Gap in the Market Volume 10 – Cultural Travel

As part of our popular ‘Gap in the Market’ series, we take a closer look at unique sectors in the travel industry and discover more about how they tick. We’ve already covered travel niches dedicated to wellness, food tourism and corporate trips, speaking with plenty of industry leaders in the process. This week we’re delving into the world of cultural travel, which for many may sound like a misnomer. But it’s not. Here’s why…

Cultural travel as a separate entity

Surely, you may be thinking, all travel has culture at its core. To an extent this is true. The chance to experience new cultures and our innate curiosity about lands and people different from our own are two of the driving forces behind a travel industry that seems to be permanently on the up. But as we’ve seen throughout our ‘Gap in the Market’ series, there are plenty of trends that veer away from the traditional motivations for travel.

With that in mind, when we say ‘cultural travel’ we mean it more literally than you might think. The growing market for cultural travel refers to explicitly cultural tours where education is the focus, not getting a suntan or taking to the slopes. Many of these trips manage to be educational in the classroom sense while bearing all the hallmarks of modern-day travel.

Cultural tours are often led by academics and experts in the field in question, giving lectures, ready to answer questions and offering insight far beyond what any guidebook can offer. But it’s more than just a walking classroom. Travellers are whisked away – often in luxury – to the sights of history itself, immersed in bespoke tours that aim to enlighten and delight in equal measure.

When put like that, it’s easy to understand why the cultural tour sector is emerging so strongly.

Changing demographics boosting the cultural travel trend?

It’s important to state that the rise in travel agencies offering cultural tours didn’t come from nowhere. There’s an increasingly receptive audience for trips dedicated to history and the arts, especially those that offer a touch of luxury for good measure. So why is this? Well, just as the Gap Year travel trend has become firmly established for twenty-somethings in need of adventure, perhaps cultural travel represents the mirror image for older generations. The combination of an ageing population, a middle class with plenty of disposable income and an increasing willingness to discover new experiences is the perfect recipe for the cultural travel boom.

Who are the big players in the world of cultural travel?

There are a few established names in the world of cultural travel. ACE Cultural Tours have been operating since 1958 and offer a range of trips to exotic locations all around the world. All tours are led by specialists in the field in question and vary from week-long cruises down the Douro to educational city breaks around Europe.

The trend of expert-led trips continues with Jon Baines Tours and Martin Randall Travel. Both provide all-inclusive packages revolving around specific themes and locations, from medicine, Uzbekistan and medieval art to gastronomy and Iran.

To dig a little deeper into the world of cultural travel, we got in touch with the team at Martin Randall, and acting PR manager Lucy Emanuel was kind enough to answer a few of our questions.

Martin Randall Travel

Martin Randall Travel

A focus on expertise, exclusivity and a shared experience

Clearly, a huge part of the attraction of cultural tours is the focus on expertise. It is the opportunity to be guided through the subject at hand by a genuine, often world-leading expert that separates these trips from your standard tour. Martin Randall Travel’s Lucy Emanuel paints an interesting and very believable picture of the company’s clientele. They are “Curious and discerning”, she says, and searching for tours that “enlighten, inform and inspire”.

This expertise is about both education and exclusivity. Travellers booking trips with operators like Martin Randall Travel know that they are going to experience a destination in a way that they couldn’t possibly of they were on their own. “MRT tours are led by expert speakers who have been selected for their knowledge and their ability to engage with an audience – they are a key ingredient of our tours,” says Emanuel. “Our clients are also drawn to our tours because they feature special arrangements – MRT travellers seek experiences they are unable to arrange on their own.”

Learn about the culture and history and gain real insight into contemporary life in each destination, with rewarding detours from the well-trodden tourist trail. You will travel with other open-minded, intelligent and questioning people.” – Jon Baines Tours

When asked why trips centred on culture and the arts appeal to travellers in the way that they do, Emanuel describes three of the obvious draws: immersion, insight and exclusivity. You can gain a deep understanding about a country through its culture and arts,” she says. “You may be able to watch a documentary or visit a museum website, but there is nothing like the experience of seeing an artefact or monument in person, with an expert illuminating every detail and describing it in context. It is a rewarding holiday experience.”

