We take pride in helping destinations recover from natural disasters or other circumstances outside their control by educating agents and driving bookings back into a destination when things return to normal. The nice thing about travel is you can always find a destination and product to fit your needs at the time.
What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2018/19? What are you doing to compete for this important distribution channel?
We are approaching our first year of operation in the U.S. market, and we are thrilled with how agents have embraced our offering. The next 12 months will be enormous for Excite Holidays, and we have some exciting new announcements in the pipeline from which we think the U.S. market will greatly benefit. Our commitment is to always ensure our platform and product is improving based on the needs of our agents. We will continue to be present at the major industry events. Our focus is very much on showcasing the benefits our system has for agents and their clients. 

Globus Family of Brands
Steve Born, chief marketing officer

Have you seen the age of your customers change at all in the past year or so? How  about their mindset?
The age of our customer has been trending slightly lower in key segments of our business, like our Avalon “Active Discovery” cruises. We’ve also seen an increase company-wide in multigenerational travel, with grandparents, children and grandchildren enjoying our tours, independent travel packages and river cruises together. The mindset of our customer continues to encompass travelers who are curious and want to see the world in a whole new way. Each of our brands takes guests beyond the normal “must see sights” into the stories behind them and local experiences. 

What are your newest destinations or products in the marketplace? 
For 2018, as part of our 90th birthday celebration, we introduced a series of “Undiscovered Italy” tours for both Globus and Cosmos [in which] we take travelers to the incredible places where Italian locals vacation. We visit places like Bari, Alberobello, Castellana Grotte (Globus’ “Hidden Treasures of Southern Italy”); Palermo, Agrigento, Ragusa, Mount Etna (Globus’ “The Sicilian”); Vinci, Lucca, Greve (Cosmos’ “Gourmet Tuscany”) and Fasano and Lecce (Cosmos’ “Apulia, the Heel of Italy”).

Travelers are looking for authentic, off-the-beaten-path destinations. We will be expanding our “Undiscovered” portfolio in new destinations in 2019.

We also recognize that there are different ways to travel. While some may choose to go with a group, others like a DIY vacation. Some want a hybrid of the two. That’s where Monograms fits in [inviting] travelers to explore the world independently, with expert help (via our on-site Local Hosts). In 2018, we expanded its portfolio exponentially with daily departures in major cities across Europe and YourWay packages, giving our travelers more length-of-stay choices in Europe’s major cities. We will be widening those possibilities further in 2019.

What is your most exotic, unusual new offering?
One unusual offering amongst our Cosmos exotics portfolio is on the “Simply Vietnam” tour…where guests stay in Phong Nha National Park (no other tour operator in the U.S. is doing this) on a farm stay: An incredible experience to see the Phong Nha caves (a UNESCO site) while also having some time at the farm close to the park.

In addition, in the Gobi desert (offered on a Mongolia extension with our Cosmos China tours), guests spend two days exploring the Gobi with an overnight in a traditional ger.

Are you modifying your offerings to accommodate the desire many consumers have to “live like a local” and to have “authentic” experiences?
Yes. Helping our travelers get off-the-beaten path with our new “Undiscovered” series takes them to places the locals visit for more authentic, immersive experiences. Globus also provides travelers the opportunity to enjoy “Local Favorites” on every tour — experiences the locals recommend. Avalon Waterways also lets travelers have more immersive experiences by way of our new “Active Discovery” itineraries on the Danube, Rhine and Rhone rivers.  

What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2018/19? 
Travel agents are an integral part of our business. We support them by providing a best-in-class education program (GFOB University) and a dedicated national Business Development team to help them sell our products while also growing their business. From helping our agents host over 500 consumer shows a year, to giving agents access to unparalleled, complimentary marketing materials, a core goal is helping our agent partners be successful. We strive to make it easy for agents to take action to create demand for their business — like with our “Undiscovered Italy” campaign — by helping them identify past touring clients and offering them new and unique ways to see Europe.

What is your overall strategy these days?
The Globus family of brands is focused on what our guests desire from their vacation.  We understand that they have chosen a tour for a reason. It’s their time to be taken care of and enjoy every moment of the journey. They want to indulge their curiosities and experience new cultures, to reinvigorate their senses and taste new foods, to see the must-see sites while also learning the stories behind them. 

