Preparing for the future of travel

Six tour operators share insights into how they are adapting to survive... and eventually thrive

Travel executives with Collette, Exodus Travels, Globus family of brands, Tauck, The Travel Corporation and Outer Shores Expeditions weigh in on how they are persevering through the many challenges brought on by the pandemic and gearing up for the future of travel. 

ANN RUPPENSTEIN

In the aftermath of the pandemic, in addition to enhanced health and safety standards, the Globus family of brands rolled out a Peace of Mind Travel Plan, which gives guests the ability to move their booking to another destination, vacation, brand or departure date in 2021 or 2022 at no cost, and without questions.

“This travel ‘time-out’ has given us the opportunity to innovate, change and evolve as a travel company, in a short period of time. And because of that, we’re presenting travellers with better options for 2021,” Stephanie Bishop, managing director of the Globus family of brands, tells Travel Courier. “The Globus family of brands is constantly growing and evolving to meet – and exceed – the needs of today’s traveller.”

"This time away from travel also afforded us the opportunity to regroup with our sales and marketing teams to realign our strategies and strengthen our partnerships with advisors."

For example, they launched Small-Group Discoveries worldwide; Private Touring for both Globus and Cosmos; unveiled more off-the-beaten-path vacations across all brands – including off-season travel options through Escapes by Globus and Monograms, as well as adding new ports along the Danube for Avalon and more outdoor discoveries with new Active & Discovery cruises in Holland and Belgium.

“And, of course, we’ve placed a spotlight on the extraordinary adventures that are available to travellers in our own backyard,” Bishop says. “This time away from travel also afforded us the opportunity to regroup with our sales and marketing teams to realign our strategies and strengthen our partnerships with advisors. Our trademark within the industry is to consistently engage our retail partners with a shared goal of growth and business sustainability.”

In addition to creating and unveiling new protocols related specifically to the pandemic – like our enhanced health and safety standards and Peace of Mind plans – this travel ‘time-out’ has given us the opportunity to innovate, change and evolve as a travel company, in a short period of time. And because of that, we’re presenting travellers with better options for 2021.

Stephanie Bishop

Globus family of brands

One of the many innovative ways The Travel Corporation responded to the pandemic was by introducing small group takeovers, allowing people to create their own travel bubbles.

“We have upped our investment in our custom groups department and expanded our team including Nick Roberti, as the Director of Group Business Development, to give Canadian travel agents and their clients more opportunity to create their own bubbles and look forward to getting back to their love of travel soon,” TTC’s President Jeff Element tells Travel Courier.

Across all Trafalgar, Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold trips (other than departures to Australia and New Zealand) with more than 20 guests, TTC also introduced Well-being Directors, a newly created position implemented with the latest on health authorities and local government guidelines.

“The Well-being Director will ensure daily adherence to all well-being protocols and will always be available to support clients’ needs,” he explains. “This new position is consistent with how we have always put our guests at the centre of everything we do.”

"The travel agent will become an even more important advisor to clients as they plan to go out and see the world again. With ever changing rules and regulations travel agents will be best suited and informed to help clients stay updated."

Furthermore, TTC also developed a series of trips designed to appeal to Canadians looking to explore their own backyards. For example, Contiki recently launched a new program with domestic trips.

“Top trips include the six-day Atlantic Canada, where clients can explore the windswept shores of Nova Scotia, to the Nordic spas of New Brunswick and PEI’s distinct charm and the six-day Ontario & Quebec in a Week adventure offering a new way to experience Ontario and Quebec through the lens of an outsider,” he says.

Element also sees travel agents playing a vital role in the recovery of the industry.

“The travel agent will become an even more important advisor to clients as they plan to go out and see the world again,” he says. “With ever changing rules and regulations, travel agents will be best suited and informed to help clients stay updated. Travel agents will give comfort through sharing of their knowledge so guests can sleep well at night.”

We introduced the Well-being Director, a newly created position implemented with the latest health authority and local government guidelines, available on all Trafalgar, Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold trips (other than departures to Australia and New Zealand) with more than 20 guests. The Well-being Director will ensure daily adherence to all well-being protocols and will always be available to support clients’ needs. This new position is consistent with how we have always put our guests at the centre of everything we do.

Jeff Element

The Travel Corporation

Even as part of a company that’s been in business for 103 years, Ron Lonsdale, Collette’s Vice President, says the travel landscape has transformed unlike anything they’ve seen before.

“We have been conservative in how we operate the business — then, now and always — and remain a gold standard of financial stability in the travel industry,” Lonsdale tells Travel Courier. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to our agents and guests. In spite of significant operational and logistical costs incurred, Collette did not raise prices, as a direct result of the pandemic.”

