By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA


Safety and security have always been the top priorities for The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) and our members.  The unparalleled knowledge and relationships built within each destination our members take guests help build engaging and memorable experiences, but also ensures an informed and swift reaction should an emergency situation occur before, during, or after a scheduled trip. Keeping passengers safe while communicating necessary information creates a priceless peace of while traveling.

As avid travelers and global citizens, the presidents of our tour operator members are laser-focused on the security and safety of all travelers, both at home and abroad. We’ve commissioned a couple of them to share their thoughts on how traveling with a tour operator provides security, knowledge and peace of mind to travelers in today’s sometimes uncertain world climate.


Here’s what they had to say:


Stephen Birkett, Co-President & Co-Owner of Premier World Discovery:

One of the main reasons travelers traditionally select tours is to have all the unknowns taken care of for them. Hotel selection, meals, sightseeing and transportation are a big part of what a tour operator provides. Given the current world climate with safety concerns, the tour operator is again taking care of another unknown aspect of travelling to another country. Obviously, we cannot cover every scenario regarding safety, but we are not going to take passengers into questionable areas and we have proven experience in the places we are travelling to.

Additionally, on all of our tours we have an experienced guide leading the group and their experience should provide that peace of mind that travelers seek and in case of emergencies they are right there to help and guide.

Ian Swain, President and Owner of Swain Destinations:

Last month, a cyclone barreled through Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Islands. As soon as the cyclone made the forecast, our response team began preemptively rearranging itineraries, hotel arrangements, experiences and flights for active and upcoming travelers, to ensure their journeys would be uninterrupted and safe. This is the benefit you receive when working with travel company members of USTOA.

Travel companies like Swain have teams on the ground that intimately know a destination, allowing them to proactively address any travel challenges. Their destination network becomes your network, providing the security and peace of mind to truly enjoy your experience. Swain Destinations has spent over 30 years curating trips, acquiring destination knowledge, and setting up the support infrastructure and the proactive policies to effectively communicate with our travelers.  Regardless of the current world climate, traveling with a travel company instills confidence that you always know who to contact in any event.

By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA


Summer is around the corner but there’s still time to book an unforgettable summer family vacation! With 80% of USTOA tour operator members offering multi-generational/family travel, travelers looking to get away with the ones they love the most have plenty of options. Here are a few itineraries spanning the globe that are sure to please even the pickiest of family members.


Credit: Austin Adventures

Families looking to cross something off their bucket list can journey to Peru on Adventure by Disney’s Peru and Machu Picchu Family Vacation itinerary. Adventure awaits on this nine-day journey through Peru visiting the Peruvian Andes, river rafting down the Urubamba River, and of course, a tour through the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. Delicious Peruvian food and local experiences like a visit to the local market are also available on this trip. Departure dates are available from June 7, 2017 to December 24, 2017 starting at $5,129 per adult/ $4,879 per child.

Families can join Austin Adventures on the six-day journey through the Land of the Midnight Sun with its Alaska Family Vacation package. Kids and adults can pan for gold, kayak through Resurrection Bay and hike to the Harding Ice Field during their summer break this year. Austin Adventures encourages families to enjoy America’s last frontier while also connecting and creating memories as a family. Available on various dates June-August 2017 and starts at $3,698 per person and $2,958 to $3,328 per child.


Credit: Austin Adventures

Tauck Bridges offers families the chance to discover the history of Western Europe during its eight-day Castles & Kings: London to Paris itinerary. Guests are invited to kick off their vacation with a classic double-decker bus ride through London before embarking on a speedboat adventure along the River Thames. A visit to the infamous Château de Versailles, Musée du Louvre and more await families in Paris. Departures are available June-August 2017 starting at $4,630 per person.

Families looking for a luxury safari experience will enjoy Abercrombie & Kent’s Family Tanzania Safari itinerary. Guests will participate in game drives in Tanzania’s greatest wildlife refuges while staying in family-friendly safari lodges and a luxury tented safari camp. A family treasure hunt through a local Tanzanian market and a visit with a Maasai village elder will also delight family members of all ages. The eight-day Luxury Small Group Journey is limited to 18 guests and is available for various departure dates July and August 2017 starting at $6,495 per person.

Summer vacation already booked? Travelers can join a once-in-a-lifetime winter vacation trip to the southern tip of the world on Lindblad Expeditions’ Journey to Antarctica: The White Continent. Families will spend six days on the world’s most remote continent enjoying almost 24 hours of daylight, perfect for admiring huge icebergs and photographing thousands of Gentoo penguins with photo tips from a National Geographic photographer. Guests also have the chance to see a 40-ton whale surface off the bow of the ship. Expeditions available in January, February, November and December from $13,760 per person.

What are you waiting for? Click here and plan your dream vacation now!


Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.


By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA


Whether it’s trekking through the Himalayas, sea kayaking in Croatia or zip lining through Costa Rica, a recent survey of USTOA tour operator members showed that more than half of the membership offers adventure itineraries diverse enough to fit all levels of thrill-seeking travelers.

