Tour Operators Focus on ‘Live Like a Local’ Immersive Experiences

‘Travel Together’ Program Launch Includes Travel to England Facebook Sweepstakes

The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) is on a mission to share with all travelers the rich and engaging off-the-beaten path experiences enjoyed by the more than 6.5 million people who travel with its tour operator members each year. Through its newly launched Travel Together campaign, a thoughtfully curated collection of experiential videos and blog posts, USTOA will bring travelers “live like a local” moments that delve deeply into immersive cultural experiences in featured destinations across the globe.

And to inspire travelers to check it out, USTOA is giving travelers the chance to win a trip for two to England.

“Our tour operator members are uniquely suited to help make bucket-list destinations such as Egypt and South Africa accessible and within reach, and by harnessing local connections and expertise, they create extraordinary opportunities to immerse travelers in local culture and customs,” said USTOA President and CEO Terry Dale. “The Travel Together moments shared are the definition of ‘experiential’ travel.”

Egypt and South Africa are the first Travel Together destinations, in partnership with USTOA members Abercrombie & Kent in Egypt and Collette and Swain Destinations in South Africa, with videos from travel expert and video journalist Kelley Ferro and in-depth blog posts from a team of Ambassadors from AFAR magazine.  Each shares a number of local connections accessible through USTOA tour operator members that use knowledgeable, on-the-ground experts throughout the destinations, from native Egyptologists to resident guides to artisanal businesses and schools in Soweto and game preserve conservationists locating the “big five” at an animal preserve in South Africa.

Travel Together videos and blog stories can be found at www.youtube.com/user/ustoanyc and www.ustoa.com/blog, as well as www.ustoa.com/travel-together. Consumers can follow the adventures on Twitter by using #traveltogether and joining Facebook chats at www.facebook.com/USTourOperatorsAssoc with the media team scheduled throughout the coming months.

“That is really the heart and soul of why we travel: to share experiences with travel companions and make connections with the native people in the local markets, restaurants, museums, sites, and attractions visited,” Dale said.  “Travel Together provides insider looks at travelers sharing singular experiences to meet with shopkeepers, learn how to make native foods, share a meal with a family in their home, see how carpets are woven, explore the backroads and even visit local schools, among so many others, because of the access provided by USTOA members.”

Win a Trip to England

As part of the Travel Together launch, USTOA is giving travelers the chance to win a trip for two to England courtesy of Worldwide Traveler and Delta with local experiences such as a private tasting of award-winning Somerset ciders and a visit to the picturesque village of Lacock, the filming location of Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice.  The six-night trip includes roundtrip coach airfare, transfers, accommodations, scheduled meals, local transportation and tour leader.  To enter the sweepstakes, visit http://bit.ly/USTOA-Sweeps.

Among the highlights in Egypt, Kelley Ferro and AFAR Ambassador Alison Cornford-Matheson recount how Abercrombie & Kent’s Egyptologists shared their passion for antiquities and how they bring history to life. They learned about spices from a shopkeeper in Luxor, the ancient art of carpet weaving at a school in Sakkara as well as where to find the best falafel being made in Cairo, and the wonders of a riverboat cruise along the Nile.

With Collette, South Africa AFAR blogger Nina Dietzel shares a look at Soweto’s vibrant life including a thriving family restaurant that started in a car port and now actively involves four generations, and her visit to a preschool in Knysna provides an unfiltered look at modern-day township life. Swain Destinations took travel expert and video journalist Kelley Ferro inside the teaching kitchens and on safari in Singita game preserve, as well as to the insider spots of Cape Town.

A frequent contributor to Tripfilms, the travel video channel created by real travelers for real travelers, Kelley Ferro and a cadre of AFAR Ambassadors will visit and chronicle the extraordinary opportunities to meet and engage with locals in each destination. Following the June launch, videos and blogs about new destinations visited with USTOA tour operator members will be added monthly, which include Australia’s Northern Territory with Goway, Taiwan with Ritz Tours, Croatia with VBT Bicycling & Walking Vacations and Delta, Manitoba with Tauck, and Colombia with Avanti Destinations.

More information about Travel Together destinations can be found at www.ustoa.com/travel-together.