GOGO Vacations
John van den Heuvel, president

What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2018/19? 
GOGO Vacations is offering several new products and services to assist travel agents with their own product offering, efficiency and competitiveness. [We] added GO-COVERED in 2018, which is a true, 100 percent cancel-for-any-reason product, combined with an insurance offering. It starts at $99 and is bookable through our local offices or on our booking engine. GOGO Vacations is also launching a new groups technology platform, powered by SOFTTRIP in 2018. This will allow travel agents to quote, book, edit, make payments, and create reporting all online. Flex Groups [launched] the GO Groups teams in September of 2018. GOGO has also done an overhaul and re-design of its documents in 2018, making them more durable, luxe, and user friendly.  

What are your newest destinations or products in the marketplace? What’s the reasoning for them?
We are now able to book Japan Rail ticket and passes for our customers. Our itineraries throughout Asia are growing every day. Three Reflect properties in Mexico were added to our portfolio because now that they are managed by AMResorts we believe that the service and product levels will greatly increase. Other new properties include Excellence Oyster Bay, Riu Palace Baja California (opening December 2018 in Los Cabos) and Riu Palace Costa Mujeres (opening November 2018 near Cancun).

Atelier De Hoteles opened two new hotels in September: Estudio and Atelier Playa Mujeres. Additional new properties are Sunscape Star Cancun (opening March 2019) and Hard Rock Los Cabos (opening May 2019). NCL’s Norwegian Bliss started in April 2018. The ship sails to both the Caribbean and Alaska depending on the time of year. 

What is your most exotic, unusual new offering?
Japan is a fantastic destination where GOGO Vacations can book the full itinerary, hotels, transfers, sightseeing, including Japan Rail passes and tickets. There are very few tour operators /wholesalers able to book Japan Rail and now GOGO is one of them.

What’s your “tried-and-true” mainstay offering that clients continue to love? Why do they love it?
All-inclusive resorts continue to be one of the tried-and-true offerings. [They] lend themselves to a stress-free vacation — this is particularly advantageous when there is a group or multiple families traveling together. Our travel agent partners are able to provide their clients exclusive perks and special amenities at no additional cost with our My Time elevated vacation experience available at Excellence Group Luxury Hotels & Resorts and select Playa and AMResorts. These are VIP perks, at no additional fee, that we pass along to travel agents to gift to their customers.

Are you modifying your offerings to accommodate the desire many consumers have to “live like a local” and to have “authentic” experiences?
Yes, absolutely. We offer thousands of sightseeing options worldwide that allow travelers to fully immerse themselves in the local culture with an authentic experience. For example there’s “Street Eats by Tuk Tuk” in Bangkok; “Market Visit, Sake Brewery Visit and Cooking Lesson” in Tokyo; and “Wanna Be Italiano” in Florence (learn how to cook an authentic Tuscan meal and shop with chefs).

Are there any key challenges for your business in the foreseeable future?   
We have not identified any new, or key challenges, other than the continued unknown around mother nature, manmade disasters or unfortunate events that seem to be occurring more frequently than before. We have determined we need to be one step ahead of those events with preparation on immediate action plans, which we have in place.

What is your key strategy these days and why?   
Our number-one strategy at GOGO Vacations remains “Only At Your Travel Agent.” GOGO Vacations has always put the travel agent first, making them our number-one focus and only customer. We continuously look at how we can improve both the booking process and the end-to-end customer service experience for the travel agent. We want to be their partner in helping them to open up the world for their customers. 

ID Travel Group
Maurice Bonham-Carter, owner, president & CEO

What is your key strategy these days and why?  
Supporting luxury travel advisors by adding value such as innovative marketing promotions that drive business, having the most current product knowledge and providing immediate responses and solutions to challenges in the marketplace such as natural disasters.

What are your newest destinations or products in the marketplace? What’s the reasoning for them? 
“New” destinations are the revitalized and reopened resorts in the Caribbean. A plethora of old favorites have been totally upgraded with exciting new designs and luxury facilities in Anguilla (CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa and Belmond Cap Juluca), St Barths (Le Barthelemy and Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France), and Puerto Rico (St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort and Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve) to name just a few.  

