Extended duration stays in one location are tipped to be the ‘next big thing’ for international travellers as the world emerges from the pandemic.
In the not too distant past, the typical European holiday for an Australian traveller would likely have been an escorted coach tour visiting dozens of countries in a relatively short duration. Itineraries would be destination intensive, comprising one-, sometimes two-, nights in a city before heading to the next.
Over the years a number of tour operators and travel companies have opted for the slow travel solution as an alternative, building multi-night (three- or four-night) stays in one city to enable guests to fully immerse themselves in the destination. One such company in the space is Academy Travel.
Stuart Barrie, Managing Director of Academy Travel says the business has been offering “residential” style tours of up to two weeks duration for 12 years, primarily in Europe. A program initially conceived in Venice has now grown to encompass Berlin, Rome, Florence, a two-city Russian option in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and New York.
“The style doesn’t cater to everyone’s tastes. Some people just like to go in, spend two nights in a city, tick off the bucket list experiences, and they leave happy.”
“But for the people who want to appreciate or understand or delve a little bit deeper, that’s what these residential-style tours appeal and I think that’s what’s going to become more popular for a couple of reasons,” Barrie explained.
“One is from a health and safety concern. So rather than travelling to multiple destinations, and multiple stops, they stay put in one place, and that gives them the confidence to travel again. I’m not touching 40,000 different doorknobs, I’m only handling two doorknobs,” he quipped.
“But also, I think there’s a bit more increased curiosity about what the world has to offer now.”
“For instance, everyone can go to Venice and sit at St Mark’s Square, have a coffee, and go on a gondola ride down the Grand Canal. But then to go out to the different islands, to understand that this is a vibrant living community. St Mark’s Square is not Venice. It’s a tourist attraction. Whereas the real Venice is a multitude of islands making up a vibrant living community.”
“By staying longer you have time to go out to one of the islands where locals maintain vegetable gardens. Some of the freshest vegetables in Italy come from an island in the Venice Lagoon. Or explore an original quarantine station with a fascinating history, also out on the lagoon. There are fabulous things you can do in Venice, if you can stay longer.”
“It may not be massively mainstream but I think there’s increasing demand. Australians are becoming more sophisticated. They’re getting more curious that they want to have more in-depth knowledge about a place,” Barrie told LATTE.
Previously known as Study Tours, Barrie said the residential-style trips aim to offer a “slightly independent travel” experience. Most days comprise of an academic-led guided tour, or a lecture, or an escorted entry into a museum or an attraction in the morning, and the afternoon is free for them to explore on their own, meeting up again in the evening for dinner, should they wish.
“We’re merging that independent travel with the safety and security, but less hassle of a group experience, plus we have the academic content.”
Accommodation varies from apartment hotels in Berlin that offer cooking facilities, to hotel rooms in New York, but always in the city centre.
Given the success of the concept, Academy Travel is expanding its residential-style tours to Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, Lisbon in Portugal, with other destinations also being evaluated.
Barrie said that “by far” the bulk of Academy Travel’s guests are Australians, interspersed with New Zealanders. In recent years, pre-pandemic, other international markets were picking up, including from the UK and North America.
International opportunities being explored
Academy Travel had already set up an office in the UK and was in the process of establishing a beachhead in the United States, a market Barrie believes has strong potential for growth, especially at the moment due to limited COVID travel restrictions on Americans.
“The reality is Americans are starting to travel now. All of a sudden countries in Europe are starting to open up. Americans and Europeans are going to be travelling a lot sooner than Australians, and so for us to survive it’s too good an opportunity not to tackle.”
Barrie revealed that over the next 12-18 months Academy will invest in developing specialised tours for the American market, primarily to Italy where Co-Owner Robert Veel has cut his teeth as a tour leader since the late 1980s. Those trips will target Americans who have less annual leave to travel than Australians.
With a network of experienced guides, and the infrastructure already in place in Italy, Barrie believes Academy Travel can tailor a product aimed squarely at the US audience.
“We’re trying to tap into that small percentage of the American travelling population who understand the value of a longer stay in one place.”
Learn more about Academy Travel’s 15-day City, Republic & Empire Residential Tour to Venice at academytravel.com.au/tours/venice-city-republic-empire-march-2022/