Representing more than $11 billion in revenue, the member companies of U.S. Tour Operators Association provide tours, packages and custom arrangements that allow six million travelers annually unparalleled access, insider knowledge, peace-of-mind, value and freedom to enjoy destinations and experiences across the entire globe.  Each member company is required to meet the travel industry’s highest standards, including participation in the USTOA’s Travelers Assistance Program, which protects consumer payments up to $1 million if the company goes out of business.  As a voice for the tour operator industry for 40 years, USTOA also provides education and assistance for consumers and travel agents.

For more information about USTOA, visit ustoa.com, call 212.599.6599 or email information@ustoa.com.

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© 2014 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.

Brite Spokes by Kuoni Taps into Growing Interest in Experiential Travel

Chef and owner John Mooney of Bell, Book & Candle in Greenwich Village, puts the notion of “farm to table” on the roof – at his rooftop garden where he uses FutureGrowing.com’s innovative aeroponic/hydroponic technology to grow his own vegetables and herbs he features in his daily menu. © 2014 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin

The hottest trend in travel today is “experiential” – activities that get the traveler out from gazing  through a window and from tourist hotels and restaurants and engaged. You come home with more than mental images but new skills, understanding and self-awareness that you can implement in your life well beyond the trip.

That is the point behind a brand new tour operator, brite spokes – actually the scion of one of the oldest, largest and most respected travel companies in the business, Kuoni.

brite spokes isn’t the only tour operator that is offerings its guests local, off-the-beaten track, “authentic,” exclusive, personal enrichment and active engagement experiences within its itineraries (see related story).And there are special interest operators that focus on everything from archaeology to zoology, biking to Shakespeare, from explorations of chocolate to scientific exploration.  But what is new is that the trips are being designed around a string of experiences, and tapping into the connections and relationships and knowledge of  its parent company and sister companies of this size and global scale to offer entree to experiences that might not be available otherwise.

brite spokes is all about creating experiences and opportunities for enrichment that last well beyond the end of the trip. The company has put together itineraries built around experiences that you might have wished for yourself, created for yourself, if you had the time, know-how and access to such unique opportunities as learning the techniques of road racing, fulfilling the dream of taking your child to visiting sports halls of fame (and meeting some of the athletes), and priced in a way that puts the experience within reach.

“We are excited and energized to launch brite spokes a brand that will truly stand out in today’s evolving travel industry,” said brite spokes CEO Mark C. Morello.  “After a soft launch of the branded product in 2013, we’ve spent the past year developing itineraries that even the most seasoned travelers will find unique and packed with ‘remember forever’ experiences.”

“brite spokes experiential vacation packages have been created with current and developing travel trends in-mind as well as on-going feedback from our frontline researchers who test-run all of our itineraries to ensure seamless and exciting vacations.

“From start to finish we take every portion of the itinerary into consideration and go above and beyond to make every moment of each once-in-a-lifetime vacation unforgettable,” he noted.

It may seem counter-intuitive to offer notoriously independent Americans group tours, especially of their own country (though the tours are also expected to draw international visitors), but Jordana Waxman, head of marketing,  emphasizes that even if you had the time to research all the elements, you wouldn’t know where to start, and some of the elements are exclusive – meaning that they are not otherwise available to the public. You may be able to search out a Comedy Club, but would you know to even try to find the restaurant where you dine in a bank vault? And packaged this way, it is actually less costly than if you put all the elements together for yourself.

“Exclusive” access is the essence, for example, of an itinerary called “The Right Lot” – a curated art experience designed to not only enhance appreciation and knowledge of some of the city’s most exceptional works of art, but give you the foundation upon which to build your own collection. “The Right Lot” features private tours of galleries and museum exhibitions, artist studio and auction house visits, as well as dinners with premier art dealers and collectors.

brite spokes itineraries – presently focused in the USA though international destinations are being added – are divided into eight categories: Adrenaline; All in the Family; Sports Enthusiast; Health & Fitness; Teen; Eat, Drink & Be Merry, For the Fun of It and Knowledge. Here are some examples:

Adventure lovers: Travelers in search of a heart-pumping, smile stretching experience will get the rush they crave with one of the brite spokes rally car racing or in-depth drifting adrenaline adventures where they will have the chance to work one-on-one with the pros. For example:

Get the Drift: Drifting is the hottest thing in motorsports today and during this exclusive program, some of the best drift drivers in the world will teach travelers to over steer with complete precision and control. This high-adrenaline adventure starts in the Los Angeles area and consists of a comprehensive orientation, between four and eight hours of seat time with private instruction, tours of prominent racecar shops, private demos and fantastic meals with pro drivers.