Ready to get your adrenaline pumping? Be inspired by these adventurous itineraries from USTOA members…


Perillo’s Learning Journeys offers an otherworldly journey to some of the most sacred sites in the Hindu religion on its India Himalayan Spiritual Adventure-Source of The Ganges. Travelers will trek through the Himalayas on a quest to Gomukh at the Gangotri glacier, the source of The Holy River Ganges. Daily morning yoga sessions and a pilgrimage to the Badrinath Temple also await guests on this itinerary. Starting at $2,850 per person, this 17-day spiritual journey is available in May, June and September 2017.

Perillo's Learning Journey India Himalayan Spiritual Adventure-Source of The Ganges

Guests climb high into the Costa Rican forest for their choice of a “Hanging Bridges” tour or a zip line course during Collette’s nine-day Tropical Costa Rica trip. Also available is the chance to explore the world’s largest butterfly gardens and participate in a nature walk through the Monteverde Cloud Forest surrounded by trees up to 100 feet tall. This South American adventure is available on select dates June-November, 2017 from $1,749 per person.

Travelers on Grand American Adventures’ Alaskan Highlights itinerary will discover some of Alaska’s most enchanting destinations including Denali National Park and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Guests also will participate in a guided wildlife cruise through Kenali Fjords National Park and can see a dog sledding demonstration and the Talkeetna Ranger Station to perhaps taste a local specialty, reindeer sausage. Available on select dates in June-August 2017, this 11-day trip starts at $2,807 (after 10% discount).

Grand American Adventures’ Alaskan Highlights

Adventure seekers can head east for Wendy Wu Tours’ China Trailblazer itinerary. On this expansive 21-day trip, guests will hike along the Jinshanling Section of the Great Wall of China and through the picturesque Bifeng Gorge to visit the Duijangyan Panda Base. Additionally, travelers will come face to face with the infamous Terracotta Warriors and enjoy daily Tai Chi sessions. Available for select departures in April, May, September and October starting at $5,590 per person.

Why drive through the Irish countryside when you can cycle through the incredible landscape on VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations’ Cycling Ireland’s South: Counties Waterford and Tipperary? This easy/moderate biking journey immerses travelers in the spectacular cycling routes around Dungarvan Bay and along quiet country roads through quaint villages. Travelers can save $400 per person on the June 3 departure of this 10-day itinerary. Additional departures May to October 2017 starting at $3,395, including international airfare.

VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations’ Cycling Ireland's South: Counties Waterford and Tipperary

Discover the adventure of Botswana like never before during Abercrombie & Kent’s Botswana Safari in Style. During this luxury safari guests will cruise along the Okavango Delta in a traditional mokoro (dugout canoe), observing aquatic life from massive hippos to tiny frogs. Travelers will stay in intimate camps and lodges and get tips on capturing images of the “Big Five” during a private lecture from a professional photographer. Available on select departure dates throughout 2017, rates start at $6,995 per person.

Adventurous travelers can explore the winter wonderland of Finland on Alexander+Roberts’ Finland’s Lapland – Winter Adventures in the Arctic Circle trip. Guests will spend four nights above the Arctic Circle in a private log cabin with attached glass igloo, enjoying outdoor activities such as dog-sledding, nighttime reindeer sleigh rides, and snowmobiling in search of the Northern Lights. Starting at $5,899 per person, the itinerary is available from October 30, 2017 to March 28, 2018.

Alexander + Roberts Finland’s Lapland – Winter Adventures in the Arctic Circle

Avanti Destinations’ five-day Croatia: Split Adventure excursion offers travelers the chance to explore the city of Split through exhilarating activities such as sea kayaking, river rafting and zip lining tours. Available to book now through September 15, 2017 for travel from May 1 to October 15, 2017. Rates start at $845 per person, based on double occupancy.

Avanti Destinations’ Croatia: Split Adventure excursion

Escape the summer heat on Holland America Line’s 10-day Denali Alaskan cruise. Experience salmon fishing along the Alaskan port of Ketchikan, be enraptured by the sights of Denali National Park, cruise Glacier Bay’s ice-studded fjords, and more. Available on select dates from May to September 2017, rates start at $999 per person.

Chase the Northern Lights by husky sled, reindeer safari or horse sleigh ride on Europe Express’ action-packed Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort Winter Escape. For four nights, guests will ski, snowshoe or sled through snowy forests and stay in a glass igloo for Aurora Borealis spotting. Available from November 2017 through April 2018, prices start at $1,599 per person.

Europe Express’ Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort Winter Escape

Traverse to the summit of Africa’s tallest mountain on Goway’s seven-day Kilimanjaro Climb – Marangu Route expedition. The journey features treks through the rainforest and awe-inspiring views of waterfalls before the final ascent to Uhuru Peak. During the demanding climb, trekkers will stay in dormitory style huts scaling almost 20,000-feet. Available throughout 2017, prices start from $2,155 per person.

Discover Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand on two wheels with Intrepid Travel’s Cycle Indochina 13-day itinerary. On this trip through Indochina, riders will cycle 37 miles each day along sites such as the Mekong Delta and Khun Dan Dam, Thailand’s largest dam. Available on various dates from April to July 2017, rates start at $2,230 per person.

