What’s the latest way to attract travelers to group vacations? Leave that to the experts – adventure experts, that is.
The accessibility of online travel booking tools may have caused travel agents to fall out of use in the U.S., but group travel is growing in popularity. Well-known companies like National Geographic and REI have their own travel arms (National Geographic Expeditions and REI Adventures, respectively) and there are more than a few providers of affordable group travel for young travels; G Adventures, Intrepid Travel, and Contiki are just a few that come up in a quick search. And according to Exodus Travels, a provider of adventure-focused group travel, 2019 is set to be a banner year: they’ve already taken 34,394 guests on trips as of July 2019, nearly reaching last year’s total of 37,361 with several months left to go. They’ve had 3,571 trips depart to date in 2019. To differentiate themselves from the competition, Exodus Travels is using the chance to travel with experts and celebrity explorers as a way to attract travelers.
Robin Brooks, marketing director for Exodus Travels, says that the decision to introduce six new expert-led trips to their brand portfolio in 2019 is a way to ensure that travelers have a truly unique adventure, rather than doing the same activities most travelers experience. “The most intriguing point is that [the guides] are all storytellers who naturally want to share their remarkable experiences and expertise with us all,” says Brooks. “However, these are team-oriented tours, not-hero oriented, and everyone is encouraged to undergo discovery together.”
It’s something National Geographic Adventures is also offering, from their “Islands and Oceans of the World Tour,” for a cool $93,495 per person (led by R.M.S. Titanic discoverer Dr. Robert ‘Bob’ Ballard, no less) to the more affordable $16,330 “Exploring Russia’s Far East,” led by National Geographic, The New York Times, and Time photographer Corey Arnold.
Exodus Travels’ trips range from a 12-day trip through Jordan, led by best-selling author and Honorary Vice President of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society Wade Davis, to a three-week tour of southern Africa with wildlife photographer Michelle Valberg. According to Brooks, they’ll be adding additional trips through the year, including a more active trip along Peru’s Inca Trail. Brooks is hoping the affordability of the offerings and chance to learn from renowned experts will set their trips apart from other companies in the group travel space. “There are some tour operators who offer expert-led trips as well, but you’d be hard-pressed to find such a broad collection of photographers, authors, filmmakers and academics to travel with, especially at the price point these trips are available at,” she says. Trips from Exodus Travels range in price from $2,500 to $5,700, excluding international airfare.
The new expert-led trips all rate as a one or two of a possible ten on the brand’s activity scale, but Jeff Fuchs, the explorer and award-winning author leading the Highlights of Northern India trip, says that’s a conscious decision to open the trips to as many types of traveler as possible. “Riveting, immersive journeys can and should be accessible to every type of traveler,” he says. “I’m so looking forward to collaborating with Exodus as we take time to wander, veer off-course and tuck into rare, unexpected moments — exactly the way I like to travel.”
It’s easy to imagine that the expert-guided trips from brands like Exodus Travels and National Geographic Expeditions are in response to trends in the current travel landscape. A 2017 A.A.R.P. survey found that 49% of Baby Boomers (travelers aged 55-75) and 56% percent of Millennials (aged 23-37) want to explore destinations with a local expert when they travel. A survey from Airbnb just one year earlier found that 85% of Millennials are seeking “unique travel experiences” when leaving home, though it also reported that 75% would rather plan their own itineraries. No doubt companies like Exodus Travels are hoping to convince travelers that the experience of traveling with a celebrity or professional expert is worth letting someone else plan their trip.