Sports enthusiasts: For the ultimate fan looking to pay homage to their heroes or watch their favorite sports stars in action, brite spokes offers a series of sports itineraries that provide tickets to major matchups, private tours of various stadiums and museums, and even “question and answer” sessions with the sports Legends themselves.

For example: Cover Your Bases is the ultimate baseball enthusiast experience – two major league baseball games, stadium and museum tours and a quality time with a baseball pro.  Leave from NYC and head to Baltimore for an Orioles game and stadium tour, followed by a visit to the Babe Ruth Museum and the legendary player’s birthplace. Then head to Philadelphia for a Phillies game and up to Cooperstown, NY to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame and Ommegang brewery for a savory tour and lunch.  Before going back to NYC, get pumped for a private Q&A with an MLB pro.

Fitness fanatics: brite spokes has partnered with a variety of fitness companies to present a new take on everyday healthy eating and ordinary work-out routines with its fitness programs that brings travelers to a variety of scenic locations, including the beaches of Miami, the canyons of the southwest or the farmlands in the northeast. For example:

Southwest Road Trip is lifestyle road trip sponsored by Crunch Fitness. Fitness fanatics take out-of-the-box fitness classes in a once-in-a-life-time atmosphere – all with Crunch’s ‘No Judgments’ philosophy. You do  yoga at the bottom of the Grand Canyon via helicopter, African dance with live drummers and pole dancing or boxing in Las Vegas, and learn the art of healthy eating at a gourmet cooking class.

MMA Knockout: Have what it takes to get into the ring? Find out with this opportunity to train like a professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter and get an inside look at the week leading up to a UFC fight. You get to train with a pro coach in Las Vegas to learn the strategy behind the GO GO Plata, OMA plata, Triangle Choke and Head Kick Knockout. Sporting a custom walk out T-shirt and Tap Out shorts, you get to spar in a legendary Vegas ring while standing in punching distance from an MMA fighter for weigh-in; finally, you get to attend the winner’s after-party.

Love. Fitness. Happiness takes travelers back to their workout roots for a detox weekend around the farmlands of Connecticut. Crunch Fitness, will jump start the adult body and childlike spirit through a variety of summer camp type activities including fitness circuits, hiking, horseback riding, drum pounding, yoga and a blowout dance party. There may be a camp-like feeling, but instead of rustic camping accommodations, this experience offers an imaginative luxury cottage dreamed up by Winvian Resort & Spa, a Relais & Chateaux property, world-class wine and gourmet meals prepared by resident chef Chris Eddy and luxury spa services.  Burn calories by playing capture-the-flag, and dance parties – more play than workout.

Culinary and culture connoisseurs offers the tastes and sounds of iconic cities throughout the U.S. Between exclusive cooking classes and tastings, historical site and museum tours and local music performances, these programs offer travelers hands-on activities and an up-close look at lifestyles across America. For example:

Bringing Tuscany to Sonoma: Tuscany comes to Sonoma for this immersive culinary and wine experience, hosted by Doubletree by Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, California, a classic vineyard-inspired property. Using the finest local ingredients, beloved Tuscan chefs of II Vicario, Katia and Fulvio educate travelers to expertly cook authentic Italian dishes that capture their philosophy of gastronomy – fresh ingredients and simple preparations produce the most memorable flavors. To complement the flavors of Italy, travelers enjoy California’s spectacular wine, bike ride around the vineyards and hike through the Armstrong Woods.

Let’s Geaux Series: New Orleans, a town filled with phenomenal food, cocktails, music and people, is a recipe for a good a time. Experience the very best of New Orleans with unforgettable meals, a stroll in a historic paddlewheeler, a cemetery and voodoo tour and a Creole cooking lesson, seasoned with private jazz shows.

Pleasing the Palate: In addition to indulging in custom tasting menus, wines and cocktails, travelers take a hands-on, imaginative cooking class and get a delicious peek into the lives of New York City chefs. The top taste-makers in New York introduce some of their favorite purveyors and food spots in and around the city including: the greenmarket, “The Spice King” of New York, the best dock for seafood and the go-to kitchen supply shops for chefs in-the-know. The trip also includes a visit to top North Fork wineries for tours and tastings and a behind-the-scenes look at Eataly, Mario Batali’s gourmet store and restaurant.