Intrepid Travel’s Cycle Indochina

Explore the remote country of Greenland by water on Quark Expedition’s East Greenland: Northern Lights 14-day itinerary. Guests have the opportunity to visit Northeast Greenland National Park and either hike through the Arctic tundra or journey Greenland’s waters via kayak. Prices start at $8,395 per person. An additional discount of up to $3,500 per person is available on the August 16, 2017 departure.

Quark Expedition’s East Greenland: Northern Lights

Families looking to spend quality time together are invited to experience Austin Adventures’ six-day Yellowstone Grand Teton Family Vacation Trip Solar Eclipse Departure. The trip includes views of the solar eclipse, whitewater rafting down the Snake River, a visit to Old Faithful, and a dip in a secret swimming hole. Families will also get the chance to spot a variety of wildlife, including moose and bald eagles. This special departure is available August 20, 2017 and rates start at $3,098 per adult and up to $2,788 per child.

Austin Adventures’ Yellowstone Grand Teton Family Vacation Trip Solar Eclipse Departure

Head south during Adventures by Disney’s 10-day South Africa Destination package. This African adventure gives families a chance to take a three-day safari through the Kapama Game Reserve, hike in the Featherbed Nature Reserve, and more. Guests can also see African penguins at the Cape of Good Hope. Departure dates are available from June 10, 2017 to December 23, 2017. Prices start at $8,679 per adult and $8,249 per child.

Adventures by Disney’s South Africa Destination

Travelers looking for Canadian adventure can find it on Tauck’s Bugaboos Adventure Featuring Heli-Exploring. Invented in the Canadian Rockies by Arthur Tauck Jr., Heli-Exploring brings guests by helicopter to Bugaboo Lodge, high in the Purcell Mountains in British Columbia to participate in daily helicopter-assisted hiking excursions. Passengers also will discover the town of Banff and Lake Louise in Alberta. Departures are available in July and August 2017 from $5,990 per person based on double occupancy plus airfare.


Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.

By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA


As our neighbors to the north celebrate their nation’s sesquicentennial anniversary, there’s no better way to join the festivities than a trip to see Canada’s inspiring landscapes, vibrant cities, native cultures and much more. To honor this historic milestone, the members of USTOA are offering new Canadian itineraries and special savings throughout 2017.

From a thrilling Ice Explorer ride on the 1,000-foot-deep Columbia Icefield to whale watching in New Brunswick, below are a sample of itineraries from USTOA tour operator members in celebration of Canada’s anniversary. Find your dream vacation now.

Go Ahead honors Canada’s 150th anniversary with $250 off any Go Ahead tour through Canada departing in 2017 with promo code CA2017. From a journey on the Rocky Mountaineer railway to exploring the natural wonders of Canada’s epic national parks, Go Ahead Canadian itineraries give clients the chance to choose the best Canadian trip for them. Available from February, 1-March 31, this offer cannot be combined with other offers or group discounts.

Travelers looking for Canadian adventure can find it on Tauck’s Bugaboos Adventure Featuring Heli-Exploring. Invented in the Canadian Rockies by Arthur Tauck Jr., Heli-Exploring brings guests by helicopter to Bugaboo Lodge, high in the Purcell Mountains in British Columbia to participate in daily helicopter-assisted hiking excursions. Passengers also will discover the town of Banff and Lake Louise in Alberta. Departures are available in July and August 2017 from $5,990 per person based on double occupancy plus airfare.

Canada's 150th - Tauck

Guests on Travcoa’s Uncharted Canada itinerary can celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary by private air discovering eight Canadian cities across four provinces. Travelers help create their ideal trip with flexible daily options like the search for artic wildlife in Churchill, Manitoba, horseback riding or a thrilling river-rafting adventure in Lake Louise, Alberta, and a journey up the Orford River in British Columbia lead by a First Nations guide. This luxurious 15-day trip is available August 11-25, 2017 from $59,950 per person based on double occupancy.

smarTours’ 11-day Canadian Rockies & Badlands itinerary visits some of Canada’s famed natural wonders including two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Canadian Badlands, and Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta. Travelers will celebrate the adventurous side of Canada with a journey aboard the snow coach to explore the Columbia Icefields also in Banff. This Canadian journey begins at $2,399 per person and is available May-September 2017.

Guests journey 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle on Quark Expeditions’ Artic Watch Wilderness Lodge expedition. Book before April 30, 2017 and receive a savings of $1,000 on eight-day trips, and $1,500 on 10-day trips for departures from June 2018 to September 2018. With 24 hours of daylight, travelers have abundant time to spot artic wildlife like musk ox, polar bears and beluga whales. Available from June 30, 2017 to August 3, 2018.

Canada's 150th - Quark Expeditions

Adventures by Disney invites active travelers to uncover adventure during its Montana and Alberta, Canada itinerary. This seven-day trip includes canoeing at Moraine Lake, biking along the Bow River, Banff Gondola visit and a Glacier Skywalk excursion. Departures dates from June 26 to August 9, 2017 start at $4,509 for adults and $4,289 for children.