What is your most exotic, unusual new offering? 
We love Sri Lanka! Bringing a cultural add-on only 50 minutes away from the Maldives, an Island Destinations’ highly sought-after destination.

What’s your “tried-and-true” mainstay offering that clients continue to love? Why do they love it? 
Turks and Caicos has it all — increasing luxury offerings from suites to stunning beachfront villas, easily accessible with an abundance of air lift, powder white-sand beaches, gourmet food and service with heart. 

Are you modifying your offerings to accommodate the desire many consumers have to “live like a local” and to have “authentic” experiences?
We continue to add private homes and villas that are personally vetted to meet luxury service standards. Our concierge team arranges tours providing intimate experiences such as school visits, fishing trips, meetings with artisans and authentic cooking with local residents and chefs.

Have you seen the age of your customers change at all in the past year or so? How about their mindset? 
Our customer base continually evolves and we always see new and younger travelers recognizing the value of travel advisors. The mindset is that travel is a necessity, not a luxury — and they want it as often as possible! They are well-traveled. While value is expected, they are not necessarily looking for the least expensive trip; experience is more important.    

Are there any key challenges for your business in the foreseeable future? Are world economics or dynamics having any affect? 
We face ongoing obstacles — economic, political and natural disasters, whether domestic or international. The key is to be well informed, nimble, flexible and forward-thinking. We offer a diversified worldwide product to ensure that we can meet travelers’ expectations.   

What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2018/19? What are you doing to compete for this important distribution channel? 
We do not work with the consumer directly. Our focus is 100 percent on the travel advisor distribution channel — this has not changed in 35 years and we passionately believe in its value. It’s been the secret to our success. 

Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold
Ulla Hefel Bohler, CEO

What are your newest destinations or products in the marketplace? 
In 2018, Insight Vacations added trendy new destinations to their Discovery Journeys, such as San Sebastian, Cinque Terre, Croatia, and the Italian Lake District, as well as a wide range of immersive experiences. For example, guests can meet Chef Lorenzo in Orvieto for a pasta-making demo, take a foodie walk in Paris, or meet a Swiss ranger on top of Mount Stanserhorn. We’ve also introduced farm-to-table meals on all of our Country Roads itineraries, and added Dine-at-Home experiences on many itineraries. 

Our newest Luxury Gold destinations include Japan, New Zealand, Costa Rica, South Africa, Croatia and Montenegro, Ireland, and Russia (with the option to take the Trans-Siberian Express to Vladivostok). Our most notable new innovation is the addition of two new Chairman’s Collection experiences (more on this below). 

What is your most exotic, unusual new offering?
The Chairman’s Collection, launched by Luxury Gold this year, are exclusive VIP experiences that give guests direct access to iconic local people and nobility, and are only available on select departures on certain itineraries. For example, guests can attend a cocktail reception with Princess Anita von Hohenberg, a direct descendent of Maria Theresa and Archduke Franz Ferdinand, at her Austrian castle, or tour the gardens of Alnwick Castle with the Duchess of Northumberland. These were rolled out in 2018, and have proved so popular that we are adding two new experiences in 2019: on select “Majesty of the Canadian Rockies” and “Trans-Canadian Grandeur” journeys, guests will meet Rob Boyd, skiing legend and gold medal-winning Canadian Olympian; and on select “Southern Grace” and “Sumptuous Soul of America” journeys, guests will meet Charlie McCoy, a Country Music Hall of Fame musician.

Are you modifying your offerings to accommodate the desire many consumers have to “live like a local” and to have “authentic” experiences?
We have always offered immersive experiences that authentically connect guests with a destination, and are adding more every year. This is one of the main selling points of our brands. By offering behind-the-scenes access to museums, hands-on culinary experiences, and private meetings with notable local characters, such as we do with Luxury Gold’s Chairman’s Collection, we are able to give guests experiences that can’t be had by the average traveler and can’t be easily arranged by those traveling independently.

Have you seen the age of your customers change in the past year or so? 
Our core demographic continues to be the Baby Boomer, however, we also see young professionals, families and even honeymooning couples travel with us. 

