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Rick Steves Welcomes Active Vacationers to Europe

As head of a growing empire of guidebooks, tours and gear, Rick Steves is a guru to Americans heading for Europe. Here’s the inside scoop on taking part.

Many vacationers are familiar with the name Rick Steves. This entrepreneur has published dozens of guidebooks, phrasebooks and pocket guides to various regions, countries and cities throughout Europe.

Since his books and the tours he organizes are not specifically for boomers or seniors, some wonder whether they are part of the Steves market. In an interview with me, Steves said that he welcomes the adventurous 55 and over crowd. Indeed they are a large part of his clientele now.

Active Trips on Which Tourists Carry Own Luggage

“Older people have more time and money and that’s a trend,” he said. He’s happy to have the “young at heart regardless of what year they were born.” He notes that they must be able to carry their own luggage, and prepare for an active trip. (Steves noted that other tour operators, such as Grand Circle, do a good job for those who want to take it easy in Europe.)

To pack sensibly for his trips, Steves has designed his own luggage that qualifies as carry-on baggage on a plane. He says he himself “lives out of it for four months at a time” when scouting his trips.

Steves employs more than 80 guides to lead his groups in Europe, and they typically get rave reviews from travelers. What’s different about them?

Steves Tour Guides Forbidden to Accept Tips

Many Europeans are “paid minimally” as tour guides, so they make their real money on the side – by helping tourists go to shops with which they may have a relationship and by accepting tips, he said. In contrast, his guides, whom he says are “the best paid in Europe,” are forbidden to accept tips or kickbacks. “That means they are on the side of tourists. They enjoy being honest advocates I think that’s why they enjoy working for us,” Steves said.

One surprise for Steves lately has been the popularity of his new Mediterranean cruise ports tour and the guidebook that now accompanies it.

When others heard he was going to start a cruise tour, they said “You’re becoming a cruiser? Rick, say it ain’t so!” But he explained that of the 3,000 people who might by on a typical cruise ship, his tours aimed for the 1,000 who “want to use their time on tour smartly and hit the ground running,” rather than those who want to sit on deck and do little or those who come principally to gamble.

Steves is now plotting a Northern Europe cruise tour, as well as a book on the subject that should be published in June 2013. It will cover Scandinavia, the Baltic Sea, and cities including London and Amsterdam.