Canada's 150th - Adventures by Disney

Discover the Canadian Rockies during Insight Luxury Gold Vacations’ Majesty of the Rockies with Alaskan Cruise. Travelers have a choice of 14 or 21 days of relaxation along Western Canada and Alaska, by road, rail and sea. Guests will cruise through glacial waters and embark on one of the world’s most romantic train journeys on the Rocky Mountaineer. Prices from $4,875 per person, and is available in May 2017 and September 2017.

In honor of Canada’s milestone, Country Walkers has launched a new guided walking experience, New Brunswick: Bay of Fundy & Campobello Island. Travelers participate in a private whale watch, explore the summer home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and enjoy a walking route beside the village of St. Martins determined by the tides. This new itinerary is available in June, July and September 2017 from $3,298 per person.

Pleasant Holidays is celebrating with savings on stays at The Westin Bayshore in Vancouver. Guests can visit this diverse metropolis and save up to $100 off a five-night stay, up to $75 off a four-night stay, and up to $50 off a two to three-night stay. To save, travelers can book by March 26, 2017 for travel through July 31, 2017.

Travelers can hike, bike, paddle and dine their way through Whistler, British Columbia on Austin Adventures’ six-day British Columbia-Whistler itinerary. Throughout this active trip, guests can participate in their own Biathlon at the site of the 2010 Olympic Games, shooting at Olympic targets, swim at the base of Matier Glacier and more. This western Canadian adventure is available June and September 2017 starting at $2,898 per person.

Guests on Alexander + Roberts’ Canada by Land, Water + Rail: The Pacific to the Rockies itinerary begin their journey in the Pacific port of Prince Rupert before boarding the VIA Rail Canada for a two-day all daylight trip into the Canadian Rockies. Travelers then uncover the wildlife of Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Parks. This nine-day trip is available in July and August 2017 from $4,799 per person.

Canada's - Alexander+Roberts

Travelers can discover the natural and historic wonders of Quebec on Collette’s Charming French Canada itinerary. Guests will stay at the luxurious European style hotels Fairmont Chateau Frontenac and Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu in the Charlevoix region and tour Montreal by coach. Also included in this French-Canadian adventure is a trip to a local sugar shack to see how maple syrup is made and a ferry ride to a 19th century mill on an island in the St. Lawrence River. Available June-August 2017 from $2,499 per person.

Cosmos invites travelers to sit back and enjoy the view on its nine-day Via Rail and the Canadian Rockies trip. Highlights from this scenic itinerary include stops at Lake Louise, the Columbia Icefield, and the Butchart Gardens, which features 55 acres of floral displays. This western Canada tour is available on various dates May-September 2017 starting at $1,986 per person.

Globus is offering travelers a 5% savings on all Canada Vacations until April 25th, 2017* including the 13-day Great Canadian Rail Journey from Toronto to Vancouver. Guests will travel across Canada on the historic railroad stopping to enjoy excursions to Niagara Falls, Maligne Lake, a cruise to Spirit Island and more. This expansive journey through Canada starts at $4,051 per person (land only) and is available various dates in June, July, August and September. *Some restrictions apply, see website for more details.

Canada 150 - Globus

ACIS America together with Visit Canada have created a new line of educational travel options in time for Canada’s 150th anniversary including three- and four-day trips to Toronto and Niagara Falls, Quebec City and Montreal. ACIS America is also offering a free trip for two teachers when a minimum of 20 students sign up, and for every additional ten students, one teacher will receive a free trip.

What are you waiting for? Click here and plan your dream vacation now!


Editor’s Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.

By John Newton, AFAR Ambassador

I want to come clean about something, even at the risk of making USTOA somewhat uncomfortable. When AFAR first contacted me to find out if I would be interested in traveling to the Canadian Rockies on a tour with Collette, part of me was enthusiastic. I’d have the chance to see a province I’d never visited, Alberta, and its world-famous and UNESCO-recognized parks: Jasper and Banff. Another part of me thought, “huh, a tour?” I had images of being shepherded around with a group of camera-toting tourists and seeing the grandeur of the Rockies only from behind the windows of a bus. My experience traveling with tours has been limited to occasional day trips or walking tours except for one trip to Morocco almost two decades ago. Until this winter, and my Collette trip, I thought of tours as being only for people incapable of deciphering bus schedules and finding the best local restaurants on their own. A tour was, I dismissively believed, not for “real” travelers.

Collette's Canada Winter Wonderland

The Collette Winter Wonderland trip began to shake my preconceptions on the first morning. Our exploration of Edmonton, Alberta’s capital, began with a visit to the provincial legislature. It wasn’t open to visitors that morning, but Daniel, our guide, was able to use his connections to get us in for a private tour. The exclusive access was an obvious perk of traveling with Collette, but the tour itself was a surprise. On my own, I would have admired the chandeliers and regimental flags in the grandiose early 20th-century building, but with Collette, I found that my fellow travelers were seriously interested in discussing the history of the Alberta Social Credit Party (look it up on Wikipedia) and why most U.S. states have bicameral legislatures while most Canadian provinces have unicameral ones. If I needed more evidence that I was traveling with a bunch of fellow nerds, I also met Charlotte that morning. This German-born professor of nuclear physics from the University of Ohio would later that day be able to explain the uncertainty principle to me in a way that I finally understood it and its significance—a bonus of this trip that was not mentioned in any of the Collette descriptions of the itinerary.

