Whether you call them mystery trips or surprise vacations, the idea of taking a blindfolded approach to travel is gaining steam.
So who are these travelers, eager to trade the comfort of well-researched itineraries for an anything-could-happen experience? Often, they are those who are overwhelmed with too many options and don’t want to plan a vacation, experts say. Travelers often find these tours to lesser known destinations tend to offer more bang for the buck.
United Motorcoach Association member Larry Hundt has been taking his clients on mystery vacations for than 20 years. It began in the early 1990s, when Hundt and his wife, Lorna, piled their then-young daughters into a van and took off on exploratory trips to develop tour ideas for their family business, Great Canadian Holidays and Coaches. They came up with three-day tours that were within driving distance of their base of Kitchener, Ontario.
Initially, the new tours didn’t draw any reservations because they lacked well-known destinations, so the Hundts decided to take a different approach and make them intriguing.
“We had done mystery tours for day trips before and we thought, ‘Well, if they’ll buy a one-day mystery tour, would they have enough faith to invest three days with us and just go somewhere on a mystery and a whim?’” Hundt said.
It worked. Great Canadian sold enough tours to fill 17 coaches the first year.
The company then tried the concept as a reunion trip for longtime clients. Taking advantage of the slow time in January, they negotiated deals on hotel stays and entertainment.
“They would show up the next morning, and they wouldn’t know where they were going to go or what they were going to see until it actually happened,” Hundt said.
Even the entertainment was a mystery until the performers were introduced on stage, he said.
The reunion mystery operated for 13 years, peaking with 800 people in some years. The tradition ended several years ago after the company ran out of destinations within a reasonable driving distance. But that wasn’t the end of the mystery tour. The company’s catalog offers trips with intriguing titles such as “There’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” “Gone with the wind” and “Three sisters.”
Michelle Tupman, Hundt’s oldest daughter who is now the company’s vice president, has some tips for putting together a successful mystery tour: find a location off the beaten track and offer something unique like a hidden gem hotel, attraction or overall itinerary.
“It’s not the time to try niche or special interest components but to create something fresh and unusual that appeals to a broad base,” Tupman advises.
“The big draw is just that—it’s the surprise and delight that comes with not knowing what’s next, but having the faith and trust that they’ll be well looked after,” she said