A little earlier this month, Connect Travel, as a part of its ongoing “Connect with …” series of virtual roundtable webinars, revisited a panel discussion of domestic tour operators through a “Connect & ReConnect with Domestic Tour Operators.” It proved to be just as popular as the first iteration of the subject, attracting some 300 viewers. Shari Bailey, vice president, Connect Travel, general manager, (Photo) Connect Travel Events, served as moderator of a panel that included Bob Cline, president and CEO, US Tours; Jane Julian, owner/CEO, Jane’s Journeys; and Belinda Grace-Leonard, owner, New England Coach.
1. Regulations: The need for updated regulations & guidelines will continue to be paramount. Tour operators would like to receive updates on new openings, regulations, safety, or quarantine guidelines. As this information is ever changing, be sure to provide consistent and transparent updates on your products.
2. Product Development: All travel professionals are reviewing existing itineraries and tweaking as needed. This opens the door for new products. (i.e. outdoor activities, hotel, vacation home, or villa product, unique dining options) Acquaint yourself with the theme of tours coming to or around your area and create unique offerings that align with them. Be creative!
3. Sell, Sell, Sell: Tour operators are actively selling their programs. They have fine-tuned their products during this time. 2021 and 2022 schedules are being finalized. 2023 is in the planning stages. They are looking for unique products and the partners that provide them with consistency – no surprises. Now is the time to get your information in front of the operators.
4. Market, Market, Market: Tour operators are rolling out marketing campaigns and actively engaging with their loyal clientele. Now is the time to create campaigns and partner with tour operators to sell your products. While incentives are nice, travel professionals lean towards preferring consistent, good, quality product offerings. Contact your tour operator clients directly to get involved.
5. Stay Connected: Budgets and schedules are being created now; stay visible with the operators. Tour operators want to remind you that the group travel industry is resilient and feel this market will rebound faster than most.
Bob Cline: “The world has begun to spin again. We spent two months with nothing happening—other than writing refund checks. Now, we’re starting to get calls for new products. We’re getting bookings for the future. We’re starting to put a couple of trips on the road. It’s a beginning—almost like a new business—but it’s a beginning.”
Jane Julian: “We haven’t had many (COVID-19) cases at all, in Southern Illinois. It’s very rural. And now we are. Starting after July 4. Now, we’re having a lot of cases. Now people are starting to get more afraid—just because we had 14 new cases in our county just yesterday—we hadn’t even had 14, period. That’s made a difference. Also, children are telling their parents they shouldn’t be traveling. I’ve had that with some of the people canceling—because their kids have said, ‘No, you’re not going anywhere this morning.’”
Belinda Grace-Leonard: “We’re fortunate that we’re in New Hampshire. Our numbers are very good … I think that we have a little bit more confidence in our groups. They are people that are willing to travel. We’ve kind of always had that confidence. Even during the worst of days. We had people–if we called and said that we can’t plan on this trip—they were booking something for next year. We’ve done very few refund checks. We did lots of credits and lots of forwarding that payment towards other trips … We have been fortunate as far as people being still willing to travel with us. They just don’t have a place to go right now, which is a big problem.”