If you've always dreamed of riding to the top of the Eiffel Tower and trying to persuade 15 strangers to dance the cancan, then Steve Belkin has the trip for you.
Belkin, a 45-year-old Cleveland entrepreneur, is launching Competitours, an adventure vacation service that he has taken to describing as "The Amazing Race for regular people." With a teammate, contestants journey on an eight-, 10- or 14-day tour of western and central Europe, spending their days trying to accomplish - and videotape - challenges supplied by Competitours. The challenges can range from visiting the Torture Museum in Prague and filming a video that shows how a torture instrument could be used as a nonlethal household item to the aforementioned Eiffel Tower shenanigans.
Visiting three to six countries (depending on the length of the trip), travelers will get to pick about five of 10 daily challenges. The shyest competitors won't, therefore, be required to prod strangers into dancing; there will be other things they can do in Paris. The videos will be uploaded at the end of the day and judged by Competitours staff back in Cleveland. They'll be publicly viewable online when the competition is finished.
"You can be sarcastic, serious, whatever you want," Belkin said. "It's about whatever you do at each place, not just getting there. But you definitely have to be spontaneous to play." Then, every late afternoon, competitors will learn where the next day's challenge takes them.
"Every trip will be different," Belkin said. "One trip can start in Amsterdam and end in Budapest, and one can start in Oslo and end in Rome." The cost ranges from $1,995 to $2,950, but the prizes are various combinations of hotel nights (up to 40), airline tickets to anywhere in the world (up to four) and cash (up to $6,500). Cost includes airfare from a major city, a Eurail pass and lodging.
Belkin was inspired to launch Competitours by the success of The Amazing Race, a weekly CBS reality TV show that sends contestants across the globe, and a trip he took in 2004 similar to what he is launching through a company called GreatEscape Adventures.
He and a teammate visited 10 countries and four continents in 23 days on the "global scavenger hunt." "To go to places you've never been and not know where you're going next is fantastic," he said. "And it lived up to its billing." But he decided he could do it better - and cheaper. The global scavenger hunt costs nearly $10,000.
"That trip was about speed," he said. "Competitours is not about speed. You can choose what you want to do. It's much more about being creative than being fast." Competitours will do a test run March 15-22, with teams assembled by sponsors. Progress can be monitored at competitours.com. Among those on the trip will be David Cushwa, 53, an Illinois attorney who will be on a team sponsored by the Web site fly ertalk.com.
Cushwa said he was lured to participate by "the obstacles that have to be overcome and the ability to switch modes of travel. The problem-solving aspect of it sounds interesting." Belkin said that if things go poorly on the test run, he'll squeeze in another. Either way, Competitours will launch this summer, he said.
"The concept is sound," he added. "It's up to me to be sure the execution lives up to the billing." Applications are already starting to come in, Belkin said.
"I just want to be sure we're covering the angles and the challenges aren't too serious or too goofy," Belkin said.
"So many people watch The Amazing Race, " Belkin said. "They sit on their couch and say, 'I could do that.' We're calling their bluff."