As the year comes to an end, tour operators discuss their visions for the future of travel and the ongoing importance of responsible tourism.
With vaccine news raising spirits after a challenging year, the travel industry is bidding farewell to 2020 with a renewed sense of positivity and an optimistic outlook for recovery. Although the situation won’t drastically improve overnight, there is finally some much needed light at the end of the tunnel. While travellers around the world have vowed never to take travel for granted again, and there is a hunger to explore, the importance of sustainable and responsible travel have arguably never been more important. Hear from Contiki, Collette and Anderson Vacations as they prepare for what’s to come.
Having been restricted from travel during the pandemic, Adam Armstrong, global CEO of Contiki, points out that over the past nine months we’ve all had the opportunity to stop and reflect on what changes we need to make to keep sustainability and responsible travel at the forefront.
“It’s certainly a theme that comes through loud and strong with our past travellers who are socially conscious: how can we travel better in 2021? This life and this world is precious – so how can we give more than we take?” Armstrong tells Travel Courier. “Through Contiki’s not-for-profit, The TreadRight Foundation, and our Contiki Cares initiatives, travelling sustainably and consciously has always mattered. But, our focus on protecting people, planet and wildlife will grow in 2021 as we launch our new sustainability strategy, setting goals and targets for us to collectively achieve over the next 10 years and beyond.”
Armstrong is confident the travel industry will emerge from these challenging times, especially as people around the world are eager to travel again.
“Travel will likely be a little different than before,” he says. “We’ve been listening to our customers and putting the client first remains our key focus. We’ll be adapting new campaigns, creating new trips and hitting tougher sustainability targets. It’s time for us to stop taking travel for granted and to get more out of our trips.”
In the short to medium term, he expects to see shorter lead times for new bookings, such as more last minute holidays.
“That brings a new dimension to how we operate, particularly for brands like Contiki that typically have longer booking windows for long-haul travel,” he says. “Having said that, I do believe that Millennial and Gen Z travellers won’t hold back: they’ll book that dream vacation, tick things off their bucket list and not keep putting it off. That could mean more frequent and longer trips.”
Armstrong also believes travel agents have an opportunity to connect with Contiki’s BDMs now to discover the immersive experiences of their trips and destinations and whether it is the right fit for their clients.
“Millennial and Gen Zs increasingly want to experience the ‘true’ purpose of travel, now more so than ever, and want to sink their teeth into the destination they are visiting,” he notes. “Millennials and Gen Zs totally enjoy the planning stage of their own trips – so get in there and help them dream and book.”
At Collette, executive vice president Jeff Roy tells Travel Courier that the tour operator has long engaged in responsible tourism in an effort to benefit the communities where they operate and bring travellers.
“Every small group explorations tour that we offer includes a socially responsible impact moment and is carbon neutral,” Roy says. “As we approach 2021, this becomes even more crucial to the destinations and vendors that we partner with. The tourism industry has been significantly impacted by this pandemic, and now more than ever, destinations across the globe will rely on tourism’s contribution to economic revitalization and to improve their wellbeing.”
After more than a century in business — 102 years to be precise — Roy says Collette has witnessed its share of trying events in the past, which has helped them get through the past nine months.
“We continue to focus on the relationships that advisors have made with their clients over many years. Now, more than ever, we want to provide flexibility and choice for travellers when it comes to their bookings,” he says. “That means we always ensure the utmost safety of our guests and employees, and we support our travel professionals and their unique challenges.”
Even before the pandemic, Roy says there was already a strong and growing demand for smaller group travel experiences across many guests, which he believes will continue to pave the road to recovery.
“We’re continuing to expand the product lineup on our Explorations small group touring line and enhanced our product offering for Private Touring, which allows a small pre-formed group to take an entire published departure exclusively for themselves,” he says. “By the time that travel will be able to resume fairly normally again, travellers will have lost between 12 and 18 months of opportunity to explore the world. As a result, we see massive pent up demand, a surge in savings among travellers, and a growing desire to take those once-in-a-lifetime long-haul and long-duration trips to places like South Africa, Australia & New Zealand and Oberammergau Passion Play itineraries through the end of 2022.”
For Darcie Guarderas, director of business development and operations at Anderson Vacations, responsible travel must be at the heart of tourism moving forward.
“With the arrival of the vaccine, we are now turning a corner,” she says. “Not just sustainable travel, but more importantly regenerative tourism should be the focus. As travel resumes, guests are looking to make a positive impact and in many cases leave a destination better than they found it.”
Over the past nine months, she says the travel industry has had a time out, which has given many the opportunity and ability to re-assess how things have been done in the past and what changes must be implemented to ensure that the industry protects through exploration, conservation and education.
“Focus must shift to non-bucket list destinations and attractions, encouraging travellers to explore off-the-beaten path locations rather than just the mainstream,” she says. “This may result in even more enriching experiences.”
Looking to the future, she points out that there is definitely a trend toward this regenerative style of travel.
“Seeing our planet begin to heal itself as we all stayed in our homes was an eye opener for most,” she says. “I predict that moving forward, we will all travel with more intention, with more concern for how our actions affect the planet.”
Undeniably, 2020 was a challenging year that many in the travel industry would rather forget. But to end the year on a brighter note, we asked our panel to shed some light on how they will recall the past year with positive sentiments.
From a personal perspective, I have really enjoyed reconnecting with friends and family more than normal this year – especially those I haven’t spoken to in a long time. The fact that we couldn’t connect in person this year somehow initiated more virtual contact than normal, which is so much richer than texts and phone calls. I think the highlight was teaching my parents how to use FaceTime and having virtual family quizzes every Saturday night! At Contiki, we’ll remember 2020 as the year we stood back and took stock of our trip offering. We kick-started some big new product discussions for the future and quickly pivoted to offer domestic trips, allowing Canadians to have local adventures in their own backyard. All of these have been developed with trademark passion of the crew here at Contiki.
Speaking from the standpoint of our industry, I am impressed with the genuine humanity of everyone from the airlines, to hotel partners, travel agents, cruise lines, tour operators, the associations, etc. It’s been extraordinarily difficult, but we have been so pleased to see how individuals from numerous travel organizations have pulled together to share ideas, work with government, and partner towards preserving and promoting the wellbeing of our industry and guests. We have often said that while we are competitors, we do not want to compete on health and safety.
2020 was no doubt, the most difficult year I have ever experienced. But looking back, there are many positives that I prefer to focus on. Anderson Vacations has taken this time to truly focus and connect with our travel agent partners. Without this pause, we may not have taken the time to re-evaluate and create a new platform to inspire them. Personally, I am grateful for the relationships that gave me the strength to stay positive and keep moving forward.