Air Transport World

Customized travel for sale: in today's leisure-flying market, the name of the game has become highly individualized, all-inclusive package tours.

A few years ago, KLM came up with a brilliant idea for serving a new and growing segment of the leisure market. Called "Europe by Design," the program basically allowed anyone who wanted to vacation in Europe to "mix and match" a variety of cities with a variety of activities ranging from cultural tours to sporting endeavors. Rather than select a pre-packaged group tour, vacationers could create their own all-inclusive package tours based solely on where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do.

It was the modular approach to package tours. Unfortunately, it was the right idea started at the wrong time. Between the Gulf War, the worldwide recession and a serious drop in leisure travel plus the alliance with Northwest Airlines, the program died.

The concept of individualized, modular, all-inclusive tours, however, lives on and has become a major factor in leisure travel. According to a report by the Tourism Works for America council, 1.3 billion "person trips"--one trip of more than 100 mi., by one person--were taken in 1994. Of those, 60-70% were for leisure.

The American Society of Travel Agents further says that of those leisure trips, about 20% are package vacation tours. This means that package tours accounted for 156-182 million trips either within or from the U.S. last year.

Northwest Airlines World Vacations, which handles package tours for both NW and KLM, said its tours grew from 3,000 in 1988, its first full year of operation, to 300,000 in 1994.

British Airways reported "double digit" growth in its World Traveler (leisure) class travel in April through July, the latest figures available.

The significant thing about the growth of leisure traffic, however, is not so much the growth itself but the shifting pattern in how the leisure class is traveling.

A decade or so ago, people taking extended vacations tended to travel in the group tour mode--the if-it's-tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium type tours.

"The change really started about 10 years ago," said Mary Louise Seifert, owner of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Welcome Aboard Travel and president of the Arizona chapter of ASTA.

"Before, people were used to going on tours with a tour guide. Today, the only people we really see going on prepackaged group tours are the senior citizens. …

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