The Fashionable Life: Step into the high heels of the fashion editors who work, play, live and breathe fashion during this exclusive New York City experience. Fasionistas will tour personal showrooms, visit a leading publishing house, meet with designers and vintage collectors, get a behind-the-scenes look at Fashion Week planning and experience a professional photo shoot at one of the most renowned studios in the city. A makeover, fabulous new clothes, a custom scent and nightly tables at the hottest restaurants will get travelers into character as they begin to strut their stuff like the editors themselves.

Knowledge seekers: Whether it’s visiting different college universities, discovering new eco-friendly initiatives or strengthening one’s photography skills, each educational tour adds a level of excitement to the learning experience. For example:

Green is the New Black: San Francisco is one of the most environmentally responsible places in the world and this eco-experience will show travelers how the Bay City makes it look so easy and so good. This sustainable journey includes behind-the-scenes tours of San Francisco’s most environmentally advanced buildings, “meet and greets” with the city’s greenest visionaries and farm-to-table organic food and wine tastings. In addition to exploring the city, travelers will also bike the surrounding area of Sausalito, volunteer at Golden Gate Bridge National Park, take a gourmet foodie walk and picnic at a sustainable oyster farm nearby.

Through the Lens is an artistic immersion throughout New York City Under the tutelage of highly respected conceptual and technological professionals, travelers will explore still, fashion, landscape, boudoir, action and aerial photography as they learn to establish their point-of-view. Also, since mastering the gear is half the challenge and fun, travelers will be outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment provided by one of the world’s most renowned electronic retail partners.

Corporate team builders: Special experiences and access pretty much define corporate team-building and incentive travel program. brite spokes can create corporate and incentive travel parties of any size and will customize an existing program or create an entirely new itinerary to fit the needs of a group.

You also can expand your travel experience by inserting personalized “spokes” to the already exclusive brite spokes itineraries by working with an experienced agent to gain access to the inaccessible, including private planes, expert coaching and training, celebrity hangouts, custom massages and an assortment of other extraordinary additions. And the itineraries are offered in two pricing categories, “brite” and “briter”.

brite spokes is the millennial offspring of Kuoni and its U.S. subsidiary AlliedTPro, both global leaders in the travel industry. Since 1906, Kuoni Group has grown from a small travel agency in Switzerland to one of the leading global travel-related service providers with more than 13,000 employees in 100 countries on five continents and global sales of $6 billion.  Kuoni has won over 170 awards, including Best Large Luxury Tour Operator at the Telegraph’s Ultratravel Awards 2013 and Best Honeymoon Company at the Perfect Wedding Awards 2013.

For more information about brite spokes, visit www.britespokes.com, e-mail media@britespokes.com or call 800-986-4735.  Follow brite spokes on Facebook at www.facebook.com/britespokes.

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© 2014 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.

 

‘Live Like a Local’ on Off-the-Tourist-Beaten-Path Vacations Tailored by USTOA Member Tour Operators

Iceland: visiting with a local artist are among the “off the beaten” path adventures that USTOA member companies are arranging for their guests © 2013 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

For travelers seeking greater fulfillment and a deeper understanding of the regions they visit, taking the opportunity to journey off the tourist-beaten path and “live like a local” – by tasting honey at an artisanal beekeeper’s shop in Morocco, dressing in traditional mahout attire and learning to command and bathe elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand or visiting galleries with a local artist along the Akureyri Art Trail in Iceland – adds a meaningful and memorable component to a vacation.  Trafalgar and other tour operator members of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) are offering inspiring global tour programs and packages that allow guests to forge deeper cultural connections to the people, traditions and customs of the places they are visiting.

“Today’s travelers want more than to just see a destination and check the major attractions off their bucket list, they want an intimate look at life beyond the main tourist sites. USTOA member tour operators provide limitless opportunities to do just that, along with the peace-of-mind that each program has been developed by knowledgeable and experienced professionals,” said USTOA’s President and CEO Terry Dale.

