Savvy travellers bound for Europe next year are booking their packages early, hitting up Portugal, getting active and embracing their cruise ship as a floating hotel.
An analysis of the trends noted by travel agencies and tour and cruise companies paints an interesting picture of how Australian travellers are seeing Europe next year. And within the brushstrokes there are plenty of lessons to be learnt.
It’s a point that can’t be stressed enough — book early. Europe earlybird deals from airlines and tour and cruise companies were being released throughout August and September. But don’t despair, there are still plenty of good deals around this month, and more will follow, though it is unlikely the value will be quite so good in subsequent weeks.
Uniworld Australia managing director Fiona Dalton believes it’s best to book as far ahead as possible, when the choice of cabin and itinerary is wider and there are some great early booking bonuses to be had.
“We do remind our guests not to wait because, unlike ocean cruising, the space on a river ship is limited and we cannot guarantee that our guests’ first-priority cabins will be available down the track and, if it is, there is a likelihood it will be more expensive than the earlybird rates,” Ms Dalton says.
Viking Cruises Australia product manager Lubica Sibikova says travellers are booking at least a year to 18 months in advance, ensuring a discount and their preferred date and stateroom category. Popular itineraries sell out fast.
“Our guests love our all-inclusive pricing, which includes return flights to Europe, shore excursions, meals, beverages and all tips and gratuities,” Ms Sibikova says.
These bundled offers prove immensely successful. For instance, HolidayPlanet’s most popular packages combine airfares, a coach tour, cruise and some free time before and after each component.
The “floating hotel” concept, where cruise ships berth overnight in destinations, is a winning one, according to Bicton Travel sales and marketing manager Barry Downs.
“Some ships now stay in port the first and/or last night of a cruise to allow you to use the ship as a floating hotel,” he says. “In small-ship cruising, guests are looking for itineraries that stay longer with either overnight stays or late departures.”
Travellers are also looking to spend more time in each destination with multi-night stays. “My personal tip is to spend more time in fewer places. Allow a point in your itinerary where you can pause and relax for longer, taking in the sights as a local rather than a tourist dashing from A to B,” Mr Downs says.
Portugal is the pick for next year, mostly because of the success of river cruising.
Evergreen’s new Rhone and Douro rivers combination is a top seller for the group. “This exclusive-to-Evergreen combination of France and Portugal river cruising is a feast for the senses,” the company’s marketing manager Judith Hainke says.
“Both regions are famous for their cuisine, gorgeous landscapes, charming villages, and wealth of history and culture, and the relaxed pace really appeals to guests.”
Uniworld is also finding the waters of the Douro popular. “One of Europe’s best-kept secrets is Porto, in Portugal, with Uniworld’s itinerary taking guests on an extraordinary journey along the Douro River,” Ms Dalton says.
“Meanwhile, Vienna, Amsterdam and Budapest also continue to be Europe’s most beautiful and intriguing cities.”
Flight Centre WA marketing manager Dani Luck says as Europe becomes cheaper, travellers are heading over more frequently and so are seeking emerging destinations. Along with Portugal, she lists Croatia, Spain and Iceland as popular spots.
She says river cruising is widening its demographic with a younger market being targeted by the likes of U by Uniworld, which times its river cruises with festivals such as Oktoberfest.
Mr Downs says the Mediterranean is also back in favour but this time with smaller ships. This reduced capacity means early booking is essential.
Greece, he adds, represents outstanding value and the popularity of Northern Europe means bookings are already tight for the 2018 high season.
According to Royal Caribbean Cruises Australia managing director Adam Armstrong, while the Mediterranean remains popular there’s been increasing interest in Adriatic hotspots such as Croatia and Montenegro.
“Kotor in particular is proving incredibly popular with guests, as the town itself really does maintain an untouched, old-worldiness about it, and a cruise through the indescribably beautiful Bay of Kotor truly is the most amazing way to arrive,” Mr Armstrong says of the Montenegrin destination.
Peregrine Adventures has responded to the increasing demand for small-ship cruising in Europe by tripling its departures next year. Its Adventure Cruising range uses ships carrying no more than 50 travellers, allowing access to small ports and less-frequented areas.
