Despite geopolitical challenges, tour operators are confident about 2024.
According to the U.S. Tour Operators Association’s (USTOA) annual survey, 94% of suppliers reported growth in passenger volume in 2023, increased sales by 10% or higher, and are highly confident that bookings will increase in 2024.
Staffing levels, which had been a pain point for many suppliers at the beginning of the year and since the pandemic, seem to be rebounding industrywide, as 86% reported increased staffing levels in 2023 and expect to add jobs in 2024.
Tour operators said that their in-destination partners, from hotels to guides to transportation providers, also successfully addressed staffing.
“Our overall staffing levels — both internally and with our partners — are not quite back to 2019 levels, but getting there, so we’re seeing all signs point in the right direction,” said Tauck president Jennifer Tombaugh.
Tombaugh also said Tauck “had our best advanced year in the history of the company, and we’re seeing demand already into 2025.”
Small-group tours, private groups and FIT are the products showing the strongest growth trajectory in 2024, the USTOA survey showed. And an emphasis on customization appears to be a leading trend among these trip types, especially when it comes to family travel, which is expected to continue its run its strong run into 2024.
“We see 2024 as being the year family travel becomes all about hyper-personalization, really getting to know clients and their intent to the finite level to plan something no other family will experience,” said Geordie Mackay-Lewis, co-founder of luxury tour and yachting company Pelorus. “Time off is precious and it needs to be spent on experiences and memories that will be treasured for a lifetime.”
Travel research firm Arival and online travel marketplace TourRadar say that value and experiences are what travelers are looking for the most when planning trips. Studies show that travelers are taking fewer but longer trips and are seeking immersive experiences.
Potential overcrowding and extreme heat also are factors that could influence where and when customers travel. A summer of extreme heat in southern Europe was a challenge in 2023.
“We are seeing a move north,” said TTC Tour Brands president Melissa DaSilva of bookings to Europe in 2024.
“They’re moving into the Nordic regions. Those destinations are doing really, really well. It could have to do with the crazy heatwaves that Europe was having this summer and people thinking to go to a part of Europe that isn’t as impacted by the heat, as well as [to avoid] crowds.”
Regarding sustainability initiatives, the USTOA survey found that the top three reasons suppliers were adopting a sustainability strategy in 2023 were corporate values and culture, responding positively to global crises, and brand and PR.
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