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The story behind Eurohike Hiking Tours

In conversation with our Managing Director Verena Sonnenberg
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We can hardly believe it, but this year marks the 20th anniversary of our hiking travel brand, Eurohike! For two decades, our adventure-seeking hiking guests have been enjoying the most beautiful routes Europe has to offer, experiencing firsthand how rejuvenating hiking in nature can be. From the very inception, our managing director, Verena Sonnenberg, has witnessed the creation and development of our company. She is a true aficionado of mountain landscapes and hiking, boasting an extensive knowledge of countless hiking paths across Europe. Her passion for this wonderful form of exercise remains undiminished. Explore the significance of this infusion of passion and dedication, delve into riveting, never-before-shared glimpses behind the scenes (it's going to be fascinating!), and gain insights into the rich history of our company in an exclusive conversation with Verena Sonnenberg!

#eurohikeupclose

Blonde woman in a denim shirt laughs and speaks into a microphone
Verena, tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been part of the Eurohike family, and how did you come to join the company? Can you recall the moment when the idea for Eurohike was first conceived?

I have been a part of the Eurofun family since 1999. Initially, our small team comprised only a few members who were responsible for our cycling brand, Eurobike. I was the team leader of customer support at that time. From 2007 to 2011, I went to Switzerland, where I worked as the managing director at Eurotrek. Afterward, I was drawn back to my hometown and to the headquarters in Obertrum am See. Here, I had the opportunity to take over the active travel division, Eurohike Hiking Tours.

 

Eurohike was already established in the year 2004. As our cycling travel brand gained popularity among our guests, we wanted to provide the opportunity to explore the most beautiful hiking trails and destinations in Europe. That’s how the idea for our hiking brand came about. However, the start wasn't quite as straightforward. The concept of hiking operates a bit differently than our cycling tours, so it took a few years for us to acquire extensive expertise and for Eurohike to really take off. So, it is all the better to see that we are celebrating Eurohike's 20th anniversary this year and we eagerly anticipate the ongoing success of our hiking tours throughout Europe.

Blonde woman speaks into a microphone and smiles
Eurohike Hiking Tours was named the test winner by Stiftung Warentest – a wonderful accolade. What does this success mean for you and for the company?

We only found out afterwards that we were being tested, so I awaited the publication with considerable excitement. When the time finally came, I was almost taken by surprise. An indescribable feeling of joy for our team and Eurohike overwhelmed me. Our continuous pursuit of quality, customer-centric approach, and consistent innovation, such as with our Eurohike on Tour app, along with the efforts of our entire team – this is perhaps the most beautiful reward and a fantastic recognition for the entire Eurohike team. An accolade that further strengthens our motivation and commitment and propels us with even more enthusiasm into the upcoming hiking season.

How has the company evolved since its inception, especially in the field of hiking tours?

As for the company itself, a decision was made in 1993 to create a distinct entity, leading to the establishment of Eurofun Touristik under the brand name "Eurobike" in the sector of cycling tourism. In 2016, the organizational structure of Eurofun Touristik was adjusted. The goal of Thomas Schmid and myself was to establish clearer structures and place an even stronger emphasis on service quality and personalized guest care. At the beginning, both active travel brands offered a considerable number of group tours in addition to individual journeys. Over the years, the trend has increasingly shifted towards individual tours, leading us to focus on becoming a leading provider of hiking tours. In the initial seven years, the Eurohike brand had to find its identity, with only a handful of guests eager to experience this type of travel.

View from the Heideralm in Merano
What changes and trends have occurred in the hiking travel industry over the past two decades?

 

A prominent trend in hiking revolves around the concept of crossing the Alps, attracting a diverse range of target audiences and levels of hiking. Our Alpine crossing under the "Eurohike" brand offers a unique experience, allowing you to traverse the Alps by foot from Munich to Venice within four weeks. The combination of four entirely independent yet directly consecutive journeys make this adventure possible. Long-distance hikes also enjoy great popularity. For example, along the GR221 in Mallorca, the Rota Vicentina in Portugal, or the Rheinsteig Trail and Moselsteig Trail in Germany.

A growing trend is the idea of hiking holidays with dogs. We were pioneers in the extensive development of this type of travel, covering all aspects. We provide various forms of assistance to ensure a relaxing getaway for both our two- and four-legged guests, including travel checklists, and much more.

What has also changed in recent years is the increased expectation of our guests regarding hotels and accommodations. For this reason, in the development of our tours and the selection of hotels, we pay even greater attention, and all accommodations are chosen with particular care and attention to detail. Our top priority is to ensure that our hiking guests can relax to the maximum after a full day in the fresh air. And for those seeking even more comfort, our Hiking Tours with Charm are the perfect choice. Here, carefully selected accommodations shine with a special ambiance, wellness facilities, personalized service, and culinary delights.

From the outset, destinations around Lake Königssee, the Zugspitze, and the Salzkammergut have been cherished classics for hiking enthusiasts. Over recent years, our two hiking tours, from Merano to Lake Garda and from Garmisch to Merano, have emerged as top favorites.

Verena Sonnenberg

Managing Director Eurohike Walking Holidays

What makes hiking so appealing to you?

These are quite distinct things: experiencing nature in its full intensity, up close and real. By the second day of a hiking journey, you immerse yourself in an unparalleled tranquility, disconnecting from the hectic routine and embracing a unique sense of freedom. Simply walking, letting your gaze wander through the mountains, nature, and the little details along the way, experiencing nature with all your senses – I find it to be a one-of-a-kind experience. Through hiking, you get to know the region intimately, whether it's the people or the nature. Personally, I consider it the ultimate form of relaxation.

