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Brittany Anas also contributed to this article. 

What will tour customers want in 2019?

No doubt, there are some oldies but goodies when it comes to group travel. We’re looking at you, Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge. According to TripAdvisor’s latest data, Lady Liberty and San Francisco’s iconic bridge are among the world’s most popular attractions.

But every year some new and exciting group travel trends crop up—whether that is catering to travelers who want more flexibility in planning trip days and those eschewing Vegas show trips for nature travel in surrounding hills, or helping your clients gain access to exclusive experiences or find new ways to enjoy a Colorado snow day.

Here is a roadmap for 2019 group travel trends.

Women-focused travel in Wyoming

International Women’s Day is on March 8 this year, and there are some interesting destinations that celebrate the achievements of women. Wyoming in 2019 is celebrating the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Interesting fact: Women in Wyoming were granted the right to vote 50 years ahead of the rest of the country. To coincide with the anniversary, the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper is hosting pop-up shows throughout the year that feature women artists. Located in central Wyoming, Casper is on the route that many buses and motorcoaches take to Yellowstone National Park.


Sideshows on Colorado’s slopes

Skiing and snowboarding may be the mountain’s main attractions, but Colorado’s ski resorts are debuting additional attractions, like groomed sledding hills and alpine coasters, to entertain guests after they’ve click out of their boots. For example, Purgatory Resort in Durango is offering year-round access to the Inferno Mountain Coaster, a mile-long coaster that careens through aspen groves at speeds up to 25 miles per hour and gives riders panoramic views of the San Juan Mountains. Echo, which is the closest ski mountain to Denver, opened a new tubing hill with a covered conveyor lift hauling tubers to the top. Also this year, Kendall Mountain in Silverton will offer a natural ice-skating experience with pond skating.


Astrotourism is shining

The next total eclipse in North America won’t be until April 2024. But you don’t have to wait that long to give your tour-goers a remarkable night sky tour, one of the year’s top travel trends, according to Lonely Planet. Building on the excitement from the 2017 eclipse, many dark sky destinations and national parks are celebrating the night sky with guided tours and star parties—destinations we feature elsewhere in this issue. Find new viewing stations for the Northern Lights at the top of Canada in Manitoba’s Churchill, and options for viewing stars “big and bright in the south of Texas.”


Travelers are craving exclusive experiences

Tour-goers want to feel like VIPs, going behind the scenes or having access to exclusive experiences. Noticing that trend, Corey William Schneider, the founder of the New York Adventure Club, tailors those experiences with his social events company that explores the New York City area. Groups go on behind-the-scenes tours at the zoo where they can pet sloths or enjoy an immersive murder mystery night staged inside a Gilded Age mansion.

“There is a large community of people who want more out of their city than just restaurants and bars,” he says. “Every type of experience brings out a different demographic, but all share a curiosity about their surroundings.”

Max Hartshorne, founder and editor of top travel site, calls the trend authenticity and says a search for such experiences will top all else in 2019. He’s running stories about a writer who spent the night learning to forage with hunter/gatherers in Tanzania, but adventures closer to home also appeal. That might be an overnight in a bunker in a former jail or a chance to make your own cheese and butter at Indianapolis’s Tulip Tree Creamery.

“Real experiences are trumping everything,” he said. “People want to go out on a lobster boat and learn how it’s done, or visit an oyster farm and go out and see the seedlings in a boat. That kind of thing.”


Food halls make group dining easier

The latest travel trends survey from Travel Leaders Group—conducted among 1,000 North American travel advisors—places culinary and wine journeys right behind active and adventure travel as top specialty travel choices.

“Anything can be a draw,” notes travel blogger Matt Long of a local craft beer scene, food trucks, family wineries, rising local chefs, food festivals. “It all qualifies as culinary travel, and it’s all driven by personal preference.”

When it comes to group travel, accommodating everyone’s diets can be difficult. Food halls are coming to the rescue with their multiple dining concepts and grab-and-go options. One notable opening is Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Mother Road Market, a new 27,000-square foot food hall that’s located on Route 66, which crisscrossed the heart of the city. Here, tourists can enjoy craft cocktails, street tacos, lobster rolls, hot chicken, pizza, gourmet salads, and, of course, some of that famous barbecue.


Virtual reality expands a trip’s boundaries

Virtual experiences will be a growing trend of the future. It’s here now on FlixBus, Europe’s largest long-distance mobility company, now expanding to the U.S. The company has just launched the world’s first virtual reality pilot program on long-distance buses on select routes to and from Las Vegas. Riders who reserve panoramic seats will get access to 50 virtual reality games, cinematic and travel experiences from virtual basketball to floating through outer space, walking across the Arctic with penguins or relaxing to a guided meditation.


Sustainability, loosely defined

Lonely Planet places sustainable travel as a 2019 travel trend, but that term might mean reducing stress on over-visited sites by a stay in an underrated neighborhood or lesser-traveled spot. Mark Johnson, owner-operator of LD Tours in Las Vegas is seeing that trend in the declining interest in tours to the city of Las Vegas and increased interest in overnight—versus day trips—and those involving nature. Some trips will remain perennial favorites—those that again involve nature and active adventure, he says, like a Black Canyon River rafting trip on the Colorado River.


Convenience still matters

Tour-goers want trips that are efficient and worry-free. Destinations requiring several long driving days are on the decline, especially if there are frequent flights that get them there faster available from the region. Trips to big cities won’t go out of style anytime soon, says Michelle Hundt Tupman, vice president of Great Canadian Holidays, be it New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, Quebec or Montreal. The company offers packaged tours in North America and beyond, operating a fleet of some 60 motorcoaches.

“There is always something new to explore, and many people don’t want to drive and navigate through a large city, so we can make the experience worry-free for them.” In cities or elsewhere, though, people want “options, options, options. Finding ways to let travelers be masters of their vacation time and have some autonomy within the group structure is important to incorporate wherever possible,” notes Hundt Tupman.

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