FONT

MORE STORIES


Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Jonathan Larsen, of Tigard, is the owner of Edelweiss Tours, a small group tour company that brings people from all over the world to experience Switzerland, Germany and Italy.There was a time, not too long ago, when travel agents ruled the tourism market. They made travel arrangements, booked


hotels and reserved spots on sightseeing trips.

But these days, travel agents have largely disappeared, as more people are able to find hotel and airfare accommodations on their own.

What tourists want these days is someone to show them the sights and sounds of the country they are visiting, without the big, crowded buses.

They want something unique. Something authentic.

They want Jonathan Larsen.

For more than a decade, the Tigard resident has been leading small groups across Europe, as well as larger group tours of the United States for foreign exchange students.

Larsen lived in Germany and Switzerland as a missionary for two years in the 1990s and loved the experience.

When he returned home, he began taking family and friends on tours every summer.

“It blossomed from there,” he said. “Five years ago, I was certified as a tour operator through Swiss Tourism. That was a big deal, they are very picky about who they certify as tour operators.”

After that, Larsen’s clientele list exploded.

“I have people from Australia, China and the East Coast. It’s really cool to see all that,” he said.

Larsen’s tours are different from traditional excursions packed with picture-snapping Americans.

“You see these large buses of 55 or 75 people,” he said. “They look like sheep coming off the bus. They take a quick picture and then back on the bus they go. That’s no way to see this country.”

Larsen’s tours are more intimate, with between 10 and 15 people.

“You are seeing more of that these days,” Larsen said. “People don’t want to be part of a big group. It gives you so much more flexibility. You can structure the tours so much differently.”

It’s important to get off the tour bus and see what a place is really like, Larsen said.

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Tour guide Jonathan Larsen is currently working on a guide book pointing out destinations tourists must visit while in Switzerland.“I want you to experience what it’s like to live here,” Larsen said. “I want you to see the back roads and what it’s really like in the country.”

It’s the little things that people will remember about their trip, Larsen said.

“They’ll always remember what it is like riding the subway in New York,” Larsen said. “They are with the rest of the people. They don’t feel like they are a tour group. They are seeing the sights that everybody has to see, too, but it’s a totally different dynamic. It’s like a little glimpse into people’s lives.”

Larsen, who wrote “The Penny Pincher's Guide to Traveling Europe” in 2008, is currently working on a guide book about exploring Switzerland.

“Switzerland is an oasis in Europe,” Larsen said. “It’s like this little island in the middle of Western Europe. They maintained their cultural identity.”

Larsen leaves for Italy in a few weeks, followed by trips to San Francisco and then Switzerland in December for tours of European Christmas markets.

“Switzerland is tiny, but it’s called a little big country for a reason,” he said. “Nine days isn’t enough to get to it all, it’s a beautiful country.”

Larsen’s American tours are different. Up to 100 foreign exchange students will travel with him to New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii and Chicago each year for weekend trips.

Larsen’s tours have become popular. His trips are booked nearly a year-and-a-half in advance, but Larsen said he doesn’t have any plans to grow his business in the future.

“I’m content,” he said. “I want it to be the best that I can give. I’ve never been one to need to make millions of dollars and grow it into something huge. The potential is there, easily, but I really do think you start to lose the uniqueness and specialty of what you are doing if you get too big.”

Larsen, who grew up in Tigard and raised five children here, said if he were to live anywhere else, it would probably be Switzerland.

“I could see raising a family in Switzerland,” he said. “I still see little kids walking to school when I’m there. It still has that old-world charm even though it’s modern and new.”

Go to top
Template by JoomlaShine