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THE SAVVY TRAVELER

As You Like It--Trips Geared to Single Interests : Trends: In the fast-growing field of specialty travel, there are tours for, among others, recovering alcoholics, baseball fans, women seeking husbands and gay tourists.

June 02, 1991|PETER S. GREENBERG

How about a trip to watch the moss grow on Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo?

Or a trip across the Arctic on board a nuclear-powered Soviet icebreaker?

Or a leisurely sightseeing tour of Scud missile damage in Israel?

What about a journey with 200 other women to meet single, available men in Australia, Ireland or Paris?

How about a voyage to Tahiti to watch sharks feed off the coast of Bora-Bora?

Welcome to the growing and brave new world of specialty travel--trips, books and travel services--designed to serve special new segments of the travel market. These segments include Vietnam veterans with the urge to return to the battlefield, recovering alcoholics looking for a sober vacation, busy executives looking for the ultimate danger trip, and gays and lesbians hoping to travel without the threat of harassment.

Specialty travel is a different type of adventure travel. It doesn't necessarily mean a strenuous trip. Instead, it can often mean trips to certain destinations for no other reason than that they are there . . . and you want to be first.

For the die-hard baseball fan, a Hatfield, Mass., company called Sports Tours has organized a four-day "Ultimate Road Trip." Starting at $575 per person, the company takes fans to a different major league ballgame in a different city for four or five days. The deal includes seats at the games, air-fare/motor-coach costs to each game, as well as a room at the visiting team's hotel in each city.

During the recent war in the Persian Gulf, one enterprising tour operator marketed a very different kind of "sightseeing" tour. Isram Travel, a New York-based tour operator, offered a "life-seeing" tour to Israel, visiting Patriot missile sites and military bases, as well as areas damaged by Iraqi Scud missiles. The cost of the six-day tour: $1,157 from New York, which included air fare, hotels and breakfasts. Gas masks were extra.

For those who missed the Gulf War but are still looking to experience a sense of danger, a New York company called Adventures in Paradise offers 20 different tours of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. One itinerary in southern Laos features a trip along the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. Those on the Vietnam tour will be taken to see the notorious underground tunnels of Cu Chi. And those on the Cambodia tours will have an extended four-day stay at Siem Reap, only four miles from Angkor Wat.

(Under current U.S. laws, U.S. companies are prohibited from selling tour packages to those three Southeast Asia countries. But Adventures in Paradise lists Thailand as its head office. Therefore, the U.S. office sells travel arrangements to Thailand, and the Thailand office handles the air-and-ground packages in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, which is technically legal under U.S. Treasury regulations.)

Stamford, Conn.-based Salen Linblad Cruises (203-967-2900) offers the special trip on board a Soviet icebreaker.

There are now tours that introduce single women travelers to single men in the country they visit. For the last three years, a Newport Beach tour operator has advertised something called the "USA Ladies' Tour." In 1989, the company organized a special trip to Australia. For $2,995, single women were guaranteed a trip Down Under--to meet Australian men.

The two-week trip included visits to Sydney, Cairns and Melbourne, hotels and receptions during which participants were promised encounters with kangaroos, koalas, kookaburras . . . and single Australian men. Although the tour brochure lists a specific disclaimer ("We do not guarantee that any mutually satisfying relationships will be formed as a result of this tour"), the trips have apparently been very successful.

"The women loved it," reports Barbara Reps, manager of Andante Travel, which organizes the tours. "So last year we went to the matchmaking festival in Ireland, and this year we'll probably do a New Year's trip in Nice or Paris.

Prior to the Australia trip, Reps had 1,500 men send in their biographies and photos. She did the same thing for a trip to Alaska. Does it work? So far, Reps reports four marriages from the Alaska trip, and two each from Australia and Ireland.

A number of companies have begun to serve certain groups of travelers who need special assistance. Travelers who are gay have often been victims of discrimination by airlines, hotels and tour operators. It was not unusual for homosexual men and women to be denied accommodations at certain hotels, given less preferable tables at restaurants or little or no tour guidance when abroad.

This week, Random House publishes a book for this segment of the specialty travel market, appropriately titled "Are You Two . . . Together?" Written by Lindsy Van Gelder and Pamela Robin Brandt, the book is billed as a gay and lesbian grand tour of Europe.

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