Throughout the pandemic, Collette refunded over $130 million to guests who requested their money back on cancelled tours. However, to help and support travel agents, Collette introduced an Advanced Commission Program. Running until Dec. 31, 2021, agents can earn up to $200 per booking, which won’t be recalled, even if the client cancels.

“Being on the front lines, we see agents playing the biggest role of all in the recovery of our business and the travel industry as a whole,” he says. “As travel returns, people are going to want a trusted advisor to help them navigate through all of the new travel regulations and health and safety protocols with airlines, hotels, in destination and everything in-between.”

"While touring out of Canada has paused, we remain active working together to be a source of relevant content that is positive, educational and inspirational for our valued agent partners."

Prior to the pandemic, Collette already offered a Travel Protection Plan, allowing customers to get a full cash refund on every tour up to 24 hours before the trip departs. In preparation for future travel, Collette consulted with health and security experts all around the world to create enhanced protective measures on tours.

“Each guest that travels with us deserves a memorable and fulfilling travel experience and we intend to continue to deliver on that promise. The health, well-being, and enjoyment of our guests remain our top focus,” he says. “These measures are intended to help safeguard guests’ health and well-being, while allowing for an enjoyable travel experience. From flexible booking to more open space on the coach and much more – all aspects of travel have been considered. This is Collette’s Travelling Well Experience.”

While touring out of Canada has paused, Lonsdale says the Collette team remains active to be a source of relevant content that is positive, educational and inspirational for valued agent partners.

“There is no better gauge or trust measure of a company than when times are particularly bad,” he says. “It’s difficult to say when we will be able to travel again but there will no doubt be a tremendous amount of pent up demand when it is safe to get out there again… we will be ready to make travel dreams come true again!”

Being on the front lines, we see agents playing the biggest role of all in the recovery of our business and the travel industry as a whole. As travel returns, people are going to want a trusted advisor to help them navigate through all of the new travel regulations and health and safety protocols with airlines, hotels, in destination and everything in-between. That is why we want to support our agents and help them rebuild their business with our Advanced Commission Program. Running until December 31, 2021, agents can earn up to $200 per booking, now when they need it and we won’t recall it, even if the client cancels.

 

Ron Lonsdale

Collette

Like many others in the travel industry, Tauck was on track to have the best year in its 95-year-history in 2020. Although the pandemic changed this trajectory, Jeremy Palmer, Senior Vice President, World Wide Operations & Brand Management at Tauck says more than 50% of guests who were set to travel with the company last year have already rebooked trips for 2021 or 2022. 

“Nearly 80% of our re-bookings are for the same tour and timing and demand is high for prime dates and itineraries,” Palmer tells Travel Courier. “We are planning to operate our full slate of programs—visiting more than 70 countries on all seven continents—when the borders and demand enable us to do so. Our operations team is monitoring and updating the changing conditions daily, and we meet weekly to determine what we might start when. With flexible booking terms, it’s in each traveller’s interest to plan and book now.”

With guest care and comfort being the number one priority at Tauck when travel resumes, Palmer says the company asked all of its supplier partners to comply with a set of standards established by TourCare, developed by the United States Tour Operator Association, the Canadian Association of Tour Operators and the European Tour Operator Association.

"We are planning to operate our full slate of programs—visiting more than 70 countries on all seven continents—when the borders and demand enable us to do so."

“We pledge to our guests that we will implement our supplier and our own enhanced protocols, including personal health screening for all our Tauck Directors and appropriate physical distancing while on tour,” he says. “We ask all of our guests to sign our Travel Well Pledge, which includes the requirement of a negative Covid19 test within five days of departing for tour and their abiding by local safety requirements, including face coverings.”

Tauck also launched new, dedicated Private Departures on select dates and trips for guests who only wish to travel with fellow family and friends on a choice of published itineraries. There are now Private Departures on more than 70 land journeys spanning the Exotics, Europe, North America and Tauck Bridges family travel collections to groups as small as just 10 guests.

“We are giving our guests more space on our trips, especially aboard our river cruises which carry fewer guests onboard with more space in their suites and cabins and in the ships’ public areas than other riverboats in their category,” Palmer says. “In keeping with our ‘small is big’ concept, we have expanded our small group departures on our land, river and small-ship programs.”

A hallmark of Tauck travel, guest care and comfort continues to be our number one priority at Tauck. To that end and with an eye toward future travel when the time is right, we have asked all of our supplier partners to comply with a set of standards established by TourCare, developed by the United States Tour Operator Association, the Canadian Association of Tour Operators and the European Tour Operator Association. As expected, our partners’ protocols exceed even these.

