fan trips are more successful and diverse than ever

Lovers of schlager singer Willy Sommers can dance the polonaise in the United Arab Emirates next year. Like many other well-known Flemish people, the artist organizes his own fan trip. There is great interest in the travel formula, although it comes with a hefty price tag. “You get something exclusive.”

Paul Notelteirs

‘Dubai with a Flemish touch’, is how Willy Sommers describes his seven-day luxurious fan trip that will take place in February of next year. His travel companions tour important sights in the United Arab Emirates, sleep in a five-star hotel and are – the icing on the cake – treated to a concert by their idol. On the Facebook page, many complain about the participation price of 1,899 euros per person, but Caroline Van Holderbeke (52) sees no problem with it. She has closely followed Sommers’ career for nearly four decades and has accompanied him on multiple fan tours in the past.

“We went to Turkey, Florida and South Africa, among other places. Those trips are very nice because, for example, you can talk to Willy longer than after a show. That way you can also tell him something about your private life.” Due to the singer’s busy schedule, he can sometimes only be present for a few days of a trip. This may seem bizarre to outsiders, but participants are briefed in advance about when to expect him. “As fans, we don’t follow him like ducks,” says Van Holderbeke.

Pioneer

Sommers’ fan trip gets attention in the first place because of the high cost price and the exotic location, but the man absolutely does not invent the hot water. Artists have been offering their fans the opportunity to get to know each other in a more intimate setting for several decades. Charm singer Salim Seghers is considered a pioneer in our country. He likes to call himself ‘the king of the fan trip’ and will soon be traveling with hundreds of fans to the same hotel in Lloret de Mar for the thirty-fifth time. The man was not yet active full-time as an artist when a Lommel travel agency asked him in the eighties to perform during one of their group tours. That was a great success and in the years that followed, both the number of participants and Seghers’ involvement grew. During the trip, he is the first point of contact for fans. “Although I don’t go on an excursion, I focus on the daily shows in the hotel.”

While Seghers is finding success in Spain, similar travel concepts are sprouting like mushrooms during the same period. Charm singers in particular achieve great results thanks to their slightly older and often more wealthy fan base. Although a look at the most recent travel brochures shows that the formula is no longer reserved for people who already like to dance the polonaise. On Friday 500 soap fans leave together with some Homeactors to Corfu for a week, presenter Evy Gruyaert will soon go to Crete for cooking and yoga workshops and Karl Vannieuwkerke welcomes cycling enthusiasts in the Spanish fishing village of Calpe.

Feeling at home abroad

The range of travel formulas around media brands and artists is as diverse as it is popular, confirms Lies Bruneel of East Flemish tour operator Project Reizen. After the pandemic, she says, people are more open to paying quite a bit of money for their holidays, the impact of inflation is not very noticeable for the time being. During one of the exotic trips with famous Flemish people, people also step out of their comfort zone more easily and experience adventures that they might miss during a solo trip. That may be an additional reason why fans opt for a trip with Sommers or Gruyaert. “You are in another country, but it also feels familiar because there is a familiar face with it. Moreover, only Flemish people come along, which creates a feeling of home abroad,” says Bruneel.

According to tourism professor Jan van der Borg (KU Leuven), the popularity of fan trips should also be seen within a declining importance of mass culture. In the past, the Flemings may have traveled to the south by car en masse, today relaxation is more tailored to the individual. “Niche markets are nibbling at the share of classic sun, sea and beach holidays.”

Revival Tour Operators

This has the advantage that the largest tourist attractions experience less crowds and that tour operators suddenly become busier again. They saw black snow during the pandemic and felt the hot breath of digital platforms such as booking.com on their necks, but are now experiencing an unexpected revival. According to Van der Borg, they can charge a surcharge for these total experiences. The people who cough up 1,900 euros for their outing with Sommers are therefore aware that the trip would be cheaper if they made it alone. “But everything is fully arranged with us and if something goes wrong, it is solved,” says Bruneel.

It is unclear exactly how much money the artists earn from their travels. Bruneel says that there are different agreements with every celebrity, Seghers also keeps it vague. He announces that guest artists if Celien Hermans and Andrei Lugovski are not compensated for their performance during the trip. However, they are allowed to stay in the hotel for a week with their partner and receive a refund of their travel costs. “It is an offer that eight artists will take up again this year. Then it’s a party in the hotel until half past eleven at night.”

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