Forget the European favourites and offer clients a raft of new experiences in 2009. Not only will you discover fresh revenue streams but you’ll beat off the competition by providing a point of difference says Lee Jamieson.
As air connections to Europe improve, new marketing opportunities are sure to emerge. The time has come to take a fresh look at what Europe has to offer and consider alternative destinations to the obligatory London, Paris and Rome.
So if your clients fancy soaking up the ambience of Prague, laughing at the street performers that line Barcelona's La Rambla, or exploring the rich literary heritage of Dublin, then this is your essential guide to the ‘other' Europe.
Famed for its friendly people, instant celebrations and literary history, visitors to Dublin will soon discover the Irish spirit. With more than 100 festivals and events organised each year, Dublin is a vibrant and exciting place for tourists.
"Travel agents looking to sell a new European city should look to Ireland's capital, Dublin," says Dublin Tourism chief executive Frank Magee.
"Dublin is the perfect fit for their customers, with our quaint cobbled streets, Georgian squares, exhilarating high-end sporting events and a host of spontaneous traditional music sessions."
Dublin is perhaps most famous for "the black stuff" and visitors can discover the fascinating story of how Guinness has been intertwined with the city for centuries by downloading the Guinness iWalk from www.visitdublin.com.
City highlights from Dublin Tourism's Frank Magee:
• Find out why Dublin is a top literary hotspots for tourists. Full of literary landmarks, like the James Joyce Tower, Trinity College, and the Dublin Writers' Museum.
• Sample Ireland's national drinks at Guinness Storehouse and Old Jameson Distillery.
The sales pitch
Getting there:Etihad Airways flies direct from Abu Dhabi to Dublin daily. Getting around:Holiday Autos offers a seven-day car hire package from $126 for a Fiat Seicento or similar vehicle.
Where to stay:The Morgan, The Dylan or The Merrion Hotel.
Package:Alpha Holiday' ‘Gateway Dublin' package is priced from $278 per person including a three-night stay in the three-star Isaacs Hotel Alba, airport transfers and city tour.
Spanish city Barcelona is attractive to leisure and business travellers alike. Regarded by many as the capital of Mediterranean Europe, Barcelona has something to offer everyone: although steeped in cultural history, the city can also meet the demands of the modern business traveller.
Barcelona is the world's fourth most popular congress city, according to the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), and is the seventh city in the world for convention tourism, according to the Union of International Associations (UIA).
"Travellers to Barcelona come from a wide demographic: everyone from newlyweds to families with children," says Qatar Airways Holidays marketing executive Nazlie Salie. "Barcelona is also extremely popular with young people who want to experience the lively clubbing scene as well as sightseeing. Therefore, the city has become one of Qatar Airways Holidays' top-selling destinations."
City highlights from Turisme De Barcelona's head of foreign relations, María Luisa Albacar-Fracanzani:
• Walk La Rambla and enjoy Barcelona's famous street performers.
• Tour the city by horse drawn carriage.
• Visit the Picasso Museum is Barcelona's beautiful old town.
The sales pitch
Getting there:Qatar Airways from Doha to Madrid where you can take a connecting flight to Barcelona.
Getting around:Holiday Autos offers a seven-day car hire package from $172 for a Ford Ka or similar vehicle.
Where to stay:Hotel Arts Barcelona.
Package:Tempo Holidays' ‘Taste of Barcelona' packages are priced from $344 per person including three nights in the three-star Hotel Rialt.
Berlin is chic and cultured. Famous must-see buildings like the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag Parliament and the Charlottenburg Palace have long attracted visitors to Germany's capital city. In 2006 the city was awarded "City of Design" by UNESCO in recognition of its creative influence.
"2009 will be a particularly special year as it will mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall," explains German National Tourist Office's Antje Roeding.
"There will be a variety of celebratory events taking place all over the country including exhibitions, tours, concerts, plays and films."
City highlights from German National Tourist Office's Antje Roeding:
• Walk down the grand Unter den Linden (or "under the lime trees") boulevard which stretches from the Brandenburg Gate to Museum Island.
• The Berlin Wall Trail is not to be missed in 2009. The trail runs for a total of 160 kilometres and traces the fortifications that encircled West Berlin. Visitors may choose either to hike or bike along the former patrol road, and different stations along the way provide information in several languages.
The sales pitch
Getting there:Qatar Airways flies direct from Doha to Berlin on a daily basis. Another option is Lufthansa from several Middle East destinations via Frankfurt.
Getting around:Europca offers a four-day car hire package from $51.72 per day for an Opel Corsa or similar type of vehicle.
Where to stay:The Ritz-Carlton Berlin, Hotel de Rome or Kempinski Adlon.
Package:Alpha Holidays' ‘Gateway Berlin' package is priced from $451 per person including a four-night stay in a three-star hotel and limousine transfers. Private city tours can be arranged on request.
France is the world's top tourist destination," begins Nice Tourist Office director of communication Isabelle Billey-Quéré. "And, second only to Paris, Nice is France's second largest tourist destination welcoming four million visitors each year."
Nice is the perfect romantic getaway and its elegance owes much to its history. The rich aristocrats that once made the city famous have left a legacy of sophistication which is evident in its architecture, café terraces and stunning palm-lined promenade.
"There are so many reasons to visit Nice," explains Billey-Quéré. "With its natural beauty and architecture, Nice is a spectacular cultural effervescence."
City highlights from Nice Tourist Office's Isabelle Billey-Quéré:
• Shop in the traditional old-town markets.