But what’s also clear from looking closely at Martin Randall and its competitors is the importance of camaraderie and the social side of cultural tours. Many travellers are looking to have their adventure alongside like-minded people, a factor that should not be understated.

Cultural tours offer endless variety

Despite strong competition in the market, it would seem as though the entirety of human history and culture offers plenty of opportunities for travel. Martin Randall Travel runs “around 300 small-group tours every year in the UK, continental Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, India, China, Japan, the Americas and Australasia.”

“Our most popular destinations is Italy, as we have the largest range and greatest number of tours going there every year,” says Emanuel. In terms of the type of tours that tend to be most popular, again it comes back to exclusivity. “The tours that sell the best are those that include visits to places that are privately owned or off the beaten track, and therefore difficult to arrange for the independent traveller.”

cultural travel and cultural tours, with insight from martin randall

A Venetian Palace, wood engraving c. 1880. – Martin Randall

“One of our most popular tours is Venetian Palaces, led by art historian Dr Michael Douglas-Scott. The tour explores the finest palaces in Venice, with access to many by special arrangement (as they are still in private hands). There is also a private, after-hours visit to St Mark’s Basilica. This sums up MRT – we provide unforgettable experiences with the best expert lecturers.”

Cultural travel looking forward

Martin Randall Travel’s Lucy Emanuel admits that the market is “more competitive than it has ever been”. But it seems this is a sector set to grow more popular if – and this is an important ‘if” – it can cope with changing political climates around the world.

Cultural travel stands to lose more than most sectors, particularly as several popular trips are held in unconventional tourist destinations across the Middle East. “The primary challenge the travel industry faces is the current state of world politics,” says Emanuel. “We used to run a lot of tours to the Middle East, particularly Egypt, Syria and northern Turkey. Unfortunately, these tours are no longer viable.”

Read more: Travel Industry Hit by Terrorism and Political Unrest

“We continuously monitor FCO advice across all of our tours as the safety of our travellers in paramount.”

With popular cultural destinations across the Middle East facing security fears and political instability, opportunities have grown elsewhere. “We are seeing greater interest in tours to the East, primarily in China and Japan,” says Emanuel.

cultural tours in the arabian gulf

The Arabian Gulf – Culture & history in Qatar, Bahrain & the Emirates – Martin Randall Travel

“We are running six tour departures to the region in 2017, all of which are selling incredibly well. We also have an exciting new tour, The Arabian Gulf. The tour covers broad themes – history, architecture – but one of the main features is the wealth of new art museums and art collections in the region. The highlight of this being the Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, which includes the new outpost of the Louvre and the Zayed Museum. Both museums are still in the final stages of construction, but are scheduled for grand opening later this year.”

Cultural travel as an opportunity

Few travel sectors can rival the world of cultural travel when it comes to variety. For this reason alone it seems like an opportunity for any ambitious travel startup. Having said that, the bar for quality has been raised very high by the established operators. Cultural travellers are a discerning group and expect exclusivity, expert-led tours and a comfortable, all-inclusive trip. While we have no figures to confirm this suspicion, it also seems like a sector in which customer loyalty still exists, where there is a stronger bond between traveller and agent than you might find elsewhere.

marketplace software

This all adds up a challenge for any travel startup looking to gain a foothold. However, there’s certainly room for a marketplace to bridge the gap between cultural operators and help customers decide between trips.

Here at Travelshift, we help startups in the travel industry build marketplaces that aggregate suppliers and reach bigger audiences than previously possible. We make this happen with our proprietary marketplace platform, which is packed with built-in features to help startups take off and compete from day one. Get in touch with us today for more information.

Travel Industry Takes a Stand Against Wildlife Trafficking

Not long ago we put together a feature on ethical travel. It was actually the first part of our ‘Gap in the Market’ series, which has been running for a while now. The focus was the world of responsible travel. We took a closer look at how and why this market sector is on the up.