Are there any particular experiences and insights that you have gained from personal interactions with customers?

It is important to me to be familiar with our entire portfolio, which is why I am frequently on our tours myself. It is particularly rewarding to meet our guests while hiking or at the hotels on-site. I often recognize them by seeing them with our route books or using our Eurohike on Tour app. The interaction with our hiking guests never ceases to amaze me, and the numerous feedback we receive in an active travel season is incredibly valuable. It aids our entire product and quality management in constantly evolving and enhancing our offerings. For me, there is nothing better than receiving direct, personal feedback from our guests and feeling their enthusiasm for this type of tour.

What has been your biggest challenge over the past 20 years of Eurohike?

Our challenges over the past two decades can also be seen as our goals. The travel portfolio of Eurohike was relatively small at the beginning, but our ideas for tours we wanted to implement were huge. However, to offer this attractive portfolio, to be innovative and customer-oriented, to keep up structurally, and to guarantee top quality in every aspect has been and continues to be our top priority. Keeping our finger on the pulse and constantly developing our portfolio of destinations requires a high level of experience and expertise and is also our most important endeavor. The recognition as the test winner by Stiftung Warentest is a tremendous acknowledgment of our successful accomplishment in this regard.

And what has been your best moment so far?

There have been numerous delightful moments and selecting just one is almost impossible. Certainly, reaching our first four-digit number of guests was unforgettable, witnessing the growing enthusiasm for this form of travel over the years. An annual highlight for me is eagerly anticipating the moment when I hold our freshly printed catalogues in my hands. It's particularly heartening to see the excitement of our employees when they're out on our tours, sharing their experiences of cycling and hiking. One thing is certain – it's never dull and the drive to develop new ideas remains constant. This contributes significantly to our positive team spirit.

What have been your favorite places along the hiking routes so far that have particularly stood out to you and why?

There are many such places, but one has stayed particularly vivid in my mind. The view from Puig de l'Ofre in Majorca, overlooking the Tramuntana Mountains, the Valley of Oranges, and all the way to the coast. One feels like standing on the roof of the island, experiencing the Mediterranean nature, the scent of herbs, and the mountains particularly intensely. For me, it is my place of longing, a place that gives me incredible peace of mind.

What role does the topic of sustainability play in your business activities, particularly in relation to hiking and the organization of individual hiking tours?

Our approach to travel is fundamentally sustainable, and within the company, we are all aligned towards this goal. Sustainability has become an increasingly important focus for both us and our guests. To further drive this commitment, the company established its own sustainability team in 2023, comprising sustainability ambassadors. This initiative has led to tangible actions, such as printing our catalogues on sustainable paper and creating a sustainability manual for our team. We are actively exploring CO2 compensation for our tours, with plans to offset emissions in suitable climate projects. This strategic move aims to minimize not only our ecological footprint but also that of our guests. Additionally, we are actively working towards obtaining certification as an official Travelife Partner, a renowned program for sustainability management in the travel industry.

Raised bed in the garden
What role do the employees play in the company's success and how has the team developed over the years?

Our team plays an incredibly crucial role, and we are only as good, or our product is only as successful as we embody this. The best ideas are developed through collaborative teamwork, starting from the creation of our tours in product management, extending to customer support – the first point of contact for our guests with a solid understanding of our products, and to our support teams in the on-site stations. We are delighted to have many long-standing colleagues, and we are deeply grateful that our team is dedicated day in day out with heart and soul. It is through this motivation and commitment that our brand thrives and grows – this unique passion keeps us alive.

During Eurohike's 20-year journey, have you experienced any moments when you were particularly proud of the team?

Undoubtedly, being recognized as the test winner by Stiftung Warentest fills me with tremendous pride. The company excursion in 2022 stands out as particularly memorable. I vividly recall the intensity, uncertainty, and challenges posed by the coronavirus period for the entire travel industry. However, as we cycled and hiked together with the entire team on Lake Garda and in Verona, it became clear to me that travel was once again possible, that we could resume, and that we were finally back on track.

What makes Eurohike's hiking tours so unique compared to other providers? How have you managed to maintain customer loyalty over the years?

Ensuring the highest quality and top customer satisfaction is our utmost priority. Sustaining consistently well-organized hiking tours over many years relies on several key factors. This includes the initial contact between our guests and our travel specialists, our new, exceptionally user-friendly website featuring valuable additions like the HikingBlog, comprehensive travel documents inclusive of a route book filled with numerous tips and recommendations, exceptional accommodations, dependable luggage transfer, personal support, and on-site availability – being there directly and at any time, even during the hiking tour, for our guests. This assurance is a significant factor for our customers, which is why they repeatedly choose our active travel experiences, and we are delighted to have a particularly high percentage of recurrent customers.

How will Eurohike's hiking tours continue in the coming years? Can you provide us with a brief outlook on the future and the upcoming years?

Just as in the past 20 years, we will continue to expand our portfolio steadily and strive to stay at the forefront of travel trends. An important theme will continue to be the development of long-distance hiking tours and Alpine crossings. Sustainability is also very important to us in the context of expanding our portfolio. From my perspective, being active and hiking individually in nature will gain even more significance in the future, further increasing the popularity of this type of travel. Our vision is to develop our product range in such a way that we can offer our guests even more flexibility and an even more individualized product that can respond precisely to their personal wishes and needs.

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