The last ten months or so have been some of the most devastating and heartbreaking for everyone in the tourism industry — not just tours and activities — with every destination across the world being affected by this pandemic. But I am not here to talk about what has just passed but give you my thoughts on what l feel lies ahead. I, for one, feel it is looking very bright indeed.
My business, the Tourism Marketing Agency, has been helping many operators throughout the world during this period (something for which I am extremely grateful and can’t thank them enough for sticking with us). And, from what I can see, the future for tours and activities is a prosperous one. Although we can’t travel internationally, or in some cases domestically right now, demand is as high as ever, with many operators being inundated with inquiries and bookings for later in the year and into 2022. We see this trend happen for many across the industry.
One of the companies we work with, a safari operator in Africa, received nearly 400 inquiries in two months; a UK-based chauffeur-driven operator received around the same number of inquiries. A company in Iceland received 324 inquiries in 3-4 months. These are just a small fraction of the examples we could give. I don’t mention these to blow our own trumpet but highlight that people cannot wait to escape and explore a new destination. Just because they can’t right now does not mean they do not want to.
Like this? register for our Newsletter to continue the conversation
The Covid threat, while playing on their minds, is not the main deterrent to booking flights, accommodation, or experiences; it is the fear of losing deposits they have put down on these aspects. Give them peace of mind by opening up your policies and making them as flexible as possible. A few multi-day tour operators we work with now offer small deposits with open-ended dates, for example. Vagabond Tours in Ireland switched to a reduced deposit of €100 and unlimited changes free of charge up to 30 days before the departure date.
Day-tour operators should be looking at other initiatives like BeWild Adventures in Vancouver, for who created a subscription-based club in Amber’s local market. Even offering a “pay nothing now and book a tour with an open-ended date” policy will still allow you to gather that traveler’s information for future sales and marketing. This is better than sitting on your laurels, waiting for things to improve.
Another point to highlight is that, although online bookings are low, inquiries are very high. Your potential customers have questions about safety, deposits, what happens if the tour is canceled, etc. Put yourself in their shoes. Think about how much money people have lost due to non-refunds during the last ten months. Even if you are an operator that only provides set day tours, create a ‘get a quote’ or custom itinerary page on your site, promote it to help your business generate sales leads later in the year. It also gives you a marketing list for the future.
People. Consumers. You or I, we are all longing to travel again and escape the same four walls we have all been staring at for what seems to be an eternity. When the doors do finally open on travel again, the pent-up demand will explode. The influx of international travelers will be so huge that some destinations will struggle to manage it. This is good news for tours and activities as the more footfall a destination has, the more chances you have at capturing a new customer and generating the revenue you have been craving.
Currently, flights to many destinations are as low as they have ever been. As I write this, a flight to Japan from Glasgow, Scotland, where I am based, is only £414 return. A flight to Jordan is £120 return! This will help drive the demand, especially at the early stages of restrictions being lifted.
Although a few of you may disagree with me, this pent-up demand means more travelers participating in tours and activities, which means you can start to think about increasing your prices as those same travelers will simply want to experience something again. They have not been able to go to the cinema, see a show, visit friends, or participate in anything ‘fun’. Because of this, they will think to themselves, “to hell with it. I want to feel alive again and not think about the cost of it…” as long as you do not go crazy with those increases. In my honest opinion, the worst thing you can do is discount when demand looks like it will be high. Stick with your prices or increase them slightly and try and claw back some of that lost revenue.
There is another aspect that will grow from this demand, and that is competition.
Because of this demand, combined with the devastating effects Covid has had on our industry, former guides that were made redundant will create new tour companies, previous businesses that closed may open up once again, and new players will come to the market. This may sound like bad news, but in reality, it is a good sign that your destination, local businesses, and your own business are in the midst of recovery. And that is a positive step.
One of the reasons I love the tours and activities sector is the sense of community. How we have all come together to help each other during all this madness has been nothing short of incredible. I do not doubt that, with the increased demand that is imminent, new partnerships will form, and new opportunities will arise that will make the past ten months a distant memory.
I have hope. I have belief. I see the trends, which is why Covid will help push tours and activities into the stratosphere.
Chris is an author, podcaster, and brand & digital tourism expert with over 26 years’ industry experience. Chris speaks at many tourism events worldwide, offering his advice and guidance on how travel, tourism, and destination businesses can gain brand recognition and increase bookings.
Chris has focused his business, the Tourism Marketing Agency, on tour operator marketing with over 90% of his client base coming from outside the UK, working with some of the biggest players in the industry.
Chris is the author of the best-selling marketing book, How to Turn your Online Lookers into Bookers, a 400- page book full of practical marketing advice dedicated to the tours and activities sector.
Chris also produces a video advice series called The Digital Tourism Show which you can watch on his Facebook Group, YouTube channel, or listen via Google or Apple podcasts.