Tours that do much more than take in a few sights

Apr 03,2007
A Bordeaux vineyard.
Apart from being an amusing parody of a Hollywood movie about New York’s fashion industry, “The Devil Goes to a Prada Factory” is a smart travel option that’s designed for young Korean women who have an obsession with shopping for brand-name goods.
This six-day package tour to major outlets and factories in Italy offers travelers the chance to buy a wide range of clothes, bags and shoes made by luxury designers, most of which have yet to arrive in local duty-free shops.
On the first day, the tourists get dropped off on the Via dei Condotti, a street in Rome that is full of exclusive designer boutiques.
In the next four days they move on to outlets for Versace and Dolce and Gabanna, then to factories that manufacture Prada and Fendi where they can buy the company’s latest designs at 30 to 60 percent less than they would pay in Seoul. They finish off in Milan, Italy’s fashion capital, at designer shops that sell a variety of fashion accessories.
In the end, though, the travelers are not saving a lot of money if they consider things like the daily fee of 500,000 won ($530) they pay to the local driver-guides in Florence who take them to the outlets on the city’s outskirts. And, of course, the package costs 1.5 million won, which would buy at least one designer outfit in Seoul.
“But the point is not the discount shopping,” says Yun Won-young, a travel planner for Nextour, who has been selling the package since last fall. “These are not people who are desperate to save a few pennies; they spend an average of $2,000 during their trips.”
Indeed, shopping tourism, Yun explains, has become increasingly popular among Asian travelers to Europe and the United States, despite the customs regulations.
“If you visit the factory for Miu Miu and Prada there is already a long line of Japanese tourists who have been waiting outside the gate for hours before the place opens at 9:30 a.m.,” she says. “The Japanese tourists come first, then the Koreans.”
Nextour is not alone in targeting a high end clientele who seek local travel agencies who specialize in providing services that meet their tastes. Increasingly, travel agencies in Korea are selling luxury spa packages to resorts in Bali, Singapore and Thailand. Carribbean and Alaskan cruises, which cost over 10 million won, have become popular options for older Koreans, according to Kim Yi-jung, a public affairs representative for Lotte Tours.
That’s in stark contrast to weekend tour bargains to Japan and China, which start from as low as 200,000 won per person.

A dinner served on the Mode Tours “Lovers in Paris” package. [JoongAng Ilbo]
Hana Tour has set up its Prestige Club program specifically designed for travelers who want a high standard of accommodation. Lotte Tour also launched its Discovery branch, where travel planners organize cruise tours and other overseas packages to special destinations for sophisticated travelers. These include trekking in the Himalayas or themed pilgrimages to biblical sites.
Hana Tour’s prestige club is the ultimate luxury. When they travel, Club members automatically get a premium limousine service from the airport to the hotel. The membership also includes a personal driver and an “Assist-card,” which provides the card holder with medical assistance.
A recent Hana Tour package featured a five-day trip to Dubai for 11 million won, including a business class flight, three nights at Burj Al Arab, the world’s only seven-star hotel, and airport pick-up in a Rolls Royce.
“I think some see the phenomenon as a sign of social polarization,” says Kim at the Lotte Tour. “But it’s really just an indication that travel options have become wider than in the past. We have more people seeking package tours to places like South Africa, South America and India, which we used to describe as ‘special regions’ because they were only for veteran travelers. Now those places have become more common.”
Hana’s competitors have also introduced a line up of expensive VIP packages.
Lotte Tour, which is known for budget package tours to Japan, recently released a world tour, which travels to five continents in 30 days for 17 million won.
The package is like a mosaic of highlights from the world’s cultural heritage. Visitors are taken to the world’s three most famous waterfalls (Niagara in Canada, Iguazu in Brazil and Argentina and Victoria in Zimbawe) and then to the three most famous museums in the world (the British Museum, the Louvre and New York’s Metropolitan Museum). For the rest of the trip they hop from Peru to Dubai to Stonehenge, taking in many places that are registered as Unesco world heritage sites.
One of the highlights of the Lotte package is the food.
While they are away the travelers are served an exquisite variety of local delicacies, including escargot in France, fondue in Switzerland and Boma-styled seafood and barbecue in Africa.
In fact for others, money equals taste.

The Burj Al Arab hotel.
Mode Tour has recently unveiled their “Lovers in Paris” package, which tours antique hotels around France, sampling vintage wines and special menus offered by chefs who are regarded as the best by food critics in the region. (The schedule included an introduction to the package on the company’s Web site actually lists the names of each chef and their special dishes.)
“More and more Korean travelers are seeking a special purpose when they travel, apart from sightseeing ,” says Kim at the Lotte Tour. “After all, the packages sell, because there is an increasing demand for this kind of specialized tourism.”

By Park Soo-mee Staff Writer [myfeast@joongang.co.kr]

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