There are signs that group travel will resume before the end of the year — and as early as next month.
As states ease their COVID-19 lockdowns, the tourism industry is gearing up to be ready for visitors by late summer or early fall, according to a new survey by The Group Travel Leader, a publication that covers the group travel industry.
The survey was taken by 80 travel planners and more than 65 travel industry organizations the week before Memorial Day.
Asked when they expected to take trips again, 73% of the travel planners surveyed expect to resume traveling in 2020; 19% plan to begin in July or August, 34% in September or October, and 20% in November or December. The remaining 27% said they didn’t expect to begin traveling again until 2021.
The results show the resilience of the industry and the importance of those who are eager to lead the way, suggests Mac Lacy, the publisher.
“We’re all familiar with the term ‘early adopters.’ We will see a similar dynamic take hold in the coming months for travel in general and for group travel. Our ‘early adopters’ will be back on group trips much sooner than some others will. I think these responses reflect that,” Lacy said in an article about the survey.
The overwhelming majority of respondents representing destination marketing organizations (DMOs), attractions and other tourism supplier organizations reported they will be ready this year, with 70% indicating they will be equipped to host groups as early as July or August. An additional 17% will open by September or October, and 8% are waiting until 2021.
The publication noted that there are significant disparities between when communities will be ready to welcome group visitors and when groups will be ready to travel.
Although nearly 70% of travel industry respondents said they would be ready for groups in July or August, only 19% of group leaders said they would be taking trips in those months.
A chief concern is how to demonstrate the health and safety measures they have implemented and make travelers feel comfortable venturing out to their destinations.
Among travel planners, professional tour operators were the most eager to restart trips, with 23% planning to restart in July or August, and 43% planning to resume traveling in September or October. In contrast, only 14% of volunteer group leaders surveyed expect to take groups out in July or August.
Leading the way
“It’s not surprising that professional tour operators with businesses to maintain are eager to start running trips and bringing in revenue,” said Brian Jewell, the publication’s vice president and executive editor. “We expect them to lead the way, albeit with smaller groups than normal. And as these professionals develop best practices and demonstrate how tours can operate with high health and safety standards, affinity groups and other nonprofit travel organizations should begin to follow their lead.”
Tour operators had concerns, according to survey comments, about inconsistency in rules varying from state to state and, as a result, being able to find open welcome centers, rest stops and restaurants en route to destinations.
However, the majority of DMOs said they are implementing the new guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, national associations and other entities.
“Hotels, restaurants and bars have reopened with specific guidelines and restrictions,” one wrote. “Most of the attractions are now open. We are ready!”
Read more about the survey results here.