It’s hard to think of a more aptly named travel product than Explorations, a tour brand that’s an offshoot of Collette Vacations, and which originally launched in 2007 as Explorations by Collette, but has now been rebranded with a new name, logo, brochure and website.
Melissa Snape, executive v.p. of product, says that when it comes right down to it, Explorations tours are all about, well, exploring—whether it’s cuisine, art, history or other parts of a foreign culture.
“The intrinsic basis of what we designed Explorations for…was to provide a small-group, intimate, personalized and experiential product in the marketplace for people who were looking to go at a slower pace, do a lot more regional discovery, and have a much more interactive type of travel experience within a small group setting,” she describes.
On its variety of tours, which cover the globe from Italy to India to California and last anywhere from one week to 25 days, travelers can expect anything but the usual sightseeing experience. “Our small group size gives us the ability to do a lot of culinary and immersion experiences that are harder to do with larger groups,” Snape explains. “We do a lot of cooking classes and market tours, and tastings and home hosted dinners. We have a lot of nature and eco experiences as well.” In Costa Rica, she describes, clients travel to a working farm and have lunch with the family out in the fields. Afterwards, they take cooking lessons using local ingredients—something large tour groups of 40 or 50 travelers wouldn’t be able to do. Likewise, the market tours in its Vietnam itinerary and the 4×4 tours on Fraser Island in Explorations’ Australia tour just won’t work with more than 28 passengers, which is the operator’s cut-off size. In Italy, Snape says, tours visit a small artisanal olive oil producer. “They don’t have the space to accommodate 40 or 50 people, but you can take 20 and watch them go through the process of producing olive oil where it’s still stone ground on the wheel, and they’re not using machinery, they’re focusing on the slow foods movement and the old artisanal production methods. Those are the types of things that we have the opportunity to do because of the size of the group that we’ve got.”
Explorations’ hotels extend the authentic, immersive experience beyond just the activities. “Our product managers go out in the market and select everything themselves. They’re looking for hotels that reflect the flavor of the area they’re in, not a hotel that, if you remove the outside of it, could be anywhere in the world,” Snape says. “We want you to immerse yourself in the culture of the region throughout every aspect of your travel experience.”
Naturally, this more adventurous twist on the traditional packaged tour experience attracts a different client. “It’s designed more for the ‘boomer’ and ‘zoomer’ market, for people who are converting over to touring,” Snape says. Clients who find the convenience and value of packaged tours appealing, but don’t want to give up the immersive experience of traveling solo, make up the target market. “It’s a younger demographic than the mainstream Collette product would be—one that has traveled before more extensively, that has seen the main sites in a destination but is looking to dive more into the local culture in an up-close and hands-on way.”
And for agents selling a product like this, she continues, it’s an opportunity to target a segment of the market that’s relatively untapped, and primed for discovery. “Across every demographic in travel, we’re seeing an increase in demand for having a more authentic connection to the culture that they’re visiting, and have a more active—versus passive—type of travel experience. It’s resonating with people.” And not just with traditional tour clients. Snape says that agents can use this product as a bridge to turn clients accustomed to booking just hotels and airfare, into more lucrative packaged tour travelers. “There’s always the issue of how to convert a traveler to a packaged travel product. There are a lot of travelers who think it’s not for them. What Explorations is doing—and what the small-group model is doing in general—is really providing that bridge, that pass-over product that has such high appeal for the traditional FIT traveler who is ready to have more done for them, but they’re still looking for all those types of experiences that they used to go out and get on their own. That’s what this product is designed to do—really ease people into that next stage, and capture that market at a younger age.”