If travelers have been to the most popular European cities in a particular country, such as Rome, Florence and Venice in Italy,Â they’re now increasingly eyeballingÂ other city-stay options within that same country, such as Milan or Sorrento.
“Weâve now added 200 hotels in Europe alone since the 2020 pandemic began, and we continue to add more,â says Jack Richards, president and CEO, Pleasant Holidays, who heads up that vacation package brand, a separate luxury brand, Journese, and an international air consolidator, Air by Pleasant, which has a primary air focus ofÂ Europe.
So, in Italy, for example,Â Pleasant Holidays and Journese nowÂ offer new vacation stay options not only in Milan and Sorrento but also Lake Como, Tuscany and Verona, among other spots.
So, guests can relax at the Hotel Indigo Verona âÂ Grand Hotel des Arts, and then head out to enjoy culinary and wine delights as well as Roman ruins, including an incredibly well-preserved arena. Ancient sites in Europe that are off-the-beaten-path continue to draw American visitors who’veÂ seen Rome’s Colosseum or Athens‘ Parthenon on a past European trip.
Simply put,Â âsecondaryâ European cities offer amazing experiences and cultural and heritage sites for visitors to explore. Despite that, they’re often less well-known to Americans, who may previously have visited those big, marquee cities.Â But whileÂ isolated during the pandemic, consumers also have dug deeper into a country they hope to visit, and are discovering off-the-beaten-path options.Â
âEven during the pandemic, weâve put a lot of time, energy and resources not only into building up the primary markets but also the secondary markets,â emphasizes Richards. So, âin Austria, itâs not just Vienna, but Salzburg as well,â he says.
Hotel Goldener Hirsh is among the city stay options offered in Salzburg, Austria by Pleasant Holidays.Â
Pleasant Holidaysâ guests nowÂ can chooseÂ such hotels as the Hotel Goldener Hirsh, a Luxury Collection Hotel; the Holiday Inn Salzburg City; and the Sheraton Grand Salzburg. Customized arrangements then turn the vacation into an even more personalized getaway. Â
Other new secondary options? In addition to offering stays inÂ Barcelona, Spain, âwe now offer Valencia, Costa del Sol and Cordoba,â Richards emphasizes. In Germany, âweâve expanded out beyond Munich and Berlin, and now offer Nuremberg, Hamburg and Stuttgart.â
In Stuttgart, guests can stay at Le Meridien Stuttgart;Â while inÂ Hamburg, they might check in at their hotel and the venture out independently or on a private tour to explore maritime history at multiple spots.
By far, though, the biggest number of additions for Pleasant Holidays and Journese has been and is still happening withinÂ Greece.Â According to Richards, the company currently isÂ working to set up an electronic connection of 90 to 100 hotelsÂ in the Greek isles, giving consumers a sizable range of new choices with instant pricing and inventory; it’s a bit too early for more specifics.Â
âOur top destination right now is Greece…up 10 percent from 2019,â Richards says about overall bookings. Among other top spots, Italy and Spain are doing well. Portugal bookings are upÂ 162 percent from 2019, but that’s based on smaller numbers to start with,Â a situation that also applies for Pleasant Holidays bookings forÂ Iceland.
Among top countries for Pleasant Holidays’ European bookingsÂ is the Czech Republic; Old Town Prague is shown above. // Photo by Getty Images/Yasonya
Among other top performers for Pleasant Holidays and Journese, âHungary also is in the Top 10âÂ as are Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic,â he adds. That said, âall of those will be down [compared] to 2019â because that was what Richards calls “a record year”Â for Pleasant Holidays.
Certainly, the recent European Union decision to open upÂ to vaccinated American visitors is propelling bookings, though. âI can tell you that the moment the announcement was made, we definitely saw a corresponding difference not only in interest but bookings to Europe,â Richards stresses.Â
âIt was very dormant as you might expect for a long time, and then once that announcement was made, once the airlines started adding back transatlantic flights, we started to see a pick-up,â he says, noting that the momentum is building.
That said, tour operators and those offering destination packagesÂ donât yet know what the rules and regulations are or will be for every individual country in Europe.Â
âI think weâre making progress, but weâre very early in the game,â Richards acknowledges. But he believes âit will continue to get better and better over the next four to six weeks.â
Several airlines are increasing flights to Barcelona. // Photo by Getty Images
Looking at transatlantic flights from the U.S. to Spain, United Airlines just announced that it plans to resume five-times-per-week service between Newark Liberty International Airport and Barcelona beginning in July and six-times-per-week service between New York/Newark and Madrid beginning in July.
Delta currently serves Madrid daily from John F. Kennedy International Airport and will add three-times-per-week service from JFK to Barcelona beginning June 6 and from Atlanta beginning August Â 5. American AirlinesÂ currently offers daily flights to Barcelona from Miami and Madrid from Dallas Fort Worth, and plans more flights to Madrid starting June 17 from both Miami and New Yorkâs JFK.
Pleasant Holidays’ portfolio has grown sizably and now encompasses vacations in 22 European countriesâfrom SloveniaÂ where guests can book a stay at theÂ InterContinental Ljubljana, to multiple cities in CroatiaÂ with guests heading toÂ Zagreb perhaps for a stay at the Canopy by Hilton Zagreb City Center.Â
Another trend for European travel?Â Richards sees that âpeople are flying nonstop and staying in the city in which they land.â So, not traveling all over to multiple countries in the same wayÂ in the past. Cost is one factor, as is the ability to social distance, he reports: âThey donât want to get into crowded airports and keep moving around all the time. They want to get there and stay there.â
Richards saysÂ âthat will probably continue throughout 2021,” but “we expect that to change in 2022.â
Whoâs heading to Europe? Pleasant Holidays and Journese are seeing mainly couples and multi-generational families.
One of the highest growth areas for 2021 and beyond for Pleasant Holidays and Journeseâas well as other tour operators and customized package suppliers, such as Luxury GoldÂ or Abercrombie & Kent, to name a fewâis the rise in demand for customized, private arrangements. ThisÂ could mean a private city tour, or getting off the beaten path and heading into the countryside or a secondary destination to tour for the day in a more personalized way.
During the pandemic period, “we have added a bunch of what weâre calling private excursions throughout Europe,â Richards says, citing everything from walking tours to food tours. âWhat weâre finding is that people do not want to travel in groups of people anymore. They want it very limited, very private.â
So, for example, Pleasant Holidays offers âFlorence off the Beaten Trackâ with a local guide, so guests on a private excursion can âdo wine tasting or stop into his favorite restaurant for an espresso,” according toÂ Richards. That’s trueÂ as well for Madrid, Spain.
Another hot trend? Richards reveals that guests are increasingly opting for private transfers, not a shuttle bus for six or eight people, or a larger group transfer. That includes airport transfers whether in Dublin, Ireland; Tivat, Montenegro; Brussels, Belgium; or another European destination.
Stay tuned asÂ Travel Agent will examine the trend of private excursions with a range of operators in an upcoming story!
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