“Authentic, ‘live like a local’ travel experiences have been a trend for quite some time, and they will continue to appeal to an increasing number of travelers who are no longer content to just be a ‘voyeur’ of other cultures,” says Paul Barry, executive chairman of Avanti Destinations. “They want to immerse themselves in the culture of a place and meet local people. Traveling independently (FIT) makes it far more possible to get to know a place, as opposed to an escorted tour where travelers are somewhat ‘insulated’ from the travel experience because everything is handled by the escort.”
“Travelers are primarily looking for immersive experiences unique to the destination they are visiting,” says Allegra Lynch, president of Authentic Vacations. “Sampling (or digging into) amazing local food, visiting lesser-known areas resplendent in history, luxuriating in a chauffeur tour or experiencing the thrill of mastering driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. They are looking to truly engage with the destination and given that it will likely be their one and only time to visit, it’s crucial that each and every vacation we create is a genuine trip of a lifetime,” she adds.
Three trends Lynch points to for 2019 are personalized service, sustainable travel, and ancestry exploration. “Travelers are increasingly relying on their travel consultants for expert local advice, in-depth destination knowledge and booking all aspects of their vacations,” she points out. Adding that they also “enjoy staying in lesser-known neighborhoods and immersing themselves in the local pubs, cafes and shops to experience the local way of life.
“Given that we focus solely on individual travel, we are in a position to work hand-in-hand with our valued travel agent partners on a detailed, granular level. Each of our travel agent partners works with just one dedicated Destination Expert throughout the planning and booking process,” adds Lynch.
For an authentic experience, recommend the 7-night Authentic Pubs and Music of Ireland itinerary. Guests stay at a boutique hotel in central Dublin near lively Grafton Street; they’ll visit the Guinness Storehouse; take a whiskey masterclass at Jameson; and stroll the streets of Temple Bar to take in the local music, and visit famous pubs. Next they’ll head to the Clare coastline, visit Dollin, a village filled with pubs alongside thatched-roof cottages, explore the Cliffs of Moher, and the surfer haven of Lahinch, Burren, plus visit the medieval town of Kilkenny and tour the local brewery Smithwicks.
Lynch’s advice for agents is to “know your client! The more information you collect up front, the more tailor-made their trip can be. Learning what type of accommodation they desire, what kind of experiences they wish to have, right down to what they like to eat and drink is absolutely invaluable.”
A few trends for 2019 that Barry has seen for Avanti are culinary/gastronomic travel; an interest in secondary/tertiary cities and off-the-beaten path destinations; and rail travel throughout Europe.
“Culinary/gastronomic travel is an important specialty activity within ‘authentic travel.’ There is no better way to feel like a local than to share their food and drink—and learn how to prepare it so that when you go home, you can integrate it into your own life,” he says.
The Mountains, Cheese and Chocolate add-on tour in Switzerland from Zurich is the perfect addition for the foodies in your group. This 9-hour itinerary can be added to any Avanti Swiss itinerary or to a stay in Zurich from April to October on select dates. On this trip guests will see Rapperswill and its medieval castle, the picturesque village of Appenzell, and take a cable car ride to the peak of Hoher Kasten mountain, which has a revolving restaurant with 360-degree views. They’ll also stop at a cheese factory in Stein on the way back to Zurich.
“It used to be that many Americans considered they had seen France if they have been to Paris—that’s like saying you’ve seen the U.S. if you’ve seen New York City or Washington D.C. A truly authentic and immersive vacation takes you to secondary and tertiary cities, towns and regions, as well as out into the countryside. The easiest way to get away from the ‘madding crowds’ of other tourists is to get out of the major cities,” adds Barry.
The 10-day Swiss Panorama itinerary is a great way to see various towns throughout the country including Zurich, Lucerne, Grindelwald, Montreux, and Geneva. This trip includes rail travel between towns, and the Chocolate Train and Chocolate Tour, as well as excursions to Jungfraujoch Peak, plus an optional excursion to Mt. Blanc.
He adds that, “More than 80 percent of European itineraries booked by agents with us use Europe’s efficient and easy-to-use rail system to connect the dots of a multi-destination vacation. Independent travelers have a more authentic experience traveling by rail, because they will meet Europeans on the train, rather than being encapsulated in their rental cars or in the ‘bubble’ of a tour bus.”
The 7-day Deluxe Switzerland package has guests spending two nights in each Sils, Zermatt, and Vevey on the Swiss Riviera, and includes first-class rail between towns, plus a ride and 3-course meal on the scenic Glacier Express train, among other offerings.
New Gems in Britain
For those looking to do like the locals, Edinburgh Gin will unveil a new distillery in Edinburgh’s Old Town in 2019. The facility will be home to a distillery, and a visitor center where guests can view gin production, learn about the history of gin production, and get to make their own gin.
Over in England, guests visiting beyond London, should head to the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath in 2020, when the city’s Archway Project will debut. The project will convert former Victorian spa buildings close to the Roman Baths. As part of the project, there will be a new Roman Baths Clore Learning Centre that will provide hands-on learning experiences set among Roman remains; and for the first time, new areas of the Roman site will be opened up to visitors.
According to Ryan Connolly, Hidden Iceland’s co-founder, now’s the time to visit Iceland. “Iceland is getting more and more popular.” He says that companies like his, though, “still affords you the chance to avoid the crowds in the most part, but as numbers continue to rise this gets a bit trickier. We personally think Iceland is by no means overcrowded yet. If you’re willing to venture away from the bottleneck of Reykjavik airport and the Golden Circle area then it often quiets off very quickly.”
Now’s “the best time to come to see and venture onto the glaciers,” he says, “before it’s too late. As climate change warms the environment, many of the glaciers in Iceland are retreating at unprecedented rates. That means that many of the glaciers that used to be easily accessible are now becoming too dangerous or too hard to get to,” he says. And he notes, For guests who want to go completely off-the-beaten path, he suggests a 4-day trip to the forgotten northwest of Iceland, the West Fjords, approximately $1,783 pp. “Even in the middle of June there will be places where you won’t see another soul for miles around. It’s a favorite location for spotting whales, seals, arctic foxes and hiking along the mighty Latrabjarg sea cliffs,” he points out.
Agents, keep in mind when booking these trips, that any fitness level can enjoy the ice caves and take glacier walks, as Connolly notes the minimum age is 10 for all of their glacier hikes.
Authentic Vacations: authenticvacations.com
Avanti Destinations: avantidestinations.com
The Archway Project: romanbaths.co.uk/archway-project
Hidden Iceland: hiddeniceland.is
Visit Britain: visitbritain.com