It is a truth universally acknowledged that the tourism industry is a fickle field. It changes from year to year as new generations come of a travelling age, as new preferences and expectations emerge, as the definitions of “luxury” adapt, and as travellers adopt new technologies.
And while some trends in the hospitality industry are universal, applicable across the multitude of sectors that the industry incorporates, others are specific to accommodation providers, restaurateurs, or tour operators. So how does a tour operator find the trends that apply to them? By reading this month’s trend digest, naturally.
This month, we look to sources around the web for insight into some of the trends that are traversing the travel industry, and how they affect tour operators — from sustainability, to last-minute bookings, and beyond.
Younger generations are not the only demographic that tour operators are finding themselves needing to cater too more often. Travellers are no longer waiting for the perfect partner to travel with, but are instead often making their way around the world solo, and they don’t want to pay more for the privilege.
“The ‘single supplement’ applied by hotels, booking sites and tour operators that list their prices per person is so poorly worded it might as well be called ‘lone loser tax’, and the fact that it’s whacked on after you’ve been reeled in by this particular hotel or holiday adds insult to injury.” — The Telegraph
Single supplements do, of course, have their time and place, but that time and place is fast becoming “the past”. While it’s understandable that rooms intended for two cost more than single options, the lack of single options is an issue that many solo travellers find fault with. As The Telegraph suggests, adding more package and accommodation options for individual travellers, and being transparent about what costs are incurred and why will see tour operators better catering to those who want to take on the world, with or without a partner at their side.
We’ve looked at the trend of sustainability for properties and restaurants before, but the trend of sustainable tourism doesn’t end at a hotel or restaurant door. The deluge of campaigns against plastic straws and single-use plastics is only one facet of the eco-tourism trend, but it is one that demonstrates the extent to which being environmentally friendly has become a concern of the public in general, and this focus is becoming more and more important to travellers in making conscious decisions about the areas that they visit and the companies that they choose to take them there.
“With the rise of new technology and ways of transportation, people are traveling to even the most remote places. That eventually led to pollution, over-tourism, deforestation, depletion of natural resources, increased traffic, and alteration of eco-systems. And it’s not just that, the landscape is deteriorating, the local community is beyond annoyed by the consequences of over-tourism, and tourists are, of course, dissatisfied with their travel experience. A badly needed change was long overdue.” — Travel Pulse
As Travel Pulse points out, focussing on sustainability as a tour operator extends beyond making sure that your company is doing what it can for the environment. It involves making sure that each company you deal with is focussed on sustainability (both on a local and a global level), on ensuring that the footprint that your guides and clients leave is as minimal as it can be, and balancing one-of-a-kind experiences with the impact that they might have on local ecosystems.
Before they venture out, modern travellers are researching every aspect of their stay, building itineraries in their minds, noting interesting tidbits about destinations — in many ways, they are using the information they can find online to become their own amateur travel agents, packaging themselves a holiday tailored to their interests. Their expectations for trips, and of tour operators, are more demanding — they want to experience something new and exciting, and they want it now. As Skift notes, “vacationers want to experience something new and are tired of the same old tours and activities. While global tour operators are baking more customization into their products, digital distribution is changing the way local operators do business.” And yet, they explain, the presence of tour operators online has, until fairly recently, remained limited.
“What we found is an industry experiencing disruption from all sides, from the design of tours themselves to the ways products are marketed and sold. A wider shift in the business models of major global tour brands has taken place, with a digital revolution currently taking place on the fringes that has attracted big money from established travel players like TripAdvisor and Google.” — Skift
Digital spaces and offerings, it would seem, are becoming ever more vital, not just to local operators, but on a global scale as well, encompassing bookings, packaging and marketing, and accommodating travellers wherever they are, both geographically and digitally.
It may be obvious that your clients are booking online, but how far in advance are they booking their trips with you? Last-minute bookings occurring within hours of arrival may sound like something that only accommodation providers and restaurants need to concern themselves with, but Trekksoft has found that tour operators are getting more last-minute bookings than ever before.
“Research by Phocuswright... found 38% of bookings for tours and activities happen in the same day or up to two days before the trip. On top of that, these bookings tend to take place ‘in-destination’, while consumers are already traveling. That number grows to 53% when looking at bookings within a week, while only 19% of these activities were booked more than a month in advance.” — Trekksoft
Of course not all tour operators will be finding their clients booking at such short notice, particularly if your trips veer towards the luxury end of the scale, as luxury trips have a tendency to be planned further ahead of time. But, as Trekksoft point out in a later article, “if you have cheaper walking tours or an afternoon cooking class that people can quickly book if there's a change of weather, you want to be attracting last-minute bookings.”
Between the so-called “digital revolution” that Skift speaks of and the upward trend of last-minute bookings, it’s easy to see the value in making your offerings mobile-friendly. After all, it’s mobile devices that give travellers the option to book a tour once they’re already in an area, once their flight has landed and they’re in full holiday-mode. But, as Checkfront ask, is it enough to simply have information in online spaces?
“You’ll have more success landing customers when your mobile website performance is top-notch. Even if you provide a remarkable tour experience and deliver outstanding customer service, a mobile user won’t come to realize that if they’re turned off initially by challenging navigation and slow page speed.” — Checkfront
We’ve spoken time and time and time again about the importance of your website being mobile-friendly, and it’s becoming ever more important, particularly when potential clients are actively looking for exactly what you offer, and are already in your area.
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