U.S. Tour Operators See Boom After Inbound Testing Requirement Endsby Daniel McCarthy /
The news last week that the United States would drop its inbound testing requirement, one of the last remaining COVID-19-era restrictions for American travelers, caused applause from around the travel industry, including from advisors, who were anxiously awaiting the boost in business.
Tour operators speaking to TMR this week said that they have also seen a significant positive impact from the announcement, with travelers who wanted to vacation internationally almost immediately picking up the phone and others shifting from domestic to international destinations.
A spokesperson for Collette told TMR that the tour operator was “thrilled” to see the testing requirement lifted. In the two-and-a-half days after the news broke, Collette saw a significant shift in international bookings from domestic bookings.
“Approximately 75% of the business that has come in (from a bookings standpoint) are for international tours, and of that, more than half is for this calendar year! It’s clear that guests who are excited to travel in 2022 were waiting for this last requirement to be dropped,” the spokesperson said.
Steve Born, the CMO at the Globus family of brands, told TMR that the news was a “clear indicator of travel confidence.”
“We’ve been waiting for this welcomed news for a long time and are thrilled the day to drop these requirements has finally arrived!” he said.
According to Born, volume for Globus is already up over 50% from the same time the week prior, which he called a “very positive sign.”
“We know our advisor partners and their clients are relieved by this news and will remove what’s been seen as the leading barrier to international travel,” he said, adding that Globus expects its remaining 2022 inventory to start moving quickly. “We’re poised and staffed to help advisors with the new demand and the positive impact it will have on international travel, including a welcomed boost in bookings for the Globus family this summer and fall.”
Paul Barry, the CEO of Avanti, the operator that exclusively does FIT vacations, told TMR that Avanti, too, has already seen “a positive impact.”
“We’ve seen a significant increase in terms of the number of quotations for FIT travel that have been requested by advisors since the CDC made their announcement. That number is still growing - but at this point, it is about 15% above the number we were receiving before the announcement," he said.
According to Tauck’s COO Jeremy Palmer, gross booking rates have increased by nearly a third overall compared to the prior three weeks, and in Europe “it’s surged by two-thirds.”
“For our guests, return testing has been one of the single biggest barriers to travel, and a source of great anxiety. Not only has the announcement lifted a huge burden from our guests – as evidenced by the dramatic surge in bookings – but it’s been a cause for celebration within Tauck, throughout our travel advisor network, and across our entire industry. It marks another major step forward on the path back toward normalcy,” he said.
Rosanne Zusman, the CCO from CIE Tours International, an operator that sells a lot of Ireland, along with the U.K., Italy, Iceland, and more, told TMR that spring and summer interest for international travel was already “robust” but there’s been a “difference in the tone of the calls over the past week.”
“Both travel agents and travelers are distinctly more positive about the prospect of travel and less hesitant about making a commitment to travel in 2022. Concurrently, our 2023 bookings have been brisk since product went on sale in late January and we continue to see pent-up demand resulting in long-deferred vacations becoming a reality,” she said.
There hasn’t been much change to tours, Zusman said—the inbound testing requirement had been an obstacle in getting people to book and allowing them to feel comfortable abroad. The experience in destination, logistically, remains the same. Still, the attitude of passengers has certainly changed.
“The mood of passengers has most certainly been buoyed by the change. The specter of ending the tour on a sour note with a positive test is no longer hanging over their head and they are free to enjoy every moment of their vacation.”