What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2018/19? 
Agents are crucial partners and we support them in every way we can. We are in constant communication with them and do ongoing training, webinars, launch events, and Agent Academy. We also recently hired a number of new district sales managers. In terms of digital marketing, we utilize e-mail, social media, and our website for maximum effect to reach agents. Our catalogs, which are available both online and in print format, are also crucial tools, and they work better than ever for communicating our message. 

What is your key strategy these days and why? 
Our strategy is twofold: To put our guests at the heart of everything that we do — by actively engaging with our customers and listening to their feedback. If it isn’t right for the guests, it won’t be right for the business. We also differentiate ourselves from the competition by offering high levels of personalization and cultural immersion, and hyper-local culinary experiences. We know travelers might only have a couple of weeks’ vacation a year, and by choosing our trips they can trust that they will get the maximum value they deserve: the best experiences, the right hotels, and world-class service from our Travel Directors and Traveling Concierges.

We also recognize that travelers want to take trips that have minimal environmental impact and positively benefit local communities and wildlife in the destinations they visit. Thanks to our efforts with our TreadRight Foundation and its +50 initiatives, we can assure guests that they are traveling sustainably when they travel with us.

Pleasant Holidays
Jack E. Richards, president and CEO

What are your newest destinations or products in the marketplace? 
We expanded our Japan & Asia portfolio in August to include Hong Kong package vacations for Pleasant Holidays and Journese, including multi-destination vacation options that explore both. We also added cruise vacation protection plan coverage to our product line. In late October, South America will become our newest destination with the introduction of Colombia vacation packages with dynamic rates and inventory and instant reservation confirmations.

What is your most exotic, unusual new offering?
Exotic can vary greatly depending upon the perspective of the traveler, so we offer a vast and varying portfolio to suit a variety of tastes. Our Japan & Asia portfolio, which includes Tokyo, Osaka, Hakone, Kyoto and Hong Kong, is a popular choice. We also offer a variety of boutique cruise vacations, including UnCruise Adventures in the Galapagos, Windstar Cruises in Greece, AmaWaterways voyages in Vietnam and Cambodia, and Iceland ProCruises. Additionally, Journese, our luxury brand, offers vacations in the United Arab Emirates, Australia and New Zealand.

Are you modifying your offerings to accommodate the desire many consumers have to “live like a local?”
The majority of our travelers actually don’t want to live like a local; that is not our market. Our travelers want a vacation with a well-appointed room with daily maid service and an incredible view. They do, however, want an authentic experience of the destination. To address that, our Pleasant Activities brand continues to expand to include immersive cultural experiences and private tours. We are expanding our partnership with Island Routes in the Caribbean and will do so in other destinations throughout the world to offer authentic experiences in the local culture.

Have you seen the age of your customers change at all in the past year or so? 
Family vacations have always been a big part of our business. As the Baby Boomer generation continues to enter retirement, we see an increasing number of them celebrating their newly acquired free time with travel, often starting with a multigeneration family reunion. A few months later they may splurge with a grand retirement celebration vacation for two to the destination that tops their bucket list. Then they’ll add a few long weekend getaways with and without friends. 

What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2018/19? 
Pleasant Holidays and Journese remain champions of the travel advisor and will continue to support and court their business. We offer one-stop-shop convenience for complete vacation packages, including flights on all airlines; accommodations at Excellence Groups, Playa, Sandals & Beaches, AMResorts, Marriott, Hyatt, Fairmont and more; airport transfers and car rentals; commissionable sightseeing tours and excursions; and travel protection plans that automatically include commission protection for travel advisors. 

We continue to invest heavily in technology that makes the booking process faster and easier, including enhancements for mobile devices. We have 19 business development managers nationwide, focused on growing their advisors’ commission income by identifying new strategies and opportunities. TRIP, our travel reward incentive program, allows advisors to earn points for personal travel with every booking. Pleasant Holidays’ Elite Experience and Journese’ Curators Celebration recognize our top performing travel advisors of the year with a luxurious getaway.

What is your key strategy these days and why? 
Although best known for Hawaii vacations, the company now offers Mexico, Caribbean, Tahiti / Fiji, Europe, Central America, USA, Canada, the Middle East, Hong Kong and Japan. The company will continue to expand throughout Asia in 2019, including additions in China, Singapore, Vietnam and others. South America destinations will also be added in 2019.

