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Off The Map

Specialty tour operators serve up travel with a twist.

This story appears in the September 1998 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine.

Say goodbye to the days of the cattle-call bus tour, when masses of weary visitors were herded through seven countries in six days, stopping just long enough to snap a photo and climb back into their air-conditioned coaches. "Today's travelers want to participate in their vacations, not be passive sightseers," says Hank Phillips, executive director of the National Tour Association in Lexington, Kentucky. "They want to explore and experience new things."

This contemporary breed of traveler has spurred the growth of the specialty travel industry. Tourism is the third-largest retail sales industry in the United States, and specialty travel is one of its fastest-growing segments. In 1996 (the most recent year for which figures are available), more than 25 million people--many of them baby boomers with unprecedented discretionary income--traveled on tours, an increase of 22 percent since 1993.

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