The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) released new findings from surveys of its tour operator active members about current passenger booking trends, post-pandemic recovery and resumption of business.
The good news? According to the survey, eight of 10 USTOA active members are “cautiously optimistic” to “enthusiastic” for a complete resumption of business by the end of 2021: half (49 percent) are “cautiously optimistic;” 24 percent are “optimistic,” and roughly 7 percent are “enthusiastic.” At smaller percentage, 11 percent, are “not optimistic,” and 9 percent are feeling “negative.”
Two-thirds (64 percent) of currently operating active members reported that customers shared only positive feedback regarding the wellness protocols and reported no negative impact on the overall travel experience. The remaining third (36 percent) said only a small number of customers reported that the wellness protocols put in place hindered the experience in some way. Of those currently operating, 65 percent of the operated itineraries were international, and 35 percent were domestic. (According to USTOA, 56 percent of its active members are currently operating.)
Demand for U.S. Shifts
Four of five active members (80 percent) that sell U.S. programs have seen an increase in domestic bookings in 2021, while 17 percent responded no increase in domestic bookings. The remaining 3 percent reported U.S. destination passenger bookings remain the same. At the time of the survey, two-thirds (67 percent) of USTOA tour operator members sold U.S. destination tours/packaged travel itineraries.
Just under half (43 percent) of respondents with U.S. programs have added new itineraries or tours for 2021 and 17 percent added additional departures dates on current tours/itineraries in 2021. Another 17 percent added both new itineraries and added departures dates for the U.S. in 2021; the remaining 23 percent did not add new itineraries or additional departures in the U.S. this year.
About two-thirds (69 percent) of current USTOA active member 2021 bookings are international, the remaining third (31 percent) are domestic. USTOA president and CEO said in the report that the shift to U.S.-based travel was not a surprise given the border closures. Similarly, he expects this percentage to shift back to international as countries reopen throughout 2021. To note: When looking ahead to 2022 passenger bookings, 83 percent are international, while 17 percent of booked business is to domestic locations.
Passenger Booking Patterns
An overwhelming 96 percent of responding tour operators have seen an increase in new bookings in the last 60 days. The remaining 4 percent said bookings remained flat with no change in either direction. As a follow-up, USTOA asked when are the most passengers booked to travel, based solely on new bookings made in the last 60 days. Active members reported the following:
- Almost half (44 percent) of responding active members report that Q3 and Q4 of 2021 have the most passengers booked to travel
- A third (36 percent) said that most new passengers are booked between Q1 and Q2 of 2022
- Another 11 percent named Q3 and Q4 2022 as having the most passengers booked to travel
- The remaining 9 percent said Q2 2021 has the most passenger bookings
Based on new bookings made in the last 60 days, survey respondents named cancellation/refund policy as the most frequently asked question from guests. Likelihood of travel departure was the second most frequently asked question followed by: Health protocols; changes/limitations of itinerary; health/COVID insurance policies; size of group and will the trip still be fun.
When asked if booking patterns changed since pre-pandemic, 84 percent of tour operators said yes. One-third (34 percent) of the respondents that said consumers are booking within one to three months of departure, while another third (39 percent) reported consumers booking within seven to 12 months of departure. Roughly 13 percent said consumers are booking within four to six months of departure and 11 percent said consumers are booking more than a year in advance. Only 3 percent of members reported that consumers are booking less than a month from departure.
USTOA asked what are the top three international destinations that travelers are booking for 2021 (based solely on bookings made this year) and Italy topped the ranking. Ireland and the United Kingdom tied for second, followed by Costa Rica, Egypt, Iceland and Mexico tied for third. Italy was also named the top international destination that travelers are booking for 2022. Germany came in second, followed by France, Greece and Ireland tied in third.
When asked what are the top three domestic destinations that travelers are booking for 2021, based on new reservations made in 2021 only, Alaska ranked first. Arizona and Utah tied in second with Florida and Wyoming tied for third. Alaska was also named the top domestic destination that travelers are booking for the year ahead (2022) with Florida and Utah tied for second. Hawaii made the list in third.
The Active Member survey was completed on April 19, with a 78 percent response rate of active member brands.
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