Prominent group travel players are seeing greater demand for private family and friends ‘bubble’ tours and itineraries that offer meaningful, sustainable and philanthropic travel experiences, reporting that travellers are eager to explore further and undo some of the damage to community-based tourism projects during COVID-19.
Group travel brands have been quick to implement changes and in-trip safety features to help boost traveller confidence during the pandemic, from choosing smaller accommodation options to accommodation outside city centres, private charter flights,greater spaces between coach seats, and in-trip health safety monitors who might, for example, enter a restaurant first to inspect social distancing standards.
As more international borders are tentatively reopened, G Adventures said a return to travel would mean more support for communities reliant on tourism.
Speaking during last week’s Africa Travel Week virtual conference, in partnership with World Travel Market Africa, Brian Young, md EMEA, G Adventures, said there was a definite appetite for travel and growing sentiment of “wanderlust” among travellers.
During the past year, G Adventures has made several product changes, with a range of premium ‘book with confidence plus’ tours with extra safety features.
Brian predicted that demand for domestic itineraries would be short-lived, as he felt travellers would innately want to travel further from home when it was deemed safe.
Joining Brian in a virtual panel discussion on the future of group travel, Kelly Jackson, md of The Travel Corporation (TTC), said flexibility was the “new currency” in group travel.
“One of the big benefits of group travel is that we take care of everything behind the scenes.” However, she said countries needed to work together to align travel requirements.
Describing product changes and a company five-year sustainability strategy, Kelly said TTC was committed to “make travel matter”. Specialist brands would continue to avoid destinations with symptoms of overtourism, she said. “I hope we don’t undo all the ‘good that has been done in the past year.”
Reinvention is the key
Another panellist, Dragonfly Africa vp: sales and marketing, Yolanda Woeke, said local businesses had been forced to reinvent themselves, and appealed to the government to stem job losses and support the sector and its passionate and skilled workforce through the recovery process.
She said Africa itineraries were perfectly packaged for COVID-conscious travellers, with wide-open spaces and community support aspects. However, Yolanda shared her concern about the sustainability of lodges and hotels offering drastically cut rates.
She is responsible for the sales activities and growth of all key source markets for the Dragonfly Africa group, including North America, Australia, New Zealand, South America, and, under a Green Route brand, Europe and the UK. She said many misconceptions about the safety of travelling in Africa had been put to rest before COVID struck.
Putting travellers’ minds at ease and winning back their trust was now the industry’s first priority, she said, and urged others in the industry to become active in promoting Brand Africa. “We need to make sure that as soon as borders are open and vaccines are available, the only thing travellers can think of is Africa.
“We have the most fantastic product. We are probably one of the luckiest destinations. The infrastructure is there and perhaps [COVID] is even creating an even better experience,” said Yolanda.
Forced to adapt
Moderating the ATW session, South African tourism entrepreneur, Gugu Sithole, founder of Glamping Adventures, said businesses had been forced to adapt at every service level, even the number of campfires lit per group.
Gugu reminded listeners of the importance of arranging individual travel insurance before departure, while Brian encouraged intermediaries to help customers make informed decisions about the impact of their trip.
Brian summarised: “We are going to continue to travel. We just have to figure out how to do it in the right way. My hope is that, in this pause, people do take stock. I don’t think it will happen right away, because of traveller ‘wander-must’; but I think they will choose hotels and choose destinations for the right reasons.”