Travellers are always on the lookout for new, thrilling experiences – for original, innovative ways to discover familiar places, especially close-to-home cities and easy-to-navigate destinations. Which, of course, is where the best tour operators and Destination Management Companies come in. “A DMC in Brazil, say, has an easier job selling their trip because it’s a big country: often travellers don’t speak the language, and they perhaps feel less comfortable exploring on their own”, says Thomas Stinglhamber, manager at Brilliant Ideas, a DMC that offers exclusive travel experiences in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the North of France.
“When we started Brilliant Ideas, what we had in mind was to show our clients smaller, interesting, but less obvious towns – Utrecht instead of Amsterdam in The Netherlands, for instance. But we quickly realised that travellers often only have time to see the highlights. So we adapted ourselves, and now we organise experiences in places everybody goes to – but we do them differently.” By which Stinglhamber means making experiences more personalised. So an art-focused trip to Brussels might include meeting the Founder of the Museum of Original Figurines, who knows many Belgian cartoonists, and can tell anecdotes about comic strips and a private visit to the Vanhaerents Art Collection with the art collector himself, Walter Vanhaerents, explaining the stories behind his contemporary art.
“For us, these kind of key contacts – especially when we’re organising urban experiences – are so important. If we arrange a chocolate tasting, we don’t do it in the Grand Place with everyone else – we do it in a private chocolate atelier with the maker”, concludes Stinglhamber. Similarly, tour operator Crafted Ireland creates tailor-made itineraries themed around anything from craft breweries to Game of Thrones and the Wild Atlantic Way (the longest coastal driving route in the world). The latter, for example, includes seaweed foraging with Dr. Prannie Rhatigan, author of the book Irish Seafood Kitchen. “Ireland is a destination that is constantly subject to stereotypes; so to set ourselves apart, we always make connections with the right people who can make our experiences unique”, says director of sales and marketing Rebecca Dixon.
“Our managing director, Crothúr Murphy”, she continues, “recently met the man who owns the dogs that play the direwolves in Game of Thrones, so we’re talking to him about the possibility of arranging for clients to spend time with them. Travellers are realising more and more that they have a world of experiences right on their own doorstep, so it’s all about tapping into those in a different way.” Another tour operator specialising in the UK is Wilderness Scotland and its sister company, Wilderness Ireland, with the former in the particular reporting on an increase in visitors from England.
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“Europe is so well-connected that travellers tend to fly South, but with Scotland in particular we are seeing an increase in English clients craving time in open spaces”, says Wilderness Ireland marketing executive Dawn Rainbolt. “And in Ireland, for example, when we take clients to the places that other tour operators go to, such as Giant’s Causeway, our guide will take them along the coast so they can learn about the history, the plants and the sea birds – those fascinating elements that others often overlook.’ So it seems that wherever you are in the world, whether in the middle of the city or out in the country, there’s always a new way to see a destination.
London-based freelance journalist Emma Love specialises in writing about interiors, design and travel for titles such as Elle Decoration and Condé Nast Traveller, where she is a contributing editor. She also writes for publications such as the Financial Times and the Guardian.