So it’s with that in mind that today we bring you some good news from the travel industry. Three major tourism groups have announced ambitious plans in the fight against wildlife trafficking, poaching, and the sorry state of affairs by which travellers unknowingly contribute to these problems.

One of the best ways to bring an end to the underground economy of animal trafficking and poaching is to make it increasingly difficult to sell items. Ensuring tourists know when goods haven’t been sourced sustainably is a good start in the fight to protect our natural world.

The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), American Society for Travel Agents (ASTA) and Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) have announced a partnership that will help travellers recognise and avoid purchasing the illegal wildlife products decimating global populations of elephants, rhinos, tortoises and other endangered species.

travel operators alliance

Travellers need to be better informed

The partnership of associations collectively serves over 25 million travellers every year, so is in a perfect position to raise awareness of the issues at hand. Unknowingly, travellers around the world are making environmental problems worse, despite having the opposite intentions. Many are buying items on trips that are sourced in damaging and unsustainable ways, including accessories, clothing, medicine, souvenirs, live pets and even meals.

Now some of the travel industry’s biggest players are getting together to distribute a ‘digital toolkit’ that operators can use to better educate tourists around the world. The ‘Know Before You Go / Ask Before You Buy’ toolkit provides travel and tourism industry leaders with resources they can use to engage travellers in the fight to stop wildlife trafficking.

“The travel and tourism industry has a unique ability to reach millions of people around the world and show them how they can be part of the solution to end wildlife trafficking,” said Zane Kerby, CEO, ASTA.  “The Alliance toolkit gives industry leaders a step-by-step guide for educating travellers about the potential pitfalls they can encounter while shopping overseas. By buying informed, we can all work together to protect these treasured species for the benefit or our planet, our security, and future generations.”

“The illegal and unsustainable trade of wildlife is devastating species across the globe, from tigers, to sea turtles, to elephants,” said Jim Sano, WWF Vice President of Travel, Tourism and Conservation. “We can only stop wildlife crime if everyone plays their part. The travel and tourism industry with its unmatched global reach and influence, can make an enormous impact in helping end this scourge.”

Tourism relies on the natural world

travel industry protects wildlife

We may not have mentioned it explicitly before, but it goes without saying that many conventional tourism sectors rely heavily on the natural world. Whether that’s the beautiful beaches of the Carribean or the regular snowfall that keeps the Alps and other ski resorts open. There’s also a booming industry for safari trips and wildlife tourism.

Sadly, climate change, illegal poaching and habitat loss are causing many species to suffer steep declines in population. In particular, wildlife trafficking is a huge black market industry, with links to organized crime, cartels, gangs, and corrupt governments.

The positive news is that everything points to the fact that animals and our natural world are worth more while they’re alive. This gives the tourism industry a huge incentive to want to help protect them.

Education is the best way to combat every issue facing our incredible nature, from climate change to extinction. For that reason, it’s in the interests of everyone working in travel to teach tourists to respect and protect wildlife and ecosystems around the world.

Travel operators will embrace ‘digital toolkit’ to protect wildlife

We love it when technology and travel come together.

The Alliance is about to launch a “Know Before You Go / Ask Before You Buy” digital toolkit. The kit will give travel industry leaders some handy resources to help engage tourists and raise awareness about wildlife trafficking. It was put together with help from the Alliance coalition, which includes travel companies, non-profit leaders WildAid and WWF. The toolkit includes educational pamphlets, public service announcements, and infographics.

“It is exciting to see the U.S. travel industry step up and use their deep relationships with the travelling public to raise awareness about the global wildlife trafficking crisis and give unsuspecting travellers the tools to make good buying decisions,” said David J. Hayes, Chair of the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance. “The Alliance applauds ATTA, ASTA, and CLIA for its socially responsible leadership, in concert with the non-profit and government sectors, in working to close down the illegal wildlife markets that are fueling the senseless killing of endangered species around the globe.”

Power lies in the hands of travellers

Tourists have the power to make a difference.

Tourists have the power to make a difference.