It has also reduced its tour group sizes from 16 to 12, and earmarked Romania as the next European hotspot.
Intrepid Travel is keen to respond to over-tourism issues across Europe — particularly in Barcelona and Venice — releasing a “not hot travel list”. It suggests choosing North Cyprus instead of Croatia, Calabria and Sicily instead of Venice, Portugal and the Azores instead of Spain, Finland rather than Iceland, Moldova rather than Tuscany, and the Tatra Mountains instead of the Alps.
Guests are also increasingly looking to get out and truly experience a place.
Globus has seen demand for “experiential tours” with more hands-on experiences. The company’s Avalon Waterways has released the Active Discovery of the Rhine, a new eight-day cruise from Frankfurt to Amsterdam.
Passengers choose active outings including climbing Marksburg Castle, biking along the Rhine or joining a running tour in Amsterdam. These active itineraries have been attracting younger people.
UTracks is also finding a new demographic on its cycling tours by offering electric bikes — available on 80 per cent of its 187 cycling itineraries across Europe next year.
“An e-bike can be ridden by almost anyone and makes the journey physically easier without taking away from the adventurous spirit of a cycling trip,” UTracks general manager Kate Baker says.
The e-bike opens up cycling holidays to a broader market, from couples or families with differing degrees of ability to people who do not feel confident enough to do a longer tour or those who want to complete a demanding itinerary but are not sure whether they are physically capable.
“We are also seeing older travellers who have been avid cyclists for many years swapping their regular bikes for e-bikes because they don’t want to give up their European biking holidays.”
Earlybird deals are still available
- Scenic’s Luxury Sale is on until December 15. It includes the 15-day Jewels of Europe cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest, where guests fly free on all suites for selected departures or upgrade to business class from $3995 per person. The cruise costs from $6745 per person twin share, including luxury sale and early payment discounts.
- Until November 30, Avalon Waterways has savings of up to $3000 per couple on a selection of its cruises and APT’s most popular cruise, Magnificent Europe from Amsterdam to Budapest, is included on its earlybird promotion of fly free and a suite upgrade on selected dates and itineraries.
- Flight Centre has released a 14-night European river cruise special aboard Travelmarvel Sapphire from Budapest to Amsterdam, saving $1100 on all cabin categories and free flights. Until November 30, the cruise costs from $5995 per person twin share.
- Until the end of the year Viking Cruises has savings on its ocean and river cruises. Fly return to Europe for $495 per person when booking a 2018 European river itinerary of 13 days or more, or get return flights for $995 per person for 12 days or less). For ocean cruises there are savings of $1000 per couple on selected 2017-19 cruises, including popular itineraries such as the 15-day Viking Homelands.
- Bicton Travel has business class flights with Qatar Airways for $3998 per person for bookings of selected 2018 Mediterranean or Northern Europe Silversea cruises, as well as a bonus up to $US250 per suite on-board credit until the end of the month.
- Azamara Club Cruises’ promotion of a veranda stateroom for the price of an interior stateroom on selected Europe 2018 voyages runs through to November 30.
- Insight Vacations has return flights to Europe for $299 when booking one of its 12 European Discoveries 2018 before December 14. Until November 2, Trafalgar has return economy fares to Europe for $699 on selected northern summer 2018 trips.
- Save up to $670 per couple and receive a $200 per person flight voucher on all Back-Roads Touring 2018 tours for bookings before the end of November. There are 50 small-group tours from which to choose.
- Globus has 10 per cent off its Europe tours for deposits paid by November 28 with savings of up to $1876 per couple.
- Until December 29, Beyond Travel has up to $500 in credit on Premium Escorted Tours in Europe. Vouchers can be used on any of the operators’ products, including pre and post-tour accommodation, small-ship cruises and European stopovers.
- Tempo Holidays has tours of Greece up to 20 per cent off, 15 per cent off Croatia island hopping, both are for bookings before November 8. It also has a number of specials until later in November on Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Britain and Ireland.
- If early booking makes you jittery, Flight Centre is running its $149 Captain’s Platinum Package for Europe add-on until November 22. It allows travellers to lock in an airfare and tour deal, but then formalise or cancel next year if desired.
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