Accommodation on touring itineraries can be far more than a place to bed down. Abigail Healy asks operators about the latest hotspots for clients to rest their heads.
Cultural immersion is a key trend that many operators say they have seen growing customer demand for.
Whether it’s traditional lodgings or staying with locals, accommodation can give an authentic insight into a destination.
Lockie Kerr, head of UK sales, Back-Roads Touring, says: “Holidaymakers are becoming increasingly interested in unique accommodation that gives a real flavour and essence of the country they’re visiting, rather than uninspiring chain hotels. We offer small boutique hotels on both land and water that reflect the destination, our customers love their authenticity and charm.”
He cites an example of a Burgundy cruise based on a “boutique hotel barge” from £2,374pp that includes the chance to explore the region’s wine-making heritage and visit the citadel of Besancon, a Unesco site.
“Like our other barge itineraries it has seen sales increase year-on-year as people look for something different,” Kerr adds.
Looking further afield, InsideAsia Tours’ group tours manager, Elisa Ferroni notes that an “increasing number of travellers are seeking more profound cultural insights and a chance to escape the tourist trail”.
The operator is looking to cater to such travellers with options such as spending a night in traditional shukubo Buddhist temple lodgings at Nagano’s Zenko-ji Temple on its 13-night Japan Unmasked small group tour, which starts from £1,790pp.
“There’s no better way to get beneath the surface of Japanese culture than bedding down and eating alongside monks and partaking in an atmospheric Morning Prayer ceremony,” says Ferroni.
On its Japan – Land of the Rising Sun tour Riviera Travel offers guests the chance to spend a night in a traditional Japanese Ryokan or inn in Kyoto from £99pp, where guests sleep on a rolled out futon with tatami matting on the floor and enjoy a multi-course traditional kaiseki (dinner).
In India, specialist operator Greener Pastures’ Rainforest Trekking in Namdapha National Park (nine-days from £600pp based on a group of four) includes a stay in Embeong Village where guests either camp or stay in the home of one of the Lisu tribe.
Managing director, Vaivhav Todi, says: “Guests on our tours are looking for truly immersive experiences. Where they sleep can be just as much a part of the adventure as anything else.”
Films, TV shows, music and celebrities can hold serious sway when it comes to clients’ perception of a destination and it’s a trend that Newmarket Holidays has harnessed.
Product director, Richard Harrington, says: “By reviewing customer feedback we identified that the unique hotels we use are an incredible pull when it comes to booking a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“We were one of the first operators to work with Gracelands Hotel, Memphis as an example and bookings on this product increased by 30% when we introduced the concept to our bestselling Elvis Presley’s Memphis, New Orleans and Nashville tour [£1,279 for nine days].”
He adds that in south-east Asia, films and documentaries have changed how customers want to experience a new country and culture.
“Our new India’s Marigold Hotel Experience [from £1,995pp for 16 days] gives the guests total immersion into the real India. We use hand-picked family-run, smaller hotels, home stays and heritage properties where the groups have time to engage with the families themselves.”
Examples include Colonel’s Retreat in Delhi where the family is present during dinner, and the Garden Hotel in Udaipur, which houses a collection of vintage cars that belonged to the Maharanas of Mewar.