The contents of the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance’s digital toolkit will be shared with travellers to ensure that when they make purchases on abroad, they’re doing so in a way that won’t have a negative impact on local wildlife. It’s hoped that this tool kit will help to raise awareness of the issues and ultimately cut off the funds to those who trade in illegal goods.

“Governments and organizations around the globe are collaborating in unprecedented ways to combat wildlife trafficking. Powerful as these efforts are, the real power – and the hope for elephants, rhinos, tigers and other treasured wildlife on the brink – lies in the hands of consumers,” said Bryan Arroyo, Assistant Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s International Affairs Program.

“Educating travellers, so they don’t unwittingly contribute to the poaching and wildlife trafficking epidemic, is vital to ending this grave threat to our planet’s most precious legacy.”

A positive step for ecological tourism

At a time when influential people in positions of power are putting the environment at risk by casting doubt over the spectre of climate change, it’s refreshing to see the travel industry take the lead in protecting the natural world. But it’s not just tourism’s big players that can make an impact. Startups can also have a say by encouraging responsible tourism and making sure travellers are educated and well-informed with regards to the trafficking of animal goods. That way generations to come can enjoy the natural world as much as we have been fortunate to be able to.

Gap in the Market Volume 9 – Gap Year Travel

That’s right. It’s 2017 and our Gap in the Market series is back with a bang. If you’re new around here, this series is our chance to dig deeper into a specific travel niche. We’ve already covered a number of potential sectors that would-be travel startups might want to explore, from Staycation travel to wellness retreats and food tourism. This week we’re taking a closer look at the world of Gap Year travel.

What is Gap Year travel?

While Gap Year travel might seem like a tourism fad that’s only been around for a few years, it’s arguably more established than many of the sectors we have previewed before. It seems to be a case of the label being newer than the product. And that’s partly because the term ‘Gap Year travel’ is so all-encompassing – it means different things to different people.

So here’s our definition. Gap Year travel typically refers to big trips that people take out at a specific time in their lives. You might have also heard the term ‘Year Out’ – we think the two are pretty synonymous. This kind of travelling usually takes place for younger people before or after university, and is characterised by the sense that there’s nothing really tying them down. It’s the perfect time for an adventure.

Having said that, this doesn’t mean that older people don’t get in on the action too. More and more people are deciding to take sabbaticals, Gap Years or ‘Years out’ – whatever you want to call them – despite having established careers and plenty holding them back on paper.

So it seems that there’s an obvious demographic split here. On the one hand, you have carefree young adults looking for an adventure before life really begins, and on the other you have 30, 40 and 50 somethings looking to take time out from their careers. So what do they have in common?

Two different stages in life, one shared purpose

To understand why Gap Year travel continues to appeal to people of different generations, you need to look closer at what they have in common. Gap Year travel isn’t like your standard 10 days on the beach, it’s about so much more than that. It’s about travelling with a purpose, experiencing something beyond what you’re used to and returning home a better person as a result. Some of the top reasons that people take Gap Years are:

  • To gain skills
  • To develop as a person
  • To do something fulfilling
  • To help others
  • To try something new
  • To experience a different culture
  • To get away

Many of these motivations can be broadly applied to travel itself. But Gap Year travel satisfies them in a way that your average beach holiday does not. Gap Year travel, whether volunteering in an African wildlife reserve or supervising kids at an American summer camp, is as immersive as it gets.

Camp America is a giant in the Gap Year travel industry

Camp America offers 3-month placements at summer camps around the USA.

There are two main reasons that Gap Year travel represents a lucrative opportunity for marketplace startups. The first is that there’s a huge variety of options for people to choose from. And the second is the overwhelming and continued demand for trips of this kind. Together this is a potent combination, with agencies offering bespoke trips, experiences and even acting as go-betweens in the recruitment process for volunteer and paid positions abroad.

A Gap Year is travel in its purest form

In researching this week’s travel sector, we got in touch with two leading organisations in the world of Gap Year travel. The first is Camp America, which has been arranging for young people from all over the world to travel to the US and work in summer camps since 1969. The second is One World 365, a UK travel agency specialising in Gap Year travel, unique trips and life-changing experiences.