Provincial Legislature Collette's Canada's Winter Wonderland

The provincial legislature was only the first of a number of activities on the Collette trip that I would not have experienced had I been traveling solo. Yes, theoretically individual travelers can sign up to go snow-shoeing and dog-sledding, locating outfitters and making arrangements, but I know that if I had been traveling on my own, I’d first have to figure out how to get from Edmonton to Jasper and then on to Lake Louise, Banff, and finally Calgary. Before searching out activities and sights, I’d need to plan where to sleep each night and eat each meal. And there were cultural highlights I would never have even known to ask about, like a talk by a jeweler about ammolite, a gemstone unique to the Canadian Rockies that I had never heard of before this trip.

Ammolite Collette's Canada Winter Wonderland

Charlotte was not the only person in our group who made this trip surprisingly rewarding for me. Without getting into my politics, Barbara, a Methodist minister also from Ohio, and I bonded over our similar views while snow-shoeing, while Ben, a farmer from southern Georgia, and I got into a sometimes heated but always friendly discussion, while savoring Alberta bison at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. (This trip fell over the week that included the inauguration and march on Washington, so politics were hard to avoid.) It’s frequent these days to bemoan how isolated many of us are in our bubbles, and Collette drew me out of mine for a week. I knew that I would come back having seen a part of the world, Alberta, that I had never been to before. I didn’t realize I would also become friends with other Americans from places in the country far from my home in Brooklyn. Now not only are other guided tours on my must-do list, but places from Sandusky, Ohio to Hiram, Georgia and new friends in those places are on my must-visit list too.

John Newton and friends on Ammolite Collette's Canada Winter Wonderland

Interested in learning more about John’s journey? Read more about it on, the USTOA blog and check out Collette’s Canada’s Winter Wonderland itinerary.

John has almost 20 years’ experience in travel, both on staff at Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure and writing for other magazines, newspapers, and websites. He is AFAR’s Branded Content Advisor and the founder of Signal Custom Content, a travel branded content consulting company. His 2016 plans include Ireland, Manitoba, Japan, Netherlands, and California.

By John Newton, AFAR Ambassador

Collette's Canada Winter Wonderland

In almost 20 years of working as a travel writer and editor, I’ve often been reminded that a good strategy for experiencing any destination like a local is to visit in the off-season. Paris in July is wonderful, no doubt, but there’s also something appealing about it in November, when the museums and restaurants are less crowded; waiters and shopkeepers are less harried and have more time to stop and chat. It is part of why I jumped at the chance to join the Collette Winter Wonderland trip to the Canadian Rockies in January. While I know that Banff and Jasper Park in the summer must be unbelievably stunning (they are in the winter too), I’ve also heard that along with long summer days come long queues of buses and tourists outnumbering the bears. Here are six lessons in traveling like a local from this trip which I intend to practice on my next one too.

1)     Let a Local Be Your Guide. While the guide on this Collette trip, Daniel Boghen, is Canadian he isn’t from Alberta itself (he’s from Montreal). But having repeatedly led trips in the Canadian Rockies, he knows all the right people. He was able to arrange experiences that aren’t available to most travelers, like an off-hours visit to the Alberta provincial legislature, and knew the best places to stop for postcard perfect shots along the Icefields Parkway.

2)     Opt for Local Transportation. Traveling by train or bus is often a better way to experience a destination the way residents do than exploring in your own rental car. In Alberta in the winter, traveling like a local means putting on a pair of snowshoes or hopping in a dog sled. A snowshoe walk through the woods on this Collette trip was a chance to experience Jasper National Park in all its majesty without any crowds.

Dog Sledding on Collette's Canada's Winter Wonderland

3)     Do Your Homework. Having some context for the sights you see makes every trip richer, and I try to make time to read a history of any country I’m visiting, as well as fiction by one of its leading writers. Daniel made the homework part of traveling easier, providing us with printouts on the geology of the Rockies and explaining, in his lively way, aspects of Canada’s culture and history.

4)     Try Local Foods. From Nanaimo bars (a custard bar with a chocolate base) at the Bear’s Paw Bakery in Jasper to Alberta bison at the elegant Fairview at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, the trip offered a number of opportunities to try local specialties. Sample them, though you may want to beware of eating too many maple candies and desserts unless you follow them with some cross-country skiing or a glacier hike.

5)     Join the Party. Alberta’s winter calendar is crowded with events to help residents get through the cold days till spring returns. Visitors are definitely welcome and our trip coincided with Banff’s SnowDays, complete with illuminated ice sculptures including a castle that served as the entrance to an ice-skating rink on frozen Lake Louise.

Ice Sculpture Collette's Canada's Winter Wonderland

6)     Get Up Close with the Locals. In winter, you won’t be able to see one of the Rockies’ most famous residents, its bears (as they are hibernating), but it becomes easier to spot many other animals—elk, foxes, wolves, mountain sheep, and mountain goats among them—thanks to the white backdrop of snow. Just remember to keep a respectful distance.

