There was considerable interest in the most recent—”Connect & ReConnect with Domestic Tour Operators”—of Connect Travel’s virtual roundtable series on keeping connected with travel trade leaders, especially as both the travel trade and national news new media have begun to focus on the expectation that recovery from the coronavirus-driven global pandemic will occur first in domestic markets, including student, senior and specialized groups. So popular was the first webinar discussion on the subject that it was brought back again (thus the “ReConnect” in the name of the event) and, again, generated participation by hundreds of travel and tourism professionals.
The industry panel was comprised of the following participants:
Keith Snode, chief operating officer, Kaleidoscope Adventures – [email protected].
Rich Bradley, president & CEO, Original Orlando Tours – [email protected].
Jennifer Simpson, chief experience officer, Bespoke Experiences – [email protected].
Steve Maehl, vice president field operations, Global Travel Alliance – [email protected].
Matthew Granger, director of sales, Guardian Music and Group Travel – [email protected].
Moderating the discussion was Shari Bailey, vice president, Connect Travel, and general manager, Connect Travel Events.
1. Booking Trends: Requests and bookings are occurring. Panelists believed that primary group destinations in 2021 will change, creating unique opportunities for tertiary and “beyond the gateway” destinations. Requests have been for destinations closer to home, more regional. Additionally, booking windows, regardless of market segment, have reduced significantly.
2. Student Groups: Don’t count out student travelers. Students, parents and teachers want to travel. Individual school districts across the country are tasked with deciding how and when sanctioned public school trips will begin safely traveling again. Private schools and non-school sponsored groups are traveling. Safety is a top concern, groups are smaller, and booking windows have changed from 1 year out to 3 months.
3. Product Trends: Bespoke/custom tours, walking tours, outdoor activities, destinations beyond the gateways and traveling closer to home have certainly increased in popularity. Tour operators need this information to create new programs.
4. Partnership: Flexibility and fluid timelines are the new norm; making partnerships more important than ever. The panelists reminded, “We all need to be good stewards to our industry.” There are obligations on everyone’s end. As compromises and agreements are reached; balancing flexibility with responsibility is paramount. Be mindful to keep the integrity of the product.
5. Connect: Outreach is important, be sure to keep your clients up to date. Our panelists specifically requested destination updates, new product and program information, flexibility and availability guidelines, and safe + clean guidelines. Equally important, updated contacts from your organizations. They need to know who/what is open, group size capability at restaurants, restrictions at attractions, etc.
Steve Maehl: “From destinations, what do we need? It’s super-helpful to have comprehensive lists on what’s open and what’s closed. Earlier (this year), we got to the point where every other day we were checking different websites. ‘OK, what’s the status on this venue? We don’t know if they’re open or if they’re closed. Or if they have a cap limit. Or a group size limit.’ On a package, you can easily have 25 vendors that you’re working with … it’s hard to keep track of.”
Rich Bradley: “If you were to break down our market segments, in a normal year, 50 percent of our business is international; so, there’s half of it gone right off the bat. Forty percent is outside of Florida and 10 percent is within Florida. The 40 percent has been dead most of the year, but it’s starting to get a little tire kicking going. So, really, the challenge for us is that we are down to the last 10 percent of the market, and which of those people are willing to venture out and have some fun.”
Keith Snode: “We’ve reshaped some products of ours. We launched ‘Just for Us Adventures,’ which are tours and destinations curated specifically to limit contact with large groups and crowds … as well as smaller groups, keeping groups contained, private experiences and things like that.”
Jennifer Simpson “We’re very flexible and fluid in terms of the timeline. So, although we had Savannah on our radar to launch for Q2 in 2022, we just launched it last week because we had a guest said that said we want it. And within two days, we put something together for a group of eight. But it was a very high net worth individual who was willing to pay for the compressed timeline.”
Matthew Granger: “Our marketing has been minimal up to this point. Before things got too crazy, we did a very shallow dive into the different destinations that SYTA (Student & Youth Travel Association) was promoting—the top 10 domestic and top 10 international ones. We want to be able to do the same thing going forward with your cities. So, CVBs, vendors, different attractions, restaurants … send me what you have.”