Sydney-based travel company, Academy Travel, is continuing to strike up interest from its database of clients, having strategically diversified its product offering to include ‘live’ tours.
In 2019, Academy Travel organised more than 80 academic-led, small-group itineraries around the world, focused on culture, archaeology, history and the arts. That was before the pandemic.
With international travel bans and border closures putting a pause on what would have been Academy Travel’s biggest year in 2020, and with the prospect of expanding deeper into the US market temporarily halted, Co-Founders Stuart Barrie and Robert Veel pivoted the business to reach a wider online audience.
Academy Travel’s Live On Site Tours have been luring hundreds of wannabe baby-boomer travellers to their computer screens since last year, with followers educated from the comfort of their own home. And they are paying to participate.
Building on the success of the businesses’ long-running Live Lectures format (held on Saturdays by academic experts at venues around the country), Academy Travel developed the Live on Site walking tours concept on Zoom, led by an academic, usually Australian based, and a local guide in a destination abroad.
Managing Director, Stuart Barrie, explained the format to LATTE: “For instance, our audience will connect with our local academic via Zoom in the evening, and our local guide will be in Europe where it’s earlier the same day. The guide will walk around live in the city, talking about the site and the academic can pinpoint highlights en-route.”
In some ways the Zoom format is better than being there in person, Barrie says, as the academic can overlay a slide of a particular detail that the guide is showcasing, which can often be missed while on a tour in person.
“If you’re standing with a group in a square in Florence, and the guide is pointing out some detail high up on a building or structure, sometimes only half the group can actually see what is being viewed.”
The 90-minute tour provides employment for the local guides, and gives audiences a taste of what to expect on an Academy Travel itinerary, and with any luck, hook them. And with their actual itineraries capped at 20-guests, the live format enables a far wider reach, with numbers on some tours in the hundreds.
Next week’s Live on Site Tour is with local guide Freya Middleton and lecturer (and Academy Travel Director), Robert Veel who will explore Siena in Italy. The following week will be in Sicily, while another was held on Lisbon during the past week.
Barrie continued, “Anyone can go and walk around the streets of Lisbon but to have a guide explaining it clearly and in a really entertaining way is more enthralling. An explanation also gives you more in depth analysis of the destination, making it far more enjoyable experience.”
“We’d never used Zoom technology before, but I think people’s acceptance of the technology, and the ability to have that interactive experience, will see us continue to use it in the future once travel resumes.”
Barrie suggests that when international travel reopens and Academy Travel is again able to operate trips overseas, pre-departure meetings that previously had been held in person could instead take place online.
Academy is currently running several Australian domestic tours mainly focusing on exhibitions and festivals and plans to operate short haul international tours in the first half of 2022 to Taiwan, Singapore, Bhutan and New Zealand. By mid- to late-2022 they will have 4 or 5 long haul international tours primarily to Europe and then slowly building back up from 2023.
“It could be 2025 before we get anywhere close to what we were doing pre COVID,” he admits.
But in the meantime, Academy Travel is devising further opportunities abroad, and expanding its “Residential” style of touring. More on that in next week’s LATTE.
Lead image: Robert Veel, Academy Travel’s Director tours Tiepolo’s frescoes at the Villa Valmarana.