We asked both companies why they think Gap Year travel is so unsurprisingly, both responses revolved around similar themes.  Paul Edwards, CEO of One World 365, said “A gap year is appealing for so many reasons. It offers the chance for people to try something new, explore new destinations, experience new cultures, meet new people and escape their normal routine. Gap Years are obviously popular with students but with professionals, too – we find that no matter what age, or stage of your life you are at, there will be a trip or experience which will make you want to book a flight.” 

Katy Phillips, Marketing and Communications manager at Camp America, also highlighted the cultural opportunity that comes with Gap Year Travel, which is a two-way exchange for Camp America’s recruits. “Taking a Gap Year is a hugely popular experience for young people today,” said Phillips. “Being able to take a year out and be immersed in another culture for a short time is something that is incredibly fulfilling for many. We strongly believe that cultural exchange programs such as ours are extremely beneficial in helping create knowledgeable global citizens with positive cross-cultural relationships.”

How the Gap Year travel market is evolving

Gap Year travel has been happening for years, but what was once exclusively a pre-university adventure for those with deep enough pockets has fast become established, accepted and accessible to the mainstream. This is in part due to the rise in working holidays, such as those offered by Camp America, which provide the experience, accommodation, travel, and necessities in return for a work placement. Travellers are now returning with money in their pockets and impressive additions to their CVs.

As well as more people embarking on short-term work abroad as part of their Gap Years, the traditional pre-university demographic is also shifting. “In recent years we have seen more and more older people taking time out,” said One World 365 CEO Paul Edwards. “We now receive a lot of enquiries from Brits in full-time employment, especially those in their 30s who didn’t take the traditional gap year before and after university but are now booking gap years and sabbaticals.”

Edwards believes that the concept of a Gap Year has become more accepted around the world, and points to the news from across the pond that Malia Obama announced she is taking a gap year before attending Harvard University. “We are also receiving more enquiries about working holidays – gap years can be expensive when you calculate flights, travel, accommodation and meals, but working abroad on a gap year can help alleviate the costs.”

Gap Year Travel - Is this travel in its purest form?

Will uncertain political times hit Gap Year travel?

Even a travel sector that exists to provide the kind of escapism many of us long for can’t hide from the tumultuous events of 2016. Speaking with Travelshift, both Camp America and One World 365 voiced concerns at the current political landscape and how it might turn people off what has been a thriving corner of the travel industry.

Read more: How will President Trump Affect the Travel Industry?

Camp America’s Katy Phillips believed the company hadn’t been hit by the recent Presidential election and its generally negative tone. This is probably a testament to the strength of the Camp America brand and the openness and outward-looking objectives that it obviously stands for. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the coming years. “Despite a controversial election campaign in America, we are happy that it hasn’t deterred the thousands of young people who are still excited to experience working and travelling in America this summer,” she said. 

donald trump travel industry affect

Will America become less appealing a destination under the presidency of the Donald?

One World 365 CEO, Paul Edwards, was less optimistic in his outlook, particularly as his UK-based agency will have to come to terms with an exit from the European Union and a falling Pound that’s set to make travel more expensive for British tourists.

“Brexit could have a devastating effect on the travel and gap year industry. For example, travelling abroad is now more expensive for Brits due to the sinking pound value against worldwide currencies, so not everyone can afford it. Brexit will also make it more difficult for UK citizens to work, study and travel in Europe. There is also the rising cost of tuition fees and rents in the UK, which means students especially have less money to take gap years.”

“Political change in other countries may also have an impact – for example, there might be restrictions on visas to work in the USA which will influence on traditional gap year jobs like working in American summer camps.”

What does the future hold for the world of Gap Year Travel?

So that’s the past and the present covered? What shifts do our experts anticipate in the months and years to come? What should operators new on the scene be looking out for?