From Peru to Thailand, authentic travel opportunities to “live like a local” offered by USTOA tour operator members include:

South America: Travelers on “Peruvian Legends,” a 12-night Discovery Tour from Gate 1 Travel, will visit a local school in Urumbamba, learn about traditional cuisine in a cooking class in Kenko, hear about local festivals, dances and costumes while eating lunch with the humble Aymara people, enjoy a demonstration on the intricate techniques and coloring of back-strap weaving from native women in Chinchero, and eat dinner in a Cuzco family home. Guests will also have the opportunity to relax in thermo-medicinal baths in Colca, get an intimate view of farming fields while hiking, and explore the picturesque temples and sanctuaries of the famous Machu Picchu. Available over numerous dates throughout 2014, prices start at $2,699 per person based on double occupancy. Visit www.gate1travel.com  for more information.

Europe: Regional arts, tastes and traditions are the focus of General Tours World Traveler’s seven day “Adventures Across Iceland” itinerary, during which groups no larger than 16 people explore the Akureyri Art Trail with a local artist and spend time with residents in their studios, galleries and local cafes. Additionally, while exploring the scenic yet remote northern coast, travelers will engage in authentic encounters with locals eager to share insight into their lives as fishermen, micro-brewers and farmers. Available over several departures dates March through November 2014, prices start at $3,399 per person based on double occupancy. Guests can save $50 to $200 per person when three or more friends and family travel together. For more information visit www.generaltours.com.

Australia: “Australia Uncovered” from SWAIN Tours offers a closer look at the wildlife, traditions and culture Down Under. On this 13 night voyage, available through March 31, 2014, guests help collect data on the population of wild koalas in You Yangs Park, learn about the importance of bush food to the people of central Australia from an Aboriginal host, and experience didgeridoo and firemaking demonstrations in Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. Travelers also have the opportunity to see the famous Tjapukai Dance Troupe, take a scenic hot air balloon flight and eat dinner in the historic Colonial Tramcar restaurant. Prices start at $4,545 per person, based on double occupancy. Visit www.swaintours.com for additional information.

Asia: The day-to-day life of elephants and the mahouts, or trainers that take care of them, is the focus of Travel IndoChina’s “Lampang Elephant Conservation Mahout Program” in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Guests will dress in traditional mahout attire, meet the staff and learn the language used to command elephants, before being paired with a designated animal. Guests then bathe their elephant, ride it and participate in an elephant show. Available through March 2015, prices for a full day program start at $286 per person. Two and three-day itineraries are also offered. For more information visit www.travelindochina.com.

Africa: Goway Travel invites travelers to fully immerse themselves in Moroccan life with an insider look at the flavors of the country on the 11 day “Morocco Foodie Tour” itinerary, available November 1, 2013, March 20, 2014, May 1, 2014, June 26, 2014 and September 25, 2014. On this extraordinary journey, guests will visit women-cooperatives to learn about saffron, the most important spice in Moroccan cooking, taste honey at an artisanal beekeeper’s shop, tour a couscous co-op, and compare modern and traditional forms of olive oil production. The tour also includes two cooking demonstrations led by local chefs and grocery shopping in a number of regional markets. Prices from $3,013 per person, based on double occupancy. More details can be found at www.goway.com.

North America: On Trafalgar’s 15-Day “Best of the West” discovery tour, guests will marvel at the sites of the Grand Canyon with a local geologist, learn about local agriculture and try a delicious date shake at the Coachella Valley Preserve, and browse boutique shops and visit local fruit stands in the quaint village of Carmel-by-the-Sea before enjoying a home cooked meal made of locally sourced food with hosts in Monterey. Other highlights a tour of the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, home of the Academy Awards, and a visit to the beautiful red-rock landscape of Sedona. Available January 17, February 14, October 4 and November 1, 2014, prices start at $3,375 per person. Save up to $338 per person if booked and paid in full by November 26, 2013. More information is available at www.trafalgar.com.

Representing more than $10 billion in revenue, the member companies of U.S. Tour Operators Association provide tours, packages and custom arrangements that allow six million travelers annually unparalleled access, insider knowledge, peace-of-mind, value and freedom to enjoy destinations and experiences across the entire globe. Each member company has met the travel industry’s highest standards, including participation in the USTOA’s Travelers Assistance Program, which protects consumer payments up to $1 million if the company goes out of business.

For questions and more information on USTOA, visit www.ustoa.com, call 212-599-6599, or email information@ustoa.com.

See also:

Trafalgar reengineers escorted tour to appeal to experience-seeking BabyBoomers

For more travel features, visit:

www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin

www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin

travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate

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Twitter: @TravelFeatures

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© 2013 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures.