Escorted tours, holiday upgrades and rail travel are on the rise
Long ago, the wealthy would fan out across Europe to the African and Asian continents on the classic Grand Tour. Seen as a rite of passage for young aristos, they would venture to the romantic Balkans or Egyptian antiquities by road, rail and boat in safety and comfort with the services of a cicerone, or expert guide. Now times have obviously changed, but the Grand Tour is having a renaissance of sorts. Here, Connecting Travel explores the travel trends of 2022, stretching into 2023, from the re-emergence of solo female travellers to longer holiday stays and increased demand for luxury products.
Even before Covid brought so much uncertainty to travel, escorted touring was the fastest-growing sector of the industry, according to specialists G Adventures and Wendy Wu Tours, and that trend is set to re-emerge as tourism restrictions ease.
Research from Aito – The Specialist Travel Association shows people are turning to travel companies to book their next holiday more than ever before.
61% of travellers are looking for guidance and reassurance from a professional to navigate travel post-pandemic
Travellers are also opting for longer and slower journeys closer to home, with the security of a guide on an escorted tour. Greener trips, seizing the day and savouring the moment are high on the agenda after two years of a pandemic.
Some want to make up for lost family time, while others, particularly youngsters and empty-nesters, want to set off solo, and do it in a safe way.
Pent-up demand is also prompting people to upgrade holidays and pick more luxurious options. According to Sunvil sales and marketing manager Rachel Jelley, the pandemic has made people nostalgic for travel and led to a desire to revisit previous holiday destinations with a new adventurous or luxury twist.
“Daydreaming about travel has been common throughout the pandemic. With plenty of time at home to look through old photographs and reminisce about past holidays, we are now seeing more and more people feeling nostalgic and wanting to revisit these destinations,” says Jelley.
“There is, however, also a desire to do more, and to make the most of their time, with people seeking to combine these trips down memory lane with something new.”
Sunvil has noticed an increased appetite for longer, more complex trips offering fresh perspectives on familiar places, such as island-hopping holidays in Greece, often among seasoned Grecophiles. To cater to this demand, the operator has added itineraries capitalising on its expertise in booking complex ferry-inclusive trips.
A New Era of Train Travel
This trend for longer holidays revisiting old favourites is coupled with a swing towards a more leisurely pace of travel. Slower journeys by train and boat are certainly on the rise.
Luxury operator Cox & Kings is capitalising on the demand for slower travel with a new crop of escorted Spotlight Tours that explore European destinations such as Malta in more detail, based in one place and with more downtime.
“On the back of the success of our European Spotlight tours launched in early 2021, three new destinations have been added,” says Kerry Golds, Cox & Kings’ group managing director. “These holidays explore lesser-visited facets of well-known destinations, offering an array of culturally immersive activities based in a single location.”
On-trend trips visit lesser-known spots such as Umbria in Italy, Spain’s Basque Country and Slovenia. Coach tour specialist Leger is also offering lengthier guided journeys. These include its new two-week Grand Tour of Germany itinerary and 12-day Little Trains of the Douro Valley trip, exploring Portugal’s famed wine region via its railway lines.
The Rise of Young Travellers
Young travellers looking for a backpacker-style experience with less faff and uncertainty are also more likely to opt for the security of an escorted tour in 2022. With its finger on the pulse of the youth travel market, G Adventures has responded quickly to the uptick in Gen Z interest in pre-organised touring, partnering with Hostelworld to offer new touring brand Roamies.
“It was clear that young travellers were hungry to travel again and reconnection and social interaction were more important than ever,” says Brian Young, G Adventures’ managing director for the EMEA region.
“When staying in a hostel, there’s a unique sense of community and camaraderie and it was this that inspired the idea for Roamies – what if we could challenge traditional touring by harnessing the community and social elements that come with hostels, while offering incredible adventure experiences along the way?”
Starting this May, G Adventures will be operating 38 Roamies itineraries, spanning 15 countries including Germany and Italy, for travellers aged 18 to 35.
While the operator has been quick to react to clients’ preferences for European trips, it adds that traditional backpacker favourites such as Mexico are proving extremely popular, with young travellers keen to return to Thailand and Peru too.
Meanwhile, solo tours are on the increase for the same reason, with high demand to travel individually within the safety of a group.
“Exploring the world solo as part of an escorted tour provides individuals with the perfect blend of adventure and security,” says Titan Travel’s head of trade sales, Edwina Coppock. “An escorted solo tour provides companionship and the opportunity to share travel moments with fellow like-minded travellers as well as moments where guests can explore freely as an individual.”
To meet demand, Titan has added solo departures for some of its most popular escorted tours, including California and the Golden West, and Southern Sights and Sounds. While young adults on gap years have been the traditional solo traveller, a new wave of intrepid wanderer is beginning to dominate the market – the over-50 female traveller.
Prior to the pandemic, 73% of Titan’s solo travellers were female
Coppock says: “No longer is solo travel a brave and risky experience for women, but a liberating, exciting and fulfilling one.”
This trend of maturer travellers setting off solo is echoed by G Adventures. “Many travellers aged 60 and above are opting for our Marine-style trips, which include our expeditions in the polar regions and river cruising in the Amazon and the Mekong,” says Brian Young.
Travel Farther Afield in 2023
Once the coast is clear, long-haul travel is set to rebound fast, though with pandemic restrictions rumbling on this is now likely to be in 2023. Destinations and journeys that have been off the agenda – Australia, Latin America and safaris, to name a few – will be particularly sought-after.
In line with the trend for once-in-a-lifetime trips when restrictions have fully lifted, Wendy Wu Tours’ all-encompassing 23-day Hidden Treasures of New Zealand tour recently made it on to UK’s Times newspaper’s ‘ultimate trips for 2022’ shortlist.
G Adventures is also expecting a boom in interest for bucket-list trips to Japan
Though both New Zealand and Japan are still closed to visitors, and Asia tours are unlikely to return to normal until September, the demand for these destinations remains strong, with operators reporting future interest in trips to southeast Asia in particular.
Titan Travel says its Wild Borneo and Essential Vietnam & Cambodia escorted tours are among its bestsellers and the region remains a favourite with solo travellers. Above all, escorted touring is emerging from the pandemic more adaptable than ever.
And with such a diverse range of journeys, there really is something to ease everyone back into travelling again.