The latest travel restrictions feel somewhat like the poisoned cherry on the cake of a tumultuous year of confusion, disruption and devastation, and of course will come as another blow to consumer confidence.
In the midst of all this though, we must remember that this will pass. Our greatest hope – the rollout of the vaccine – is already under way, and with progress in rapid testing and digital health passports, borders will reopen, and that pent-up demand will be realised.
As a passionate member of the touring and adventure sector, I’m having to be a little more patient than some. Bookings are definitely coming back, but perhaps not quite as quickly as those in the beach or villa sector. While I appreciate that, I want to help agents articulate the huge benefits of touring in a post-pandemic world, and give them the confidence to sell touring, now.
Firstly, many operators, ourselves included, have introduced a number of innovations this year that will make touring more attractive than ever before, from smaller group sizes, private bubble options, incredibly flexible booking options and, in an industry-first from The Travel Corporation, a wellbeing director who will travel with our groups (over a certain size) to ensure all the wellbeing needs of all our guests are looked after.
Operators are doing the due diligence in ensuring the hygiene precautions are in place across all their suppliers and transportation, and we’re navigating the complex guidelines in each destination so all guests need to think about is relaxing and having a good time.
I’m really proud of how our sector has come together this year in establishing industry-wide health and safety protocols, and I think we need to work together even more moving forward, using one voice to collectively tell the story of why a touring holiday is the perfect option as we travel again in 2021 and beyond.
As cliched as it may sound, there really is a touring holiday for everyone, from high-end trips offering exclusive VIP experiences, to flexible touring where you can tailor your own experience; from epic outdoors adventures in national parks or tundra landscapes to cosmopolitan city combinations; from food and wine to wellness, history to gardens, there is a trip to all four corners of the globe, at differing budgets and pace, and to suit an incredible variety of passions and interests.
Above all, a guided group holiday is all about making connections, and if there’s one thing we have missed more than travel this year, it’s human connection. Those local families, artisans, farmers and experts we meet along the way have suffered from our absence, and to help those communities survive and thrive, we need to get our guests back out there.
We’re expecting the traditional peaks season to happen a little later in 2021, so for the first quarter we are focusing our efforts on raising awareness of the benefits of touring per se.
We have created a host of tools, training and assets that agents can access on our new agent platform and hope that, in building that understanding and confidence, everyone benefits, none more so than our valued industry partners, suppliers and guests.
Rachel Coffey is director of sales and business development UK and Ireland at The Travel Corporation.