Traveling and group tours were brought to their knees when COVID-19 struck. Traveling was banned, the gathering of medium to large groups was prohibited, and social distancing was, and still is, in full effect. With the economy slowly opening back up, inevitably, life will not be going back to the way it was before this pandemic. A new normal is blossoming, and people nationwide have to be prepared for that cultural change, especially when it comes to wanderlust.
Return of Packaged Group Tours
Packaged tours and traveling adventures are going to alter and transform with a heightened awareness of safety precautions. Without a vaccine or remedy for COVID-19, rebuilding how group tours operate is vital. As re-opening phases advance across the nation, travel is ready to come back and success hinges on providing a system in which people can again feel culturally fulfilled, but with safety at the forefront.
In a May interview with Skift, Christine Petersen, the president and CEO of smarTours said that “Packaged travel will find a profitable path to a rebound if operators make sensible adjustments to their offerings and cost structure.” Group based travel and tour suppliers are in a unique position to be on the forefront of travels’ return. People need connection. They need that in-person conversation, the feeling of belonging, and that mental stimulation to keep them feeling human. These are the needs that will drive the packaged group travel industry back. However, the traditional packaged group experience will, as Ms. Petersen stated, need to adapt their packages for success.
In the interview, Ms. Petersen pointed out that “packaged tours will increasingly include smaller group sizes, more off-peak season itineraries to avoid crowds, and more a la carte customizations with more flexibility in last-minute re-bookings.” While these provide a great starting point for the industry rebound, there are two core concepts we’d like to highlight: Pods and Digital Distribution.
Preparing for Pods
In a recent guest post I contributed to WhereTraveler, pods, defined as self-contained units composed of family and close friends, are poised to overtake individual and large group travel in the wake of the pandemic. We’ve seen the effectiveness of the pod structure, albeit by a different name, in New Zealand’s “Social Bubbles” initiative. The pod or social bubble concept allows people who belong in the same exclusive group to come together and socialize. This pod structure results in minimizing the feeling of being isolated during social distancing restrictions by giving people the freedom to connect socially while still actively fighting against the spread of the virus. As long as everyone maintains social distance outside of that pod, everyone should be safe.
Pods = Profits
Now, taking that idea and applying it to the framework of a group tour, it can be used to help people get their travel desires fulfilled while staying healthy. Groups can be with people they already know, and touring companies can leverage that to limit costs and maximize revenues. For example, let’s say that each location on a tour allows for groups of 10-12 to visit at a time. You, as a tour operator, have two 15-passenger vans. With social distancing requirements and primarily selling to individual travelers, you would be looking at a maximum of 6 persons per van as well as using both on a single tour. However, if you are marketing to pods, you would be able to place more occupants safely within a single van. This reduces your overall cost per tour and allows for multiple tours to be run, maximizing your profit margins.
Doubling Down on Digital
While marketing to pods is an excellent way to get guided tours back on track, how you reach that customer base is key. In her interview with Skift, Ms. Peterson noted that “Traditional tour operator package holidays have been mostly sold offline with fixed prices for fixed combinations of flights, hotels, and guided experiences” and shared that she believed the way forward for the industry is through digital innovation. Not only does increasing your online presence exponentially expand your reach but, it also provides an additional layer of safety for your customers.
Connected Yet Contactless
In an age where health concerns are at the forefront of everyone’s minds, offering your customer base avenues to stay connected with your service while remaining contactless is of the utmost importance. Optimizing your product for digital distribution ticks those boxes. Web-based solutions allow you to keep open lines of communication with your customers, makes accessing the full details of their trip and itinerary simple, and provides secure gateways for contactless payment. Each of these aspects provide the essential health and safety protections that today’s traveler is looking for but when the full industry is making the move to digital what gives you the edge?
Investing in Interactivity
Providing your customers with more than a just basic platform for interacting with your brand online is what will set you apart. In an industry where the switch to online selling is a new one, the personal touch and friendliness of your team is likely what drives a big part of your business. Choosing a platform where you can add the personality of your brand to your packages and that keeps your customers involved in the process will position you for superior online sales.
#GroupForward with GroupTools
The group tour and travel industry is facing drastic changes as it enters into this new era. After months of isolation, avid travelers are looking to get back into the game again. With the right strategies and partnerships, you’ll be ready to serve them as they do. Let GroupTools help you #GroupForward as you’re rebuilding your group tours for the new normal. The GroupTools platform is built to simplify your sales process, keep you connected to your group customers, and provide the interactive experience that will give you the edge in the marketplace. Implementation is effortless and in as little as an hour your group sales team will be ready to simplify your group sales process with GroupTools. Visit grouptools.com/for-suppliers and complete the form to get started today.