Competitours: A New Kind of Travel Competition
Participants convene at JFK Airport for a quick briefing, then jet over the Atlantic to a mystery European city to begin the competition.
Each day the teams chose five or so destination-themed challenges to complete and record by video, making sure to upload their feats to the Competitours judging website by the late afternoon deadline.
Points are awarded for “creativity, inventiveness and resourcefulness” says Belkin, who has clearly put a lot of thought into his endeavor.
There are no grueling auditions or mandatory extreme or physical stunts, and no previous foreign language, travel or videography experience necessary.
“Competitours ensures that Europe will be a blast not a blur, by limiting the number of challenges that can be pursued by each team each day. Scoring is not about speed.”
Challenges are designed to immerse participants in a city’s culture, and perhaps to bring out some hidden talents. When traveling, says Belkin, you “make decisions you wouldn’t normally have to; people's fears, motivations, characteristics come out.”
These challenges could include shooting a 30-second mock commercial promoting a 9th century Viking ship as the perfect modern family vacation at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, or getting a group of fifteen tourists atop the Eiffel Tower to dance the can-can for the camera.
Choose or Lose
Above all though, it’s about choice. “Each team can determine their own mix of mainstream vs. niche daily itineraries. Some teams might be cynical about the Eiffel Tower while others consider it must-see. So, each team will customize their challenge choices to best meet their personal travel and touring preferences” explains Belkin.
Only after having completed the day’s tasks do the teams find out which city they’re headed to next, along with a list of new challenges, current team standings, and basic information on their next destination. Though the itinerary is unknown, one can be sure it will reach further than the standard European metropolis.
“Destinations can be any of 18 major Western and Central European cities, their outlying areas, intermediate cities, and excursions like village life and outdoor activities like hiking, caving, and kayaking” explains Belkin.
After finding out what’s on deck for the next day, participants have evenings free to savor their location, which can include meeting up with other teams, though nothing is mandatory. The next morning it’s time to hop an early train out of town; all competitors come equipped with a Eurail pass.
Points are awarded on a risk/reward system that makes runaway victories less likely, keeping most teams in contention for the prize until the very end. “We want everyone to have an equal chance to play and win,” says Belkin.
Out of the Tour Bus
Beyond the fun of the game and the fabulous prize, Steve Belkin hopes that Competitours will provide people with new way of looking at travel. It’s all about stepping out of one’s comfort zone and exploring the possibilities.
With Competitours, Belkin is looking to “fill the niche between the totally unstructured backpack tour, with no purpose and no pace, and the package tour, [where it’s] tour bus to tour bus.” Instead, he urges people to “Get out there and get your hands dirty!”
Since the teams scatter throughout the destination, there is little need for a guide. There will always be a local contact at the hotel, but as far as planning goes, you’re on your own. Belkin calls this a “quasi-independent travel experience.”
While many Competitours participants are travel junkies, Belkin wants to make Europe accessible to people who have never been, or who have never been able to see so much of the continent.
Additionally, the tours provide families and friends across generations the opportunity to get to know one another in a new way. By collaborating on wacky tasks and experiencing special moments together, teams grow together. Everyone brings different skills to the table.
In what seems to be an unprecedented move in the travel industry, Competitours doesn’t accept payment for the experience until four days after the trip is over.
Since the itinerary is a mystery and the price is a package deal, this method allows the buyer to be sure they’re getting what they want. Says Belkin: “We are deadly serious that we deliver what we promised.”
The cost includes roundtrip airfare, all European double occupancy lodging, the Eurail Pass, eight to ten daily “Competitask” challenge options, all game administration, and most importantly, grand prize eligibility.
Unlike many tours, admission fees are not included, meaning more freedom when choosing destinations within a city. Meals are likewise left to one’s specific tastes and budget range. As Steve puts it, “Meals are too personal to include in the price.”
Tours range in price from $1995 to $2950; in addition to the Standard trip, which lasts fourteen days, Competitours offers Express and Budget tours as well, for ten and eight days respectively. Despite a sluggish economy, there is a great interest in the tours, and their affordability means the five trips planned for this coming summer will certainly fill up.
A Blast, Not a Blur
A selection of winning “Competitasks” are featured on the Competitours website, and while some information on the contest will surely leak, Steve’s not worried: “We have plenty of routing and challlenge permutations! And even if the surprise wears off or is revealed over time, accomplishing the challenges will remain a fun and competitive element of the trips.”
The bottom line is consistently providing outstanding travel experiences in a fun and competitive way. Comparisons to The Amazing Race are easily made, but Competitours doesn’t seek to create silly drama through gimmicks or fast-paced physical challenges.
Explains Belkin: “We don’t want people to rush, don’t want teams to be thinking about winning on basis of quantity -- it’s all about quality. It’s about how creative and resourceful you are, not about how quick you are. The only similarity with Amazing Race is that it’s a ‘team travel competition.’ The execution is totally different.”
Isadora Dunne is a senior with a major in Communications at the University of Massachusetts, and recently studied abroad on the Semester at Sea Spring 2008 Voyage. She travels as much as her waitress tips allow and is an editorial assistant at GoNomad.com.
Read more GoNOMAD stories about traveling in Europe
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