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Changing Horizons in the Cruise Industry

Commercial tours are still frequently viewed, even by some operators in the industry, as little more than traditional motorcoach excursions for sedentary older folks who want to sit and watch scenery pass by the vehicle’s windows, perhaps livened up occasionally by a museum stop, a sightseeing cruise, or a theater or musical performance. Iconic examples would be the “leaf peeping” trips that have followed well-worn itineraries throughout New England every autumn for decades. Happily, however, many more enlightened tour planners and group coordinators have come to realize that such offerings do virtually nothing to meet the needs and attract the attention of adult, special-interest and substantially more active mature travelers alike in the 21st century.

Interestingly enough, many former tour operators have even replaced the “tours” part of their company names with more immediately inviting terms like “vacations,” “adventures,” “events” and “discoveries” in an attempt to erase recurring memories of structured, inflexible, basic group sightseeing itineraries. Consequently, following are just a dozen examples of the wide variety of much more innovative “packaged travel” products that are now readily available in the marketplace:

1 • Shorter, upscale programs for those with little time to get away, but ample financial resources and interests in such subjects as food and wine, theater, birding, gardens, antiques, opera and the Civil War.

2 • Smaller groups traveling on smaller vehicles or “executive” coaches fitted out for far fewer guests in a “first class” configuration. Groups of this size can be accommodated solely at charming country inns or bed-and-breakfasts rather than standard hotels or motor inns.

3 • Trips for those seeking adventure travel experiences like white-water rafting, hot-air ballooning, exploring remote areas on horseback, mountain hiking via helicopter and bungee jumping.

4 • Photography “safaris” to renowned scenic attractions or areas worldwide, designed for serious amateurs and led by professional photographers.

5 • Programs that combine different modes of transportation to create unique experiences. Included are “rail and sail” and motorcoach/cruise ship itineraries, as well as trips that travel one way by motorcoach and one way by Amtrak or air.

6 • Specialized trips for golfers, fishermen, hunters, even poker, blackjack and slot machine players.

7 • European (and even some domestic and Asian) river cruises are now the hottest thing going on the water, simply because they offer smaller passenger complements, usually 120 to 200 guests, and attractive land sightseeing inclusions that require no constant hotel changes and extended “on the bus/off the bus” routines.

8 • Programs concentrating on lesser-known national park sites in the United States and Canada. With the extremely limited availability of lodging at big-name parks like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Glacier, the 2016 100th Anniversary Celebration of America’s National Park Service is sure to increase the availability of such itineraries.

9 • Trips incorporating a number of day-hiking opportunities in scenic regions, including those designed for active, fitness-oriented older travelers.

10 • Luxury round-the-world trips via chartered, private aircraft with all first-class seating and amenities.

11 • Extended RV and motor home “caravan” programs for those having the appropriate vehicles, sufficient time and the desire for social interaction with fellow travelers along the way.

12 • Programs for fans of spectator sports, including baseball, football and bowl games, basketball, hockey and soccer.

Almost anything is now possible to create an attractive, successful tour program. Now that land tours offer a plethora of choices to satisfy virtually every interest, it is simply incumbent upon the industry to get the word out and change general public perception of tours or packaged travel, or whatever such travel products might be called, so they are rightly viewed as having near universal appeal.