While major U.S. tour operators might have been surprised by the timing of the reopening announcement, they’ve been extensively preparing for this moment for a long time in their devastating, forced respite due to pandemic lockdowns.
The announcement last month by the United States that it would reopen to fully vaccinated international air travelers from November delighted many executives in the travel industry. It has also had them scurrying to be ready to welcome the expected large number of visitors.
So how have tour operators running trips in the U.S. been prepping for the return of overseas guests? They’re making important plans especially in regards to testing and developing products to attract visitors from lucrative markets.
It’s been a long, hard struggle for tour operators, a sector of travel hit particularly hard by the pandemic — and for U.S. operators, which depended a great deal on overseas visitors.
Melissa DaSilva, the U.S. president of Trafalgar Tours, said despite not being worried about the vaccination status of any prospective overseas guests considering they have to be fully vaccinated to enter the U.S., the company has put measures in place to keep them as safe as possible. While Trafalgar currently doesn’t require any pre-trip Covid tests, DaSilva said that international guests would have a meeting with their travel director or wellbeing director, a position the company created to ensure all of its suppliers would adhere to local protocols. And during the meeting, the guests would display their digital certificate and Trafalgar would make note of it.
Even if some tour operator executives told Skift they were a bit surprised by the timing of Biden administration’s announcement, none of them expressed any concerns about being unprepared to welcome international visitors. So what exactly are those companies doing to keep travelers safe?
When asked that question, Contiki CEO Adam Armstrong said any travelers displaying symptoms associated with Covid would have to take a test and forced to isolate until the results come back. If they tested positive, Contiki’s team would help them find accommodation while isolating.
But what about their return home? “If there is a requirement for the guests to have a test prior to departure from the U.S. back to their home country, we would facilitate that for them,” DaSilva said, explaining that Trafalgar would arrange for any necessary tests to be conducted toward the end of the trip.
Possibly having to cover Covid tests for travelers prior to their flight home is one change the Globus has made in its operations. Chief Operating Officer Pam Hoffee said the tests performed would depend on the guests’ country of origin — travelers returning to Canada must take a PCR test while those returning to the United Kingdom will be required to take antigen tests from the end of October.
Obviously, tour operators had plenty of time to prepare for any issues regarding Covid testing for international visitors once they return. But did they use time to launch campaigns or create offerings geared toward prospective overseas guests?
Several have, including G Adventures. Founder Bruce Poon Tip told Skift that the United States of Adventure campaign that the launched last year to attract domestic travelers has been unveiled internationally to lure prospective visitors from the country’s major markets. Meanwhile, Hoffee said that Globus’ Choice Touring offerings — developed during the pandemic and geared toward inbound visitors — were sparked by research conducted in the U.K. And she added Globus is developing campaigns to lure visitors from the lucrative markets of Australia and New Zealand.
Such developments certainly indicate a strong pent-up demand for overseas visitors to return to the U.S. But it’s uncertain whether tour operators will see large numbers of international guests. While Contiki’s Armstrong has seen search patterns indicating tremendous interest in U.S. trips, a key for tour operators will be overcoming the low rate of vaccinations for 18-35 year olds in some markets.
However, DaSilva is more optimistic about the large-scale return of overseas guests. “Where travelers were planning to go in 2020 before the world shut down, they’re still planning to take that same trip,” she said.