Tired of the same old holiday options? Take these trips with a twist for tenacious travellers
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Tired of the same old holiday options? Take these trips with a twist for tenacious travellers

Travelling with like-minded people has become the new way to holiday as boutique businesses focus on special interest travel

By Mercedes Maguire
Mon, Dec 18, 2023 10:07amGrey Clock 4 min

They were knitting in the piano lounge, crocheting at the bar and pulling out their craft bags during bingo. For the ladies of the Unwind craft group, casting on and off was just as important as seeing the sites on their cruise to New Zealand.

The group of women who met at Melbourne’s Unwind Craft Café have set off on four craft cruises together and every time owner Robyn Scipione announces a new trip, it sells out in hours. Part of the attraction is to learn new sewing skills, but a much bigger part is to connect with each other while relaxing on the high seas.

If a knitting cruise sounds unusual, consider this – Carnival has a four-night cat lover’s cruise from Florida to Mexico, there is a Star Trek cruise to Aruba with Royal Caribbean and there’s even a nude cruise out of Tampa, Florida, also available through the popular cruise company.

But it’s not just cruises that offer special interest travel options. Whether you are looking to walk in the footsteps of the Anzacs, want to pick up a cooking tip or two from an Italian nonna or sing along to your favourite band, there is a trip for that.

Anna Shannon, a former Flight Centre travel agent, set up a website called TravelAgentFinder.com.au that helps connect travellers with agents that specialise in specific areas of travel. It could be as simple as finding a Disneyland expert, or as complex as someone looking to trace their ancestor’s footsteps on the Western Front.

“Themed travel is definitely on the rise and it makes sense to me,” the travel expert says. “Travelling is awesome, but when you’re travelling with like-minded people who share your passion for X, Y or Z, it’s an even more enriching experience.”

She says music themed cruises are gaining in popularity, as are crafting cruises, sport-themed travel packages and yoga and wellness tours that combine a love of yoga with traditional yogi cultures to countries like Indonesia, India or Sri Lanka. 

Anna Shannon helps match travellers with their interests through her travel website.

Scipione says her crafting cruises are usually more about the connections people make on the trip than the knitting or the destinations they travel to.

“I can tell you about six million stories of the friendships that have formed at our knitting sessions, especially amongst solos,” she says. “There was one lady who used to cruise with her husband before he died and now comes along to our craft cruises. She told me it actually saved her, and I believe her because we could see she was in a bad place when she came into the shop.”

As you might expect, the majority of the crafters are older ladies. But Scipione says young knitters are increasingly attracted to the concept with three generations, including a 10-year-old girl, joining them once.

Mat McLachlan combined his love of history with his family’s business in travel when he launched Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours in 2008. That first year the historian and author took 34 people on an ANZAC Day on the Western Front tour, in 2009, he took 50 and in 2010 it ballooned to 600 people.

“All our tours are led by expert historians who bring the history to life and share stories of the ANZACS, so no matter where your knowledge lies, our battlefield tours are designed to be an enriching experience,” says McLachlan who hosts military tours to France, Belgium, Gallipoli, Vietnam, Darwin and more.

cial interest travel incorporates food and wine. Celebrity chefs have long led tours exploring gastronomic centres of the world. Since the early noughties, French chef Gabriel Gate has led food tours of his homeland and now takes river cruisers through Southern France with Scenic. Vietnamese chef Luke Nguyen hosted several food trips on the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia introducing travellers to local produce and then teaching them to cook with them.

Television host Maeve O’Meara launched Gourmet Safaris 25 years ago after she showed her mother’s group to her favourite Lebanese restaurant in Sydney. She started by leading walking tours around Sydney’s food villages, then to locations like Victoria’s High Country, South Australia and Tasmania. Demand led to O’Meara to take her food tours overseas to Sardinia and Corsica, the Greek Islands, Portugal and Spain.

Maeve O’Meara has taken her Gourmet Safaris business to places like Portugal, Spain and Greece to provide travellers with unique gourmet experiences.

“The visits to private homes and estates, both overseas and in Australia, and tapping in to local and regional seasonal food with guided trips through produce markets, cooking demonstrations and classes, there’s nothing like it,” O’Meara says.

Sharon Summerhayes is a cruise specialist and owner of Deluxe Travel and Cruise. She is the highest seller of the famous Rock the Boat music cruises who bring headline acts like Suzi Quatro, Jimmy Barnes and Daryl Braithwaite to the high seas. She says the cruises will charge about 30 per cent more than a standard cruise but for that you get rock shows each night and the chance to bump into the artists at the bar or poolside.

“They are so much fun, especially for single people,” Summerhayes says. “There is such camaraderie among the guests because they all have something in common. You can go to the bar by yourself and you will be guaranteed to find someone with the same music taste as you. 

“And by the time you leave the ship, you’ll have 20 new friends.”

Briony Thomas, the cruise specialist who helps Scipione organise her crafting cruises, says she has been so inspired by the interest in themed cruises she wants to launch a true crime cruise.

“You need the niche, or theme, to be really specific or else it won’t work,” says Thomas, director of Tailored Travel & Cruise. 

“I thought about doing a friendship cruise, but it’s too broad. Rather, a true crime cruise will bring like-minded people together and friendship will be the result anyway.”      



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Companies are eager to hire strong players who use hybrid work schedules to schmooze clients on the course

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Standout golfers who aren’t quite PGA Tour material now have somewhere else to play professionally: Corporate America.