Elk Collette's Canada's Winter Wonderland

Interested in learning more about John’s journey? Read more about it on, the USTOA blog and check out Collette’s Canada’s Winter Wonderland itinerary.

John has almost 20 years’ experience in travel, both on staff at Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure and writing for other magazines, newspapers, and websites. He is AFAR’s Branded Content Advisor and the founder of Signal Custom Content, a travel branded content consulting company. His 2016 plans include Ireland, Manitoba, Japan, Netherlands, and California.

By Terry Dale, President and CEO, USTOA


Today’s travelers want more than to just see a destination and check the major attractions off their bucket list. They want an intimate look at authentic experiences off the beaten path.

From a river cruise around “The Golden Land” of Myanmar, to wading in the geothermal waters of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, members of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) reported Cuba, Iceland, Croatia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Myanmar, Iran, Africa (South Africa and Morocco), Cambodia and India as the top emerging destinations for 2017 in a survey released by PriceWaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) in December. Here are a few sample itineraries to peak your wanderlust for these fascinating countries:

Cuba (Credit: Brandon Widener)

Cuba (Credit: Brandon Widener)

CubaAlexander + Roberts“Classic Cuba” itinerary is an exploration of this year’s top emerging destination. Island visitors will visit Ernest Hemingway’s home where he lived and wrote for almost 20 years, browse Cuba’s vibrant local markets and learn about Old Havana’s architectural history, Afro-Cuban art, and music. Guests can enjoy this seven-night trip from $5,595 throughout 2017.

Sri Lanka – Guests on Trafalgar’s “Wonders of Sri Lanka” journey will visit some of the country’s most enchanting sites like the Temple of Tooth and Udawalwe National Park, as well as a train trip to Sri Lanka’s tea country to learn the art of tea tasting. This trip also provides travelers with insider moments like dance lessons in the village of Habarana and lunch at a family home in the village of Katugastota. Beginning in April 2017, this 11-day trip is available throughout 2017 with prices from $2,385 per person.

Iceland – Travelers on Contiki’s “Iceland” trip will discover Iceland’s Nordic landscape and explore the vibrant capital city of Reykjavik. The four-day itinerary includes a stop at Iceland’s famed Blue Lagoon and a search for the Northern Lights. Available throughout 2017 with prices from $875 per person.

Myanmar – Avalon Waterways’ “Golden Myanmar & The Alluring Irrawaddy” itinerary is offered northbound or southbound along the Irrawaddy River and includes walking tours through local villages. Among other activities, guests will visit a monastery where they can offer alms to the monks and witness their lunch ritual. This captivating 14-day river cruise is available throughout 2017 and into 2018 from $3,659 per person.

To find your dream vacation, click here.

Sri Lanka (Credit: Trafalgar)

Sri Lanka (Credit: Trafalgar)

Note: Information was correct at time of writing. All tours/packages subject to availability. Prices may vary from time of writing, based on currency fluctuations.

A version of this post originally ran in the February 2017 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.


Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, features larger-than-life luxury and exotic desert landscapes. Join Modern Day Explorer Max Aly as he scouts local activities and inclusions for itineraries from SITA World Tours to Abu Dhabi.


USTOA Modern Day Explorers: Adventure Awaits in Abu Dhabi

Adventure awaits you in Rub al Khali, one of the largest deserts in the world. Go camel riding, fat biking and dune bashing with  Modern Day Explorer Max Aly of USTOA tour operator member SITA World Tours and discover his expert tips for exploring this incredible destination.


USTOA Modern Day Explorers: Discover Luxury in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi redefines the concept of luxury with fabulous hotels, elegant restaurants and splendid shopping. Go behind the scenes with USTOA’s Modern Day Explorer Max Aly and discover the luxurious accommodations and experiences available to SITA World Tours guests.


USTOA Modern Day Explorers: Explore the Desert Culture of Abu Dhabi

Ancient traditions and modern luxury coexist in perfect harmony in Abu Dhabi. Get an insider look at the culture that awaits you in this modern metropolis with Modern Day Explorer Max Aly as he scouts experiences and inclusions for itineraries from USTOA tour operator member SITA World Tours.


Interested in learning more about Max’s journey to Abu Dhabi? Go behind-the-scenes with him as he uncovers a modern metropolis with desert flavor.

Ready to visit? Visit here for details on traveling to Abu Dhabi with SITA World Tours.

Max joined SITA in 1993 & has worked in various capacities from sales to operations to product development. Possessing a vast range of experience in the field of tourism, he is ideally suited to serve as SITA’s ambassador in the Modern Day Explorer role. Max started his career in tourism in India as a tour guide and has since traveled widely throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, North & South America and the South Pacific. His destination knowledge is of immense value not only to the organization but also to many of the clients whom he comes in contact with.

Discover more destinations with our team of Modern Day Explorers here.

By Max Aly, Director of Group Operations, SITA World Tours


Behind every great tour experience is a phenomenal product manager – these “Modern Day Explorers” scout undiscovered experiences in new, emerging destinations, rediscover what’s new in beloved places, and get to know the community with the single goal to design enriching itineraries for you to book.