Jeremy Palmer

Tauck

After travel restrictions set in, Outer Shores Expeditions was part of a group of Canadian small ship-based expedition operators who found themselves in a different boat. Although they weren’t able to operate as expected, they were fortunate to embark on a mission to help clean up remote shores in the Great Bear Rainforest in BC.

“Partnering with other small ship tour operators, the Clean Coast, Clean Waters Fund (Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy) and Coastal First Nations, we helped to execute a six-week marine debris clean up that was unprecedented in both size and region, covering more than 1,000 kilometres of remote BC coast,” Russell Markel, Founder, Owner & Operator of Outer Shores Expeditions tells Travel Courier. “The Marine Debris Removal Initiative (MDRI) really gave us all something to come together on. It allowed us to support the survival and recovery of our industry, and provide untold ecological benefits to coastal wildlife and marine ecosystems.”

After sharing behind-the-scenes details about the experience on their website, Markel says they received overwhelming support from previous guests about the project.

"The Marine Debris Removal Initiative really gave us all something to come together on. It allowed us to support the survival and recovery of our industry, and provide untold ecological benefits to coastal wildlife and marine ecosystems."

“Our guests were extremely interested in the effort and they wanted to offer their support in any way. It was really heartwarming,” he says. “While Outer Shores Expeditions is an educational tourism company that has always thrived on citizen science projects and immersive coastal ecology lessons, the enthusiasm from our guests in wanting to be part of a project like the MDRI has really underscored this idea that people increasingly want their tourism dollars to contribute to something bigger.”

As a direct result of the encouragement and response, Outer Shores Expeditions has further strengthened its resolve to incorporate more opportunities for guests to take an active role in connecting with the scientific community and participate in scientific research as they explore remote regions of the BC coast.

“We’re getting lots of inquiries from families who want to bring just their family on board and engage their kids in the natural environment in a fun and meaningful way,” he says. “Outer Shores Expeditions offers a small, intimate experience and, I think, as travel comes back, people are looking for more of that. We’re certainly seeing an appetite to come back. We’re hearing from guests that, whenever it is that they can travel safely again, they’re excited to get back out there. They just want to know what their options are when those options become available to them.”

Our guests were extremely interested in the effort and they wanted to offer their support in any way. It was really heartwarming. While Outer Shores Expeditions is an educational tourism company that has always thrived on citizen science projects and immersive coastal ecology lessons, the enthusiasm from our guests in wanting to be part of a project like the MDRI has really underscored this idea that people increasingly want their tourism dollars to contribute to something bigger. That’s been really encouraging and has further strengthened our resolve to incorporate even more opportunities for guests to take an active role in connecting with the scientific community and participate in scientific research as they explore remote regions of the BC coast.

Russell Markel

Outer Shores Expeditions

Although Exodus has always been committed to exploring the world responsibly and giving back to the communities they visit, Robin Brooks, Director of Marketing and PR, North America, says the slower pace of the pandemic allowed their team to hone in on even more positive initiatives that have a widespread impact.

“We were thrilled to launch our brand-new Community Kickstart Project earlier this year; our way of helping our community partners recover and rebuild while we all wait for the world to open its doors again,” Brooks tells Travel Courier. “We started the fund with a donation, but customers were quick to join-in by donating themselves, so much so that we’ve increased the original fundraising target. Developing countries who rely on tourism have been hit hard, and our leaders are uniquely placed to identify the best ways to utilize the funds we raise, whether it’s shark conservation in the Maldives, food packages in Nepal, eco-brick building in Indonesia, or rainwater harvesting in Malaysia.”

"Forward-looking companies know they have to be flexible and the most important thing is to put the safety of our travellers, team, local people and the global community first and foremost."

Exodus has also changed its trips to adhere to current COVID best practices and safety measures, and introduced a new travel safety charter that shows clients how they are focusing even more on travel to safe destinations.

“Forward-looking companies know they have to be flexible and the most important thing is to put the safety of our travellers, team, local people and the global community first and foremost,” she says. “The charter also outlines how we’re using COVID clean and hygienic accommodation, transport and restaurants, as well as travelling in healthy groups with the 24/7 support—both on the ground and from our headquarters. We expect these sort of changes to continue evolving for some time now, and will continue to rise to the challenge of staying up-to-date as best practices continue to evolve.”

We were thrilled to launch our brand-new Community Kickstart Project earlier this year; our way of helping our community partners recover and rebuild while we all wait for the world to open its doors again. We started the fund with a donation, but customers were quick to join-in by donating themselves, so much so that we’ve increased the original fund-raising target. Developing countries who rely on tourism have been hit hard, and our leaders are uniquely placed to identify the best ways to utilize the funds we raise, whether its shark conservation in the Maldives, food packages in Nepal, eco-brick building in Indonesia, or rainwater harvesting in Malaysia.

Robin Brooks

Exodus Travels





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