Tour operators tend to be good forecasters so I like to see what they are saying. Recently the USTOA (the trade group) published a survey of their members.
First who are tour operators?
Examples include Globus, Collette, Trafalgar and CIE. And there's many more. They provide packages including hotels, meals, escorted tours and transportation. There's many flavors of tour operators from full on everything's included to light touch where only hotels are included. Here's a post we did a little bit ago for more details. But USTOA members also include the cruise industry and so membership is a good cross section of the travel industry.
Most are seeing strong bookings in 3rd quarter of 2021, though bookings start picking up second quarter 2021 and continue into the 4th quarter of 2021. And a large majority are confident or highly confident that their company will have a strong 2021 in terms of bookings.
Their biggest challenges are (in order of most challenging): different quarantine restrictions in different locations, coordination of protocols across borders and limited availability of rapid testing. Customer reluctance to comply with protocols was named least challenging.
The top destinations requested are Italy, Ireland and other European spots. This is very similar to pre pandemic times. New bookings to wide open spaces in the US like Alaska and Arizona (national parks) are also trending up right now.
Other trends include small and private group travel as well as river cruising. The theme here is limiting exposure to other.
No surprise that the biggest influence on consumer travel will be safety and wellness in 2021 And of course government travel restriction easing is another large influencer.
Different destinations had different responses in terms of expected re-openings: Europe: 1Q21, Africa 1Q21, Antarctica: 2Q21, Asia: 1Q21, Australia and South pacific: 3Q21, Canada: 2Q21, Central and South America 1Q21. Remember, these are just opinions of the tour operators that operate in these locals. Actual dates will depend on pandemic responses in teh various localities and especially here at home.
The respondents to this survey generally are closer to the destinations than most and so it's instructive to get their take on the subject. Of course the USTOA members have an incentive to promote booking sooner rather than later. I'd be surprised is Europe opens in the 1Q21 however based on current pandemic trends. I'm not surprised toward the trend to smaller groups and smaller cruise ships - that just makes logistical sense. Most of my clients are certainly looking for health and safety over all else right now. My own feelings is that once vaccines are widely available, travel will continue start to ramp up. By my calculation that will be summer of 2021. And of course now's the time to book something 6 - 8 months away.