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LONDON (Billboard) - Dedicated rock fans have long made vacations out of following their favorite bands on the road. Now European classical fans are booking entire holidays around their chosen genre.
Travel industry executives say that growing numbers of classical fans are exchanging beaches for Berlioz and Bizet, with classical music festival organizers and venues benefiting from increased bookings.
John Whibley, who organizes classical music tours through his U.K.-based John Whibley "Holidays With Music" agency, says such trips are becoming increasingly popular among members of his target demographic -- "comfortably off" tourists over the age of 50.
"People like spending time with those who share a common interest," Whibley says. "Friendships are made on holiday, and clients return to see their friends."
In the last 10 years, more than half of Whibley's 1,200-strong client base has taken more than one tour with his firm, with 140 people booking seven or more trips, he says. Whibley runs about 25 high-end tours per year to classical music festivals or events. They range from 775 pounds ($1,130) for a four-night trip to the United Kingdom's Buxton Festival (including four operas, meals and sightseeing) to 1,875 pounds ($2,737) for a six-night trip to the Haydn Festival in Eisenstadt, Germany, which includes four-star hotel accommodations and nightly concerts by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra.
Concert venues welcome the guaranteed ticket sales that such tours bring.
"We work together with more than 300 travel agencies and have a very close marketing relationship with (tourist organization) Berlin Tourismus Marketing," says Berlin State Opera head of marketing Sabine Turner. "A third of our audience comes from outside of the city, and this is seeing an upward trend."
Most classical music tour operators don't have formal business relationships with venues or festival promoters, preferring to book tickets on an ad hoc basis.
"Not many (travel operators) want to meet our 15 percent deposit conditions on tickets. Most prefer to reserve them and pay nearer the time," says Kim Gaynor, managing director of Switzerland's Verbier Festival, one of Whibley's touring destinations.
Gaynor suggests that the Verbier fest itself could soon compete for some of the same tour business.
"Running bespoke packages is something the festival would like to do in the future," she says. "It's a great way of increasing attendance."
But despite their relatively high prices, classical music tours are often less profitable than mainstream tours, according to Nigel Hosking, senior product manager at the U.K. tour operator Cox & Kings.
"You have to pay (for) an expert, musicians and excursions," he says. "We accept that we don't make much profit on them."
Still, Australian classical musician Vivienne Pittendrigh, who founded Chamber Music Holidays and Festivals in 1982, says classical music tour operators like herself are proving to be a growing niche. Her agency, which has offices on the Greek island of Corfu and in Bournemouth, England, averages about 78 bookings per year, up from an initial annual average of 20 customers.
Tour operators also cut deals directly with individual artists and chamber groups. Pittendrigh books musicians for her own events, such as the Divertimenti in Corfu, while Whibley hires musicians for some of his tours.
Organist/singer Peter Medhurst works with Cox & Kings as a specialist tour guide and musical performer. He leads tours to Vienna and Salzburg, Austria, performing organ and vocal recitals for tour groups.
"It creates goodwill all 'round," Medhurst says. "If you're taking a party of 35 to a venue, that's a chunk of seats filled immediately, and these audiences are also likely to get to know the artist and follow them."