Tour operators are optimistic for a travel recovery in 2021.
That’s according to new findings from the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) about current passenger booking trends, post-pandemic recovery, and resumption of business.
According to the survey, eight out of 10 USTOA Active Members are “enthusiastic” to “cautiously optimistic” for a complete resumption of business by the end of 2021. Half (49%) are “cautiously optimistic;” 24% are “optimistic,” and roughly 7% are “enthusiastic.” A smaller percentage, 11%, are “not optimistic,” and 9% are feeling “negative.”
An overwhelming 96% of responding tour operators have seen an increase in new bookings in the last 60 days. The remaining 4% said bookings remained flat with no change in either direction.
“Optimism for recovery even as early as 2021 is high, which is a positive sign for our members and the industry, especially as this survey was conducted just prior to the recent news of a potential return to Europe and US cruising by summer,” Terry Dale, USTOA president, and CEO said. “While our members remain vigilant, given the fluidity of the situation, we suspect this enthusiasm to only strengthen as more progress is made with re-opening strategies.”
Two-thirds (64%) of currently operating Active Members reported that customers shared only positive feedback regarding the wellness protocols and reported no negative impact on the overall travel experience. The remaining third (36%) said only a small number of customers reported that the wellness protocols put in place hindered the experience in some way. Of those currently operating, 65% of the operated itineraries were international and 35% were domestic.
More than three-fourths (80%) of Active Members that sell U.S. programs have seen an increase in domestic bookings in 2021, while 17% responded no increase in domestic bookings. The remaining 3% reported U.S. destination passenger bookings to remain the same.
Nearly half (43%) of respondents with U.S. programs have added new itineraries/tours for 2021 and 17% added additional departure dates on current tours/itineraries in 2021. Another 17% added both new itineraries and added departure dates for the US in 2021. The remaining 23% did not add new itineraries or additional departures in the US this year.
About two-thirds (69%) of current USTOA Active Member 2021 bookings are international, the remaining third (31%) are domestic.
As to where travelers want to visit this year, Italy ranked first, Ireland and the United Kingdom tied for second, followed by Costa Rica, Egypt, Iceland, and Mexico tied for third. Italy was also named the top international destination that travelers are booking for 2022. Germany came in second, followed by France, Greece, and Ireland tied in third.
Based on new domestic reservations made in 2021, Alaska ranked first. Arizona and Utah tied in second with Florida and Wyoming tied for third. Alaska was also named the top domestic destination that travelers are booking for the year ahead (2022) with Florida and Utah tied for second. Hawaii made the list in third.
According to Dale, “It is with little surprise that our members are seeing an increased demand for U.S. travel based on what we knew of international border re-openings at the time of the survey. With more news of planned re-openings from Europe and other international locations, it’s likely we will see this percentage shift again as we get further into 2021.”
When asked if booking patterns changed since pre-pandemic, 84% of tour operators said yes. A third (34%) of the respondents said consumers are booking within one to three months of departure, while another third (39%) reported consumers booking within seven to 12 months of departure. Roughly 13% said consumers are booking within four to six months of departure and 11% said consumers are booking more than a year in advance. Only 3% of members reported that consumers are booking less than a month from departure.
When looking ahead to 2022 passenger bookings, 83% are international, while 17% of booked business is to domestic locations.
The Active Member survey was completed on April 19, with a 78% response rate of Active Member brands.