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Why Tour Operators Love Active Groups

Adventure is in the eye of the beholder.

Some of the most popular destinations in the United States are beloved
for their natural beauty, and outdoor activities available in these places can range from mild to extreme. And although high-intensity outdoor adventures get a lot of media coverage, adrenaline-pumping activities aren’t necessarily the best fit for most travelers.

To get a perspective on what kind of outdoor activities are in demand among today’s group travelers, we spoke with representatives of five tour companies that range in size. Their insights paint a picture of a diverse environment where younger travelers are driving demand for more active options, all while more traditional customers still want to feel safe and comfortable.

Read on to see how travel planners are integrating the outdoors into their itineraries and find some ideas about how you can cater to the interests and activity levels in your group.

Willing to Walk

For years, traditional wisdom had held that group tour planners should keep walking to a minimum on their itineraries. After all, most customers were senior citizens, and many had mobility issues that would make long walks difficult or impossible. But Edward Stirrup, president of Tour Trends in Plymouth, Massachusetts, said this is no longer the case.

“A lot of the seniors are diverse groups,” he said. “Some like to do outside activities, walking tours and things like that. I had a group come over that wanted to do some sailing.”

Stirrup said although most of his customers are still seniors, they aren’t intimidated by walking. A recent tour he hosted in Massachusetts for the Mayflower Society followed the trail of the original Pilgrims and “involved quite a bit of walking.”

“These people come from all over the country and range in age from 50 up to about 90; but they’re very game and want to get out there and walk,” he said. “We also do a lot of military reunions, and the guys from World War II are getting up there in their 80s or early 90s. But they still like to get out there and see what they can do.”

Many of Tour Trends’ itineraries feature trail walks or other outdoor explorations that involve participants’ spending a lot of time on their feet.

“We do quite a few trails out in Nova Scotia and Quebec,” Stirrup said. “In the U.K., they like to get out and explore places like Stonehenge, where they do a lot of walking.”

Some trips to the Caribbean feature opportunities for groups to go sailing, which is a very active experience. And Stirrup said he is getting some requests from smaller groups to arrange golfing trips to places such as Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Range of Abilities

Landmark Tours, based in Minneapolis, has been in business for 27 years, and CEO John Lyons said he has seen a significant change in the abilities and interests of his customers.

“In the early days, it was a lot of riding around on the bus,” he said. “But now we’re adapting to a new demographic. Our average traveler is still in the 60- to 80-year-old age bracket, so there’s a real mix of abilities in that age group to cater to. We’re not rock climbing, but we have put a lot of soft adventure into things over the years.”

Because of this mix of abilities, Lyons looks for a variety of methods for helping people experience significant outdoor attractions. “We will use any means possible to get our travelers to the top of a mountain,” he said. “You can ride the train, the gondola or the tram. We can also throw in a jeep ride in some places.”

Waterborne activities are another example. Though sightseeing cruises have long been popular, Lyons said Landmark customers now enjoy other aquatic experiences as well. Those range from serene, scenic float trips to pontoon boat parades and even jet boat excursions.

Beyond these soft-adventure inclusions, Lyons said he has a fair number of customers who use free time on trips to pursue more active experiences.

“We have built in a lot more free time to allow people to go out and do some more adventurous things,” he said. “They might rent a kayak, do a little fly-fishing or even go whitewater rafting. Sometimes they are looking for help from us in seeking those things out, and we are aiming to give them as much help as possible.”

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.