The United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) released findings from a survey of its active members about post-COVID-19 (coronavirus) plans for recovery and resumption of business. A good sign for travel's rebound: 80 percent of active member traveler bookings are to destinations beyond North America, the remaining 20 percent of traveler bookings are to the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
According to the survey, more than half (57 percent) of active member respondents reported that business on the books for 2021 is rebooked guests from cancelled 2020 departures. One-third (32 percent) of active member business for 2021 is existing reservations made prior to the coronavirus outbreak, and 11 percent represents new reservations made in 2020.
“While short-term uncertainty remains, the survey of our tour operator members reveals that the desire among consumers for international travel remains promising, especially looking ahead to 2021,” said Terry Dale, USTOA president and CEO, in an official release.
Active members were also optimistic about when destinations will likely return, with many expecting this fall to be a popular restart period. When asked specifically when they anticipate restarting operations in destinations around the world, the results are as follows:
- Africa: One-quarter (26 percent) of tour operators foresee restarting operations in September 2020, while an equal number (26 percent) anticipate returning to the region in the first quarter of 2021
- Antarctica: More than half (54 percent) of the respondents with itineraries to Antarctica anticipate resuming operations between November and December 2020
- Asia: The most common response for a potential operations restart in the region was the first quarter of 2021 at 27 percent
- Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands: Almost half (44 percent) of tour operators with programs to this region anticipate resuming operations in the first quarter of 2021
- Canada: Just about one-third of active members foresee September 2020 as a potential return to operations in Canada (32 percent)
- Europe: Half (51 percent) of respondents anticipate resuming operations in Europe between September and October 2020
- Mexico: 17 percent of tour operator respondents with programs to the destination anticipate returning in June 2020; another 17 percent named September 2020, with an additional 17 percent foreseeing the second quarter of 2021 for a return
- South America: Almost half (44 percent) of tour operators with programs to countries in South America anticipate resuming operations between September and October 2020
- United States: 30 percent of respondents anticipate domestic operations restarting in September 2020; another quarter (26 percent) of members foresee a July 2020 start
Roughly 40 percent of USTOA’s active members anticipate starting or restarting both consumer and trade marketing campaigns in third quarter 2020. A quarter of the respondents plan to restart consumer (27 percent) and trade (21 percent) marketing in second quarter 2020, while 12 percent are planning a fourth quarter 2020 restart. Of the respondents, 18 percent never stopped consumer or trade marketing.
Acknowledging the present uncertainty and need to continually assess the situation as recovery unfolds, four in five (79 percent) active members say their marketing message will change. When asked how marketing messages may change, tour operators cited an emphasis on health and safety most frequently, followed by a focus on the advantages of small group/ship size. In last year’s tour operator member survey, small groups/small ships were named one of the top three travel trends projected to grow the most over the next five years.
The survey was completed on May 11, with a 56 percent response rate of active member brands.