How do these explorers find the most memorable, culturally rich experiences you ask? Well, USTOA is taking you behind-the-scenes with a handful of these Modern Day Explorers to find out. Today Max Aly of SITA World Tours reveals his experience in Abu Dhabi. So, in his words… 

Modern Day Explorer Max Aly of SITA World Tours

Modern Day Explorer Max Aly of SITA World Tours

Though I had often connected through the Abu Dhabi airport and enjoyed a bird’s eye view of this desert Emirate while landing and taking off, I had never actually set foot outside of the airport. I was therefore intrigued and excited when USTOA, on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, approached SITA World Tours with the opportunity of exploring this fascinating destination. From the moment I landed until I left five days later, the experience left me wondering why I had waited this long to grasp what turned out to be an incredible desert adventure.

Abu Dhabi is absolutely captivating. With its fabulous architecture, luxurious accommodations, fine dining and myriad attractions wrapped in warm Arab hospitality, it defines the very nature of tourism at its best. Abu Dhabi is not only the political, but also the cultural capital of the United Arab Emirates and host to the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, World Cup Sailing and other leading international events relating to art, music and sports. Very soon it will be home to the Louvre and Guggenheim Museums, as well – they are expected to open later this year.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

I am at a loss to describe my feelings upon beholding the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. To say I was overawed would be an understatement. It is a poem in white marble with delicately inlaid floral patterns created from multicolored semi-precious stones. The interior of the mosque is equal to the exterior. The sheer size is overwhelming and all of the superlatives applied to describe this magnificent edifice are completely justified. It must be seen to be believed.

I was afforded a personal tour of the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital by the incredibly charming and accomplished Dr. Margit Muller, director of the facility. To most citizens of the Arabian Desert, the falcon is like family and an integral part of their cultural heritage. This is exemplified by the care and attention that is lavished on these birds here at the most advanced and sophisticated falcon care institution in the world. Falconry and falcons are held in such high esteem in the Arab world that each individual bird merits his or her own passport to facilitate travel.

Ferrari World

Ferrari World

Abu Dhabi is truly a family friendly destination. There are countless activities for children… as well as the inner child in most adults. For example, the Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World, leaves one breathless with excitement. For those wishing to dispense less adrenaline, there are more sedate activities to be pursued as well. The Abu Dhabi Pearl journey, where you can pull out your own pearl from a freshly harvested oyster, a visit to the Emirates Zoo, the Heritage Village, Yas Waterworld and an umpteen number of beautiful beaches and marinas to relax and soak in the ever shining sun. The beautiful Abu Dhabi Corniche is a promenade, a place to see and be seen.

Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara

Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara

Leaving the gleaming metropolis behind me, I headed out into the vast desert with my guide Amaan. The Rub Al Khali, which literally translates to ‘The Empty Quarter,’ certainly lives up to its name. The silence is deafening and the tall sand dunes, stunning. We drove for miles and miles until we reached the resort oasis of Qasr Al Sarab, an amazing property located in the very heart of the desert wilderness. Managed by the Anantara group, this hotel captures the desert romance and tastefully blends it with all the modern luxury a discerning traveler appreciates. Desert adventures awaited me at the Qasr Al Sarab. We went dune bashing in specially equipped 4WD vehicles, ascending steep dunes and descending gut-wrenching drops. The camel ride that followed calmed me down after this exhilarating adventure. The camel, also known as the Ship of the Desert, serves the desert dwellers in multiple ways and is among their most precious possessions. Later in the evening a banquet under the desert sky left me with the surreal feeling of living the Arabian Nights. The sky was a riot of stars and constellations. Having witnessed a fast fading sunset, I rose before the sun in order to witness a glowing desert sunrise from atop a dune, enveloped in peace and tranquility.

The Emirates Palace

The Emirates Palace

Abu Dhabi redefines luxury! In order to soak in as many experiences as possible in the short span of time, I stayed at a different hotel each night. The Emirates Palace qualifies as a tourist attraction in its own right. The central cupola of the hotel is as high as St. Peter’s basilica and was decorated using 39 tons of gold. A gold cappuccino is served in a cafe close by. The Bab Al Qasr, the Rosewood, the Dusit Thani and the Crowne Plaza on Yas Island are among the many luxury hotels that are recommended in Abu Dhabi. The city also abounds in Michelin starred restaurants featuring every conceivable cuisine. The Sunday brunch at the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers is to die for. The street food is equally delicious and there is something tasty to match every purse. For the shopaholic, Abu Dhabi is a veritable paradise. Apart from the trend setting malls and the bazaars, exceptional bargains are to be found regardless of what one seeks to buy or browse.

As a Modern Day Explorer I am completely sold on Abu Dhabi – a modern metropolis with a desert flavor – and welcome all travelers to call SITA World Tours so we can make your experience equally rewarding!

Interested in learning more about Max’s journey to Abu Dhabi? Go behind-the-scenes with him in our video series, A Modern Day Explorer’s Quest to Abu Dhabi, launching later this month here.

Ready to visit? Visit here for details on traveling to Abu Dhabi with SITA World Tours.

