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New Hot Spots in International Group Travel

Though the size of the planet hasn’t changed recently, the world is getting bigger for groups interested in international travel.

Many American travel groups have crossed the border into Canada, explored the classic cities of Western Europe or even made pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Thanks to advances in development, modernization and international relations, though, the menu of international travel possibilities is now incredibly diverse, and groups can explore the far reaches of the globe with relative ease.

In Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South America, emerging destinations have opened up to international group travel. We spoke to tour operators that specialize in each of these regions to find out about destinations that are surging in popularity or newly positioning themselves for international visitors.


South America

Although it now offers travel to 100 countries on seven continents, G Adventures got its start taking travelers to South America, and Peru is the top destination for the whole company.

Nearly all of the 15,000 people it takes to Peru each year visit Machu Picchu, and a fair number make the four-day hike along the entire Inca Trail. But Lucas Bialecki, U.S. groups business development manager for G Adventures, said Americans have started to show interest in visiting other parts of the country as well.

“We’re getting a ton of interest in the Peruvian Amazon,” he said. “We have a ship that we charter for Amazon River cruises. For affinity groups, that’s becoming very popular. It’s a nine-day experience, and that includes flying to and from Lima.”

Bialecki said Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands are growing in popularity with groups. Though various companies have offered cruises to the Galapagos for some time, G Adventure customers are now asking for more extensive experiences in the islands and cultural explorations on the Ecuadorian mainland.

“We charter five ships in the Galapagos, but we’re seeing more of an interest in doing land tours of the Galapagos, as well as more extended tours of Ecuador itself. A lot of people are surprised by the Spanish colonial architecture there. Quito is a beautiful city, and some of the cathedrals there rival the architecture you’ll see in Spain.”

The upcoming World Cup and Summer Olympics events are bringing a lot of attention and investment into Rio de Janeiro, and Bialecki said he has seen an increase in demand for his company’s tours to Brazil. And travelers exploring Argentina, Chile and other countries are showing increased interest in extending their tours to include exotic locales such as Antarctica and Easter Island.

“Easter Island is relatively new for us,” Bialecki said. “People are usually doing a three- or four-day trip there as an extension to another trip in South America. We can book those trips for as few as two travelers.”


Eastern Europe

CIE Tours International, a company that has made its reputation taking travelers to Ireland and Britain, has seen an increase in the number of customers who want to travel to eastern Europe. The company operates several itineraries that visit places such as Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary, Serbia and Poland.

“It’s a region that has taken off in the past eight to 10 years, and we’re just piggybacking on its strengths,” said Dennis Savage, senior vice president of CIE Tours. “Most of the people who book those tours are passengers who have been on our core tours of England, Ireland and Scotland, and they’re looking to go to a different region.”

To investigate the product himself, Savage recently joined one of the company’s two-week tours through eastern Europe and found the destinations included have overcome the challenges they faced at the end of the 20th century.

“It was far better than I ever expected,” he said. “People still have a perception of strife and turmoil, but that was not the case when we got to the destination. What you see is the culture and the scenery. In Slovenia, there’s no evidence whatsoever of the strife that was fairly rampant and, unfortunately, very well publicized in the press. I think that’s part of the experience.

“I was really drawn by the possibility of seeing Dubrovnik [Croatia]. It’s known as the Jewel of the Adriatic. It’s an exceptionally beautiful part of the world. As we traveled around, we saw so much, and there wasn’t one day when we weren’t totally overwhelmed by the people, the food and the culture as well.”


Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.