Hardly roughing it

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During a three-week tour of Africa booked through Micato Safaris, Chicago-area pediatrician Dr. Robert Levy spent eight days climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and another two weeks camping in Tanzania and Kenya, where he sat feet away from copulating lions.

"I liked the [tented] accommodations because you got the feeling you're out in nature," he says.

SEEKING CULTURE

"Today, [clients] want a more in depth cultural experience," says Micato Managing Director Dennis Pinto. "Thirty years ago you could say here's a lion, here's a tiger, and they'd be happy. Today, they want to learn about the mating habits of these animals, the ecosystems and have interaction with the local people."

Micato Safaris, Abercrombie & Kent Travel and Silversea Cruises are among travel operators marketing vacations to the wealthy.

About 50% of Micato's traffic comes from travel agents and word-of-mouth from previous clients, says Mr. Pinto; the rest from telemarketing, direct mail and joint programs with cruise lines and travel agents.

"We don't have the budget to mail to millions of people," he says. "This year we'll spend about $1.5 million to buy mailing lists, send newsletters to previous clients and travel intermediaries" and participate in programs such as "Africa Night," whereby travel agents invite travelers to an evening where they discuss the safaris.

Abercrombie & Kent, which specializes in upscale tours, advertises in publications such as The New York Times, Travel & Leisure and Robb Report. Design Horizons International, Chicago, handles creative.

"The affluent market is booming and growing. We're noting a very healthy increase, especially with people in their mid-30s and early 40s," says John Webley, VP-international sales. Sales for the higher-end trips were up 15% between 1997 and 2000, he says. Average household income of its customers hovers around $150,000.

TRAVELING WITH STYLE

"People are traveling a lot on business and staying in nice hotels so they want to take their families and travel in the same style."

Premier Tours' three-week, high-end safari for five at $20,000-to-$25,000 per person plus airfare to Cape Town, South Africa, provides a guided tour built around seeing desert elephants and hippos.

"Camps are very luxurious," says Premier Tours President Julian Harrison. "Five course meals are served by the light of candelabras."

Articles about Premier Tours in publications such as Conde Nast Traveler and info on its Web site, premiertours.com, reel in clients without need for advertising, Mr. Harrison claims.

"We see adventure travel as a large part of what will drive the growth of online vacation package bookings," says Henry Harteveldt, senior analyst, Internet market researcher Forrester Research. "People do a lot of research on the Internet . . . that makes the consumer more informed and better educated about the options."

Silversea Cruises offers information at its Web site silversea.com about journeys costing $11,300-to-$25,240, although one can't purchase a trip online.

AGENT FOLLOW-THROUGH

"We believe in the travel agent support for the personal touch and follow-through," says Helen McCabe-Young, VP-marketing. "This is especially important for the upscale client we're marketing to." Silversea markets through travel agents and in magazines such as Conde Nast Traveler and Gourmet. Print ads are designed in house; K2 Design, New York was recently retained for Internet work.

For those who prefer high altitudes, the Bombard Society hosts deluxe balloon tours of Switzerland. A nine-day tour runs $11,471 per person from Geneva.

Bombard promotes its trips through Virtuoso, an online network of independent luxury travel agencies and word-of-mouth.

"A lot of travelers have experienced the bigger cities in Europe and are looking for ways to experience the countryside," says Julie Lemish, travel consultant at Rex Travel Organization. "The demand is increasing astronomically and adventure [travel] companies are mushrooming."

Contributing: Sheree R. Curry

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