Max joined SITA in 1993 & has worked in various capacities from sales to operations to product development. Possessing a vast range of experience in the field of tourism, he is ideally suited to serve as SITA’s ambassador in the Modern Day Explorer role. Max started his career in tourism in India as a tour guide and has since traveled widely throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, North & South America and the South Pacific. His destination knowledge is of immense value not only to the organization but also to many of the clients whom he comes in contact with.

Discover more destinations with our team of Modern Day Explorers here.

By Megan Murphy, AFAR Ambassador

Photo by Megan Murphy

This October, Contiki set off on a high-energy Western Highlights tour through Southern California, Arizona, the Grand Canyon, and Las Vegas. Our crew of 55 young adventurers flew in from all over the world—Australia, New Zealand, England, Germany, Japan, and a couple from the Eastern United States—to experience the best of the nation’s west coast. Some traveled with groups or as couples, but the majority arrived solo, eager to make new friends and embark on the adventure of a lifetime with #NoRegrets. If non-stop action and excitement is what you crave, this tour delivers.

One of the greatest draws of Contiki? The optional excursions offered at each destination along the way, allowing you to tailor the trip based on your individual interests. Though plenty of fun-filled memories were made during our 8 days together, here are my top picks from our epic expedition.

Speed Boating in San Diego

After kicking off in Los Angeles (hitting silver screen sights and landmarks along the way), and soaking up the sun at Cali’s beautiful beaches, the stunning city of San Diego was on the agenda. Here, we got to play captain by driving our very own boats with Speed Boat Adventures, zipping around the harbor at high speeds while taking in sights of the downtown skyline, historic maritime ships, over-the-top yachts, and even sea lions.

Speed boating, Photo by Megan Murphy

Up in the Arizona Air

If you’ve never been in a hot air balloon before, I’d highly recommend it. An early morning ride with Hot Air Expeditions in Phoenix delivered the rush of soaring at heights of up to 5,000 feet over the expansive Sonoran Desert. After floating through the dry desert air (at multiple speeds based on wind patterns) for an hour, our flight concluded with a Champagne breakfast upon landing. Cheers to that!

Hot Air Ballooning by Megan Murphy

Hot Air Balloon by Megan Murphy

Rocky (Off) Road-ing

In Sedona, an artsy mountain town with incredible views of the massive, brightly-hued red rocks, we saddled up in open-air 4×4 Jeeps for a “Canyons & Cowboys” off-road adventure with Red Rock Jeep Tours. Our spirited guide, Wendy, greeted us with a full cowgirl getup (complete with spurs!) and a huge smile as she grabbed the wheel and navigated through the rough, rugged and rocky terrain; at times I was certain the Jeep would topple over. I was wrong.

We trekked along through the heart of historic Dry Creek Basin and the seven surrounding canyons, as Wendy enthusiastically told us tales of murder and moonshine and the early cowboy days at the old Van Derin cabin, where we stopped to snap a group pic and enjoy exceptional views.

Jeep tour, photo by Megan Murphy

Jeep Tours by Megan Murphy

Hikes & Helicopters in the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is like no other place the the world; a natural wonder that every American should try to see in their life. In my experience, nothing has compared to the body-encompassing feeling that takes over you when peering out into the vast desert below: the gigantic peaks and deep valleys, the spectrum of rich colors, the layers of igneous rock formations.

After stocking up on the necessities—sunblock, snacks and lots of water—we spent an afternoon hiking the canyon’s south rim down a steep, winding and quite narrow-at-times trail that provided endless photo ops. Others in our group saw breathtaking panoramic views from above, with a heart-pounding helicopter ride over the Kaibab National Forest and into the deepest and widest part of the canyon. Experience of a lifetime.

Grand Canyon by Megan Murphy

Grand Canyon View by Megan Murphy

Grand Canyon with Megan Murphy

Our journey ended with a bang: two outrageous days in Vegas—complete with a glitzy nighttime tour of bustling Fremont Street, Cirque Du Soleil show, music- and Champagne-filled limo rides around the Strip, VIP nightclub entry, dancing ’til dawn and all the debauchery you can get into in Sin City. Need I say more? Viva Las Vegas, baby!

Overall, I was impressed with the amount of opportunities for adventure on Western Highlights. Our rockstar guide, Christy, was knowledgable, friendly and fun—and always provided nightlife options for anyone looking to party. Trust me, there was no shortage of a good time on this tour. Even the road trips between destinations were amusing thanks to our lively coach driver/deejay, HB, who blasted upbeat tunes while cruisin’.

There was plenty of downtime and opportunities to relax during our journey, as well. But of the many memories made during the trip, it’s the once-in-a-lifetime thrills and the people I “got loose with” (as the Aussies say) that I’ll remember forever.


Interested in learning more about Megans journey? Read more about it on, the USTOA blog and check out Contiki’s Western Highlights tour.

An adventure lover at heart, Megan is a food, travel and lifestyle writer based in NYC. She has contributed to AFAR, Bon Appétit, Clean Plates, Eater, Food & Wine, The Daily Meal, Thrillist and Travel + Leisure, and runs her own website. Megan is happiest when embarking on new travel and dining experiences with her beloved family and friends, and her adorable dog, Cooper.