People who can smash 300-yard drives and sink birdie putts are sought-after hires in finance, consulting, sales and other industries, recruiters say. In the hybrid work era, the business golf outing is back in a big way.

Executive recruiter Shawn Cole says he gets so many requests to find ace golfers that he records candidates’ handicaps, an index based on average number of strokes over par, in the information packets he submits to clients. Golf alone can’t get you a plum job, he says—but not playing could cost you one.

“I know a guy that literally flies around the world in a private jet loaded with French wine, and he golfs and lands hundred-million-dollar deals,” Cole says.

Tee times and networking sessions have long gone hand-in-golf-glove. Despite criticism that doing business on the course undermines diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—and the fact that golf clubs haven’t always been open to women and minorities —people who mix golf and work say the outings are one of the last reprieves from 30-minute calendar blocks

Stars like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West helped expand participation in the sport. Still, just 22% of golfers are nonwhite and 26% are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

To lure more people, clubs have relaxed rules against mobile-phone use on the course, embracing white-collar professionals who want to entertain clients on the links without disconnecting from the office. It’s no longer taboo to check email from your cart or take a quick call at the halfway turn.

With so much other business conducted virtually, shaking hands on the green and schmoozing over clubhouse beers is now seen as making an extra effort, not slacking off.

Americans played a record 531 million rounds last year. Weekday play has nearly doubled since 2019, with much of the action during business hours , according to research by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

“It would’ve been scandalous in 2019 to be having multiple meetings a week on the golf course,” Bloom says. “In 2024, if you’re producing results, no one’s going to see anything wrong with it.”

A financial adviser at a major Wall Street bank who competes on the amateur circuit told me he completes 90% of his tasks by 10 a.m. because he manages long-term investment plans that change infrequently. The rest of his workday often involves golfing with clients and prospects. He’s a member of a private club with a multiyear waiting list, and people jump at the chance to join him on a course they normally can’t access.

There is an art to bringing in business this way. He never initiates shoptalk, telling his playing partners the round is about having fun and getting to know each other. They can’t resist asking about investment strategies by the back nine, he says.

Work hard, play hard

Matt Parziale golfed professionally on minor-league tours for several years, but when his dream of making the big time ended, he had to get a regular job. He became a firefighter, like his dad.

A few years later he won one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the country, earning spots in the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open, where he tied for first among non-pros.

The brush with celebrity brought introductions to business types that Parziale, 35 years old, says he wouldn’t have met otherwise. One connection led to a job with a large insurance broker. In 2022 he jumped to Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley, Mass., which recognised his golf game as a tool to help win large accounts.

He rescheduled our interview because he was hosting clients at a private club on Cape Cod, and squeezed me in the next morning, before teeing off with a business group in Newport, R.I.

A short time ago, Parziale couldn’t imagine making a living this way. Now he’s the norm in elite amateur golf circles.

“I look around at the guys at the events I play, and they all have these jobs ,” he says.

His boss, Chief Executive Chip Gibson, says Parziale is good at bringing in business because he puts as much effort into building relationships as honing his game. A golf outing is merely an opportunity to build trust that can eventually lead to a deal, and it’s a misconception that people who golf during work hours don’t work hard, he says.

Barry Allison’s single-digit handicap is an asset in his role as a management consultant at Accenture , where he specialises in travel and hospitality. He splits time between Washington, D.C., and The Villages, Fla., a golf mecca that boasts more than 50 courses.

It can be hard to get to know people in distributed work environments, he says. Go golfing and you’ll learn a lot about someone’s temperament—especially after a bad shot.

“If you see a guy snap a club over his knee, you don’t know what he’s going to snap next,” Allison says.

Special access

On a recent afternoon I was a lunch guest at Brae Burn Country Club, a private enclave outside Boston that was the site of U.S. Golf Association championships won by legends like Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. I parked in the second lot because the first one was full—on a Wednesday.

My host was Cullen Onstott, managing director of the Onstott Group executive search firm and a former collegiate golfer at Fairfield University. He explained one reason companies prize excellent golfers is they can put well-practiced swings on autopilot and devote most of their attention to chitchat.

It’s hard to talk with potential customers about their needs and interests when you’re hunting for errant shots in the woods. It’s also challenging if you show off.

The first hole at Brae Burn is a 318-yard par 4 that slopes down, enabling big hitters like Onstott to reach the putting green in a single stroke. But to stay close to his playing partners and keep the conversation flowing, he sometimes hits a shorter shot.

Having an “in” at an exclusive club can make you a catch. Bo Burch, an executive recruiter in North Carolina, says clubs in his region tend to attract members according to their business sectors. One might be chock-full of real-estate investors while another has potential buyers of industrial manufacturing equipment.

Burch looks for candidates who are members of clubs that align with his clients’ industries, though he stresses that business acumen comes first when filling positions.

Tami McQueen, a former Division I tennis player and current chief marketing officer at Atlanta investment firm BIP Capital, signed up for private golf lessons this year. She had noticed colleagues were wearing polos with course logos and bringing their clubs to work. She wanted in.

McQueen joined business associates on the golf course for the first time in March at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has lowered her handicap to a respectable 26 and says her new skill lends a professional edge.

“To be able to say, ‘I can play with you and we can have those business meetings on the course’ definitely opens a lot more doors,” she says.

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This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

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