“Rather than just booking tours,” Edwards said, “we are finding more people are looking to take constructive gap years – booking courses, internships and volunteer programs. This can add value to your CV and help build personal and professional experience. We think it’s due to people being increasingly aware of the competitive job market and how a gap year spent getting drunk in Thailand for example, doesn’t look like time well spent in the eyes of employers.”

But it’s not just the attitude toward travel that’s changing for Gap Year takers, the destinations are changing too. “Lesser-visited countries which are a little off the beaten track are now becoming more and more popular compared to well-established destinations. For example, there are now hundreds of gap year programs in China which offer something different to backpacking in South-East Asia.”

Camp America’s Katy Phillips also said that travellers are increasingly looking for something tangible to take away from their Gap Years. “We have been told that people want more ‘real’ experiences, where they can live like a local and gain something valuable, such as a new skill, from their gap year.”

Thinking of setting up a Gap Year travel marketplace?

It’s clear that the Gap Year travel sector will continue to appeal to young people and middle-aged wantaways. The only question is whether travel operators can keep putting together offerings that tick all the right boxes. Those that are dedicated to specific niches, such as Camp America, have a genuine chance of building an established brand and becoming the go-to source of work, accommodation, flights and even complete packages.

If you’re looking to target a broader range of Gap Year trips, you’ll need to clearly separate yourselves from the rest of the pack with genuine adventures that will stick in travellers’ minds forever. Easier said than done.

Here at Travelshift we’re all about building travel marketplaces that work. With our software solution, you can easily aggregate travel providers into a single marketplace and combine the power of your sellers’ offerings to shout louder than any of your competitors. Get in touch with us today to find out more.


Many thanks to Camp America and One World 365 for their contributions to our in-depth look at Gap Year travel.

Travelshift’s 2016 Highlights

As 2017 gets underway, we thought it would be a good idea to allow ourselves a moment of nostalgia. 2016 was a big year for us here at Travelshift: The growth of our readership has been immense and our marketplace software has begun to help travel startups all around the world.

With that in mind, we thought it would be a good idea to round up some of our favourite stories from the past 12 months. From Trump to Brexit, to Pokemon Go and Leicester City’s unlikely Premier League win, we’ve proved that there is no subject we can’t wrangle into a travel or startup-related story.

So here’s our top five stories from the last year.

What a year it’s been in the world of politics. As well as the vote to leave the European Union from Great Britain, we’ve also seen the rise of Donald Trump in the USA. Both will take full effect in the months and years to come, but there’s no doubt that there will be an impact on the travel industry.

donald trump travel industry affect

We’ve also seen the impact the darker side of politics has had on the industry, as we discussed in our Travel industry Hit by Terrorism and Political Unrest article.

As a business, we work on the boundaries of tourism and technology. Our marketplace software takes advantage of the latest techniques to help travel startups compete with established operators. For that reason, we like to look at other technologies in the world of tourism. This piece focused on artificial intelligence. We also had a look at general tech trends in the travel industry.

artificial intelligence could impact the travel industry in a big way.

We don’t only write blogs about travel industry news and future trends. Sometimes we like to focus directly on those that our company was built to serve: Travel startups. This post concentrated on the art of team building and features tips on startups should construct a team. It includes an interview with Rocketrip founder Dan Ruch.

content marketing startup

As you probably know by now, we like to look ahead to the future. Of great importance to the travel industry is how the next generation of travellers, Generation Z, can be best appealed to once they come of age. We’re already aware, in general terms, of what they are interested in and how they react to certain mediums. With that in mind, we put together a few ideas that travel startups can start thinking about for the next batch of young travellers.

generation z is coming. Is the travel industry ready?

Last year we started out our ‘Gap in the Market’ series. The idea is that every so often we hone in on a particular travel niche and take a closer look. There were plenty of personal favourites, including in-depth looks at the worlds of cruise, corporate and wellness travel, but we especially enjoyed our deep dive into food tourism. This piece also featured an interview with Hugo Palomar, founder and CEO of Foodie&Tours.

food tourism

We hope you enjoyed our blog throughout 2016 – here’s to many more!