Horace Greely once urged, “Go West, young man, go west.” But some of today’s tour operators are reversing that mantra—at least when it comes to European vacations— with a new emphasis on Eastern Europe, although there’s still plenty of tour surprises in Western Europe, as well.
On the Eastern front, Insight Vacations (insightvacations.com) has come up with its new stand-alone Eastern Europe brochure featuring 15 tours, including seven new itineraries, increasing Insight’s Eastern Europe product line to become the largest of any European supplier. Marc Kazlauskas, president of Insight Vacations, says, “We feel there is huge growth potential in Eastern Europe, and it’s a perfect place for an escorted tour. We anticipate 2012 will be a banner year for Eastern Europe, and Insight will have a product for everyone who wants to visit Eastern Europe.”
Insight Vacations’ new Eastern Europe destinations include Ukraine, Crimea, Poland, Southern Bohemia, and the Northern Balkans, as well as already existing tours to Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia, Montenegro and more. As part of that expanded Eastern Europe collection for 2012, the company has added a new 10-day Polish tour—a destination that sparked a rekindled interest in 2011 and appears to be on track for a hot 2012 run, as well.
“Not many operators have itineraries that visit only Poland. With the expansion of our presence in Eastern Europe, we thought this tour would be a perfect fit. Poland is a country that experienced vast destruction in World War II but has really been able to preserve much of its cultural wealth,” says Kazlauskas “On our tour, we show our guests all the highlights and provide just the right combination of sightseeing and leisure time, so there are wonderful opportunities for meeting the locals and absorbing the culture.”
And if you think there’s not much to see in Poland, think again. The new program, called Highlights of Poland, includes Krakow with its famous medieval square and Wawel Hill to see the Castle, “Wawel Dragon,” and visit the Cathedral, as well as the old Jewish Quarter, plus a visit to the Oscar Schindler Factory Museum. Next, it’s on to the resort town of Zakopane, followed by a tour of the former Auschwitz concentration camp of Oswiecim. In Wrocław, visitors see the mansions and flower markets of the Plac Solny, the baroque splendor of the Main Market Square, and will be introduced to Wrocław’s famous gnomes. In addition, they’ll tour the colorful Old Town Square in Poznan, and in Torun, discover the outstanding medieval architecture with a local guide. In Gdansk, they’ll enjoy a guided tour of the town, including the Westerplatte and Gdansk shipyards. In the fashionable seaside resort of Sopot they’ll visit the “Crooked House” and Europe’s longest wooden pier, and in Malbork, visit the largest brick gothic castle in the world. In Warsaw, there’s the Palace of Culture, the Chopin Monument in Łazienki Park, as well as the Ghetto Memorial and the Historical Museum, followed by a walk through the Old Town. Prices start at $2,285 pp dbl, land only.
Nico Zenner, president of Brendan Vacations (brendanvacations.com), is also looking to Eastern Europe with a variety of new product that he feels could be hot for 2012. “We have added quite a bit of product—escorted—along the Dalmatian Coast. I guess it really depends on what your definition of hot is. If hot means someplace where you’ll generate the largest number of passengers, my answer would be different. If hot means growing interest, we hope there will be growing interest in what was formally known as Yugoslavia and I’m not just referring to Croatia. We have products that will start in Montenegro; we have some product that will start in some parts of Albania, in northern Albania—that whole region has a lot of appeal. People are curious about it, but don’t really know how to go about it.”
At the same time, Zenner adds, “In addition, we’re also launching some tours into the Ukraine, which is one of those destinations that is not really very well known, not really all that well traveled. But people are curious—not in big numbers—about going there. But how do you get around without having to rely on—“My god, I have to get a car and how do I drive around when I can’t even read the signs because they’re all in Cyrillic.” So the combination of Poland with the Ukraine [on an escorted basis] is a sexy new product that will be accepted in the market. So, we think there’s opportunity there.”