Group-travel mode and genre changes

By Randy Keck
This item appears on page 49 of the February 2020 issue.
Uluru, aka Ayers Rock, a sandstone monolith in Australia’s Northern Territory, draws many a tour group. Photo by Gail Keck

In these precarious times, many senior ITN readers are finally considering traveling on group tours or are traveling more on these tours than they have in the past. There are many reasons for this trend.

First, the matter of personal safety and security is an increasing concern, especially at certain travel destinations. There is an undeniable element of safety in numbers, particularly on well-organized group tours.

Second, many globetrotting seniors, for a variety of reasons, are each traveling on their own without a roommate. Traveling alone on an independent basis, especially on longer itineraries, can hold little appeal for many. As a single on a group tour, a traveler is not alone.

Also, it is not uncommon for single travelers on a group tour to form friendships with other singles and travel together on future trips as either singles or roommates.

Third, traveling with a group can provide access to various types of experiences — such as private-group performances — that are either not accessible to or are difficult and expensive to arrange as an independent traveler.

Fourth, group tours can offer comprehensive itineraries that are particularly difficult to duplicate for independent travelers. This is especially the case with longer group tours.

In-depth tours

The significant trend of group tours being of longer duration is something that has transpired progressively over the past two decades.

In the late 1980s, when the company my wife and I operate first began offering a 26-day tour of Australia, few American tour companies offered departures longer than 15 to 17 days, even to distant destinations. The reason was that longer itineraries simply did not sell well to senior Americans, the continuous mainstay of the group market.

This was largely because Americans, unlike their European counterparts, were conditioned to having less vacation time and subsequently took shorter vacations during their working careers. Most simply could not conceive of traveling longer than 15 to 17 days, while Europeans, Australians, New Zealanders and even Canadians, by comparison, typically took longer vacations.

Smaller group sizes

Finally, there is the positive and highly popular trend in the touring industry of offering smaller-group-size experiences.

Many tour companies now offer a maximum group size of 16 to 24 travelers, a far cry from the norm of 35- to 45-member groups of yesteryear.

In my many years in the group travel industry, I have never had passengers or prospective passengers tell me they would prefer to travel in a large group rather than in a smaller group.

The group tour plunge

How does one go about comparing group offerings in the current marketplace? Allow me to suggest beginning with a survey of current ITN advertisers. Why? These advertisers know that only well-developed, comprehensive group itineraries will appeal to well-traveled ITN readers. Standard short, highlights-only-type itineraries generally don’t sell well in ITN, so you will see few of those types of tours advertised in these pages.

Traveling on tours advertised in ITN usually means there will be other ITN readers in your group. This is almost always a bonus because you will be sharing your travel experience with like-minded adventurers.

In closing, I wish to acknowledge that some ITN readers indicate they have always traveled solely on an independent basis. Since times and personal circumstances change, it is comforting to know that now many enticing group experience alternatives are available to discriminating world travelers.

I encourage readers to explore and test the waters of the modern-day, expanded, international group travel genre.

Contact Randy at 80 America Way, Jamestown, RI 02835; 401/560-0350,