• Visit one of the famous galleries like the Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall or the Musée Matisse situated on the Promenade des Anglais.
• Climb aboard the tourist train or open-deck bus to discover the city's history.
• Lifestyles of the rich and famous: Cannes is 30kms west of Nice and Monaco 30kms east.
The sales pitch
Getting there:Emirates Airline now flies direct from Dubai to Nice five times per week.
Getting around:Europcar: Four-day car hire in the city starts from $58.53 per day for a Peugeot 107 or similar vehicle.
Where to stay:The Martinez, Hotel Negresco or The Majestic. InterContinental Hotel Group's property will soon re-open.
Package:Emirates Holidays packages are priced from $1000 per person for a four-night stay at the four-star Le Méridien Nice on a twin-share basis including economy flights and breakfast. The same package but staying at the five-star Hotel Negresco is priced from $1292.
Vienna is a favourite romantic getaway and honeymoon destination.
"There is even a popular song in Arabic that tells of those joyful nights in Vienna," says Austrian National Tourist Office director Middle East Klaus Ehrenbrandtner.
"A horse carriage ride through the historic city centre might be one of the most romantic experiences ever."
In recent years, Vienna has become popular with travellers from the Middle East due to its classicism, rich culture and location.
"Vienna is the closest European city if you travel by plane," says Ehrenbrandtner.
"It is less than six hours away from all major airports in the Middle East and flight frequency from the Gulf has increased markedly in recent years."
City highlights from Austrian National Tourist Office's Ehrenbrandtner:
• Discover the country's imperial history at the baroque Schönbrunn Palace, Austria's most popular tourist attraction
• Combine art, eating and shopping in the "MuseumsQuartier", one of the largest cultural quarters in the world
• Go underground and discover Vienna's famous nightlife and club scene. The Passage, a converted pedestrian underpass, is now recognised as Vienna's hippest and most distinguished nightspot.
The sales pitch
Getting there:Both Austrian Airlines and Emirates Airline fly daily to Vienna from Dubai. Austrian also flies from Damascus, Tehran, Cairo, Jeddah, Riyadh and Erbil to Vienna.
Getting around:Avis offers a three-day car hire package from US $222 for an Opel Corsa or similar vehicle.
Where to stay:Hotel Sacher.
Package:Qatar Airways Holidays offers a three-night package including economy flights and breakfast at the four-star Linder Hotel Am Belvedere from $785 per person. The same deal.
In the words of one poet, Prague is a "symphony in stone" Modern buildings mingle with the city's gothic spires amidst the labyrinth of narrow cobbled lanes is reminiscent of a Franz Kafka novel -Prague's most famous cultural export.
Prague is proud of its cultural heritage, with theatres, galleries and museums galore.
"While you're here you must visit at least one of Prague's 300 museums and galleries," suggests media manger Czech Tourism Markéta Chaloupková.
"Prague is one of the most beautiful European cities. This is a city of culture, history, entertainment and business."
Chaloupková suggests that the best time for tourists to visit the city is in the spring and autumn. However, winter can also be good time to escape the tourist crowds.
City highlights from Czech Tourism's Chaloupková:
• Visit Prague Castle and the Palace Gardens.
• Walk Charles Bridge.
• Explore the historical centre which includes the Lesser Quarter, Old Town and the famous Wenceslas Square.
The sales pitch
Getting there:Smart Wings flies direct from Dubai to Prague twice a week. Austrian Airlines also flies from several Middle East destinations via Vienna then on to Prague.
Getting around:Holiday Autos offers car rental packages priced from $187 for an Opel Corsa or similar vehicle.
Where to stay:Four Seasons Prague.
Packages:Tempo Holidays' ‘Taste of Prague' packages are priced from $272 per person including three nights at the three-star Kavalir Hotel, breakfast, transfers and a city tour.
After many years of being perceived as an industrial centre, one of the UK's largest hubs, Manchester, has finally emerged as a vibrant and cosmopolitan city. The destination is good value for money with most of the galleries and museums free to enter, free inter-city transport and affordable shopping.
Furthermore, Manchester is well-positioned to cater to the wide-ranging needs of both international leisure and business travellers.
"As a multicultural city, Manchester caters for all tastes," explains Visit Manchester marketing executive Anh Nguyen.
"There is a large Asian community and a wide variety of vegetarian and Halal restaurants."
As Manchester becomes more visible as an international destination, more travellers are discovering the charms of this northern city.
City highlights from Visit Manchester's Anh Nguyen:
• The Old Trafford Museum and Stadium Tour allows visitors a behind the scenes glimpse at one of the most famous football clubs in the world.
• The Quays, Greater Manchester's waterfront destination offers culture at its best, with art, music, sport and great shopping options.
• Visit the Museum of Science and Industry and discover Manchester's role in the industrial revolution.
The sales pitch
Getting there:Emirates Airline flies daily from Dubai to Manchester. Alternatively fly with British Airways from several Middle East destinations via London Heathrow and catch a connecting flight, train, coach or private transfer.
Getting around:Europcar offers a four-day package from $44 per day for a Chevrolet Matiz or similar vehicle for agents to up-sell to clients.
Where to stay:The Lowry, Manchester is a good recommendation.
Package:BA Holidays' three-night package staying at the three-star Jury's Inn is priced from $1151 including flights and breakfast (weekend rate only). The same package but staying at the four-star Atrium by Bridge Street is priced from $1197 (weekday rate only).