What’s your “tried-and-true” mainstay offering that clients continue to love? 
Hawaii is our single largest destination today. The company operates one of the largest Destination Management Companies in Hawaii with more than 100 employees on four islands selling Hawaii destination activities, events, tours, luaus and sporting events, plus corporate incentive groups. Last year marked 20 years of our selling South Pacific vacations, featuring Bora Bora’s iconic overwater bungalows. We are currently celebrating 25 years offering Mexico vacations and 10 years selling the Caribbean. In 2019, we will celebrate 60 years of selling Hawaii vacations.

Tauck Land Journeys
Jeremy Palmer, senior vice president

What are your newest destinations or products in the marketplace? 
Many of our new itineraries are part of our “Exotics” collection, including “Kingdoms & Dragons: Singapore to Bali,” “Great Migration: Tanzania & Kenya,” “Odyssey in China: Beijing, Chengdu & Hong Kong,” and our two new mountain gorilla safaris. We have three new itineraries in Italy plus a new “Under the Tuscan Sun” event in Tuscany and a new “Grand European Holiday” in London, Paris and Rome with two nights in the Umbrian countryside. In North America, we’re introducing “Sacred Lands: National Parks of the Southwest” and “Vancouver and the Rockies by Rocky Mountaineer.” 

What is your most exotic, unusual new offering?
It’s a toss-up between our new 14-day itinerary that explores Singapore, Indonesia and Bali (including a visit to Komodo Island to see Komodo dragons) and our two African safaris that culminate with a mountain gorilla trek in the Rwandan highlands.  

What’s your “tried-and-true” mainstay offering?
We’ve been bringing guests to the U.S. National Parks since our very first tour 93 years ago, and they continue to be incredibly popular today. For many years we’ve offered the ability to stay right inside the parks. These in-the-park accommodations can sell out a year or more in advance, because the very best times in the parks are early evening and early morning, when the majority of visitors have departed for the day. We’ve recently enhanced our existing national parks tours, and designed new itineraries through our partnership with Ken Burns.

Are you modifying your offerings to accommodate the desire many consumers have to “live like a local” and to have “authentic” experiences?
We’ve always worked to provide authentic, enriching experiences. In reality, though, we go beyond “living like a local” to provide access and deliver experiences that are far superior to what most locals typically enjoy. For example, most residents of Rome aren’t able to visit the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums after-hours, when the crowds have left for the day, like Tauck guests do. Most Londoners don’t get to attend a private talk by Celia Sandys, Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, biographer, and former travel companion, and then meet her afterwards. And people who’ve lived in New Orleans their entire lives don’t just walk into Preservation Hall for a private performance by their famous jazz band or attend a lecture on jazz by Ken Burns, and enjoy a meet-and-greet with him later.

What is your strategy these days and why? 
Our key strategy is to constantly evolve and refine our products to better support our overall mission, which is to enhance our guests’ lives by crafting and delivering authentic, enriching and transformational travel experiences.  

For example, we’ve dramatically increased our small group offerings, we’re continually expanding into new destinations (including Singapore and Rwanda in 2019), and we continue to offer experiences that stretch the traditional definition of a “tour,” specifically, our unique, once-in-a-lifetime Tauck Events and our Tauck Bridges collection of trips for families.  

What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2018/19? 
We’ve always felt that Tauck and travel agents are perfect partners. The kind of traveler who appreciates the high-touch, “do-it-for-you” service that we provide on our tours and cruises is also going to welcome the service that an agent provides. Tauck also offers an all-inclusive product, and with everything built into our prices, agents earn commission on everything from airport transfers and luggage handling to admission fees at the Louvre. We’ve put a number of programs in place to support those partnerships. We offer our online Tauck Specialist agent certification program through the Travel Institute

[Separately], Tauck Academy is a three-day program with in-person training delivered by the Tauck team. Attendance is invitation-only; those who complete the course become Tauck Certified Agents and enjoy savings on travel, exclusive access to newly opened itineraries and more. We also offer our Agent Rewards program. 

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