Tours with educational content are becoming more and more popular, writes Leisure Group Travel columnist Marty Sarbey de Souto. Examples of a learning element would be a tango class in Buenos Aires, a private visit to European Union headquarters in Brussels or afternoon tea with a college dean at Oxford University.
If you’re like I am, you may keep an eye out for what’s new in the travel and tour industry. You’re looking to see what your competitors are offering, what new products major tour operators and cruise lines are coming up with, and above all, what new trends are showing up (or being forecast for the future).
It seems that recent phases such as adventure travel, family travel, and travel programs designed for the boomers, generation X, and now the latest, the millennials, whiz past us. As soon as we become used to tailoring our trips to the newest focus market, we’re told that one is now blasé and we have to adjust to trips that please those of us who aren’t getting enough education in our lives.
Notice the tours with a learning focus that are now becoming all the rage. Of course, learning was always an integral subliminal part of virtually any trip, but now operators are touting it as one of the most important, if not THE most important part of a trip. Note Viking Ocean Cruises’ referrals to its “Cultural Curriculum onboard offering depth and insight.” Elder Hostel is cornering the market with its wonderful “Road Scholar” programs. Even the descriptive verbiage in trip brochures has changed; they no longer talk about “sightseeing” Rather they allow you to “gain a window into antiquity.”
So if you would like to ride today’s new wave and do something good for your trip participants in the bargain, why not try offering a trip with educational content? I’ve been doing it for years, and the learning/academic aspects of the day-to-day activities can be skillfully woven among other features, making for a positive travel experience that combines comfortable hotels, tasty menus, camaraderie and social events.
Two years ago I took my annual Ladies’ Tour to Holland and Belgium. Of course, we did all the usual things – from the windmills on down. But in addition, my overseas operator was able to arrange a visit to the European Union headquarters in Brussels, where we were graciously received and enjoyed a two-hour briefing and Q&A session with an EU official. Another day in Brugge, we visited the Belgian chocolate museum and then our tour group enjoyed a private hands-on chocolate candy making class.
Another year when we toured England, the dean of one of the colleges making up Oxford University invited my group to her living quarters for afternoon tea and a lively discussion on the role of a woman dean in this staid academic institution. At least it was lively until I discovered one of my tour members drooping with eyes closed and faintly snoring. I had to spend the rest of the visit periodically pinching her to keep her awake and not put us all to shame.
And a couple years ago in Buenos Aires, home of the tango, I arranged through our Argentine operator a private tango class for my tour group, complete with lecture, demonstrations and individual training. Never again will I confuse the rough canengue tango style of the barrio dance halls with the elegant, breathtaking tango of the theater and salons. If my tour members didn’t learn to master the fine art of tango dancing on that trip, at least they went home with a greater understanding of this intricate art form.
So…how can you introduce education into your trips? Consider asking an expert from a local university to act as tour leader/en route lecturer on the area to be visited. Consult your tour operator to see if he/she could arrange for some private entrée to a festivity, business school or other entity that your travelers might especially appreciate – particularly something that stands your group apart from the rank-and-file tour group.