Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of responding United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) members have seen an increase in bookings in the last 30 days. That’s according to the latest findings from surveys of its Tour Operator Active Members and destination management Associate Members about post-COVID-19 plans for recovery and the resumption of business. Twenty-nine percent have seen no change in bookings during this timeframe and the remaining 7 percent reported a decrease in bookings.
As a follow-up, USTOA asked when new passengers are booked to travel, based solely on bookings made in the last 30 to 60 days. Active Members reported the following:
- Roughly 41 percent of respondents report that they have new passenger bookings scheduled for travel in the fourth quarter of 2020, while 15 percent have bookings made for the third quarter of 2020
- Three-fourths (76 percent) of Active Members are reporting new travel bookings for the second quarter of 2021
- Half (51 percent) report new bookings being made for Q1 2021 travel and two-thirds (63 percent) say they have received bookings for Q3 or Q4 of 2021 travel
- Roughly 12 percent of members report new passenger bookings for 2022
Nearly three-fourths (71 percent) of current Active Member traveler bookings are to international destinations, with the remaining 29 percent of traveler bookings to North America (U.S., Canada and Mexico). According to Terry Dale, USTOA president and CEO, “This reveals a slight increase in demand for North America product compared to the survey USTOA conducted in May, which reported North America travel bookings representing 20 percent of business.”
According to a destination management Associate Member survey, one-third (32 percent) of DMO respondents say it is “too early to determine” or “unknown” when their destination anticipates opening tourism to North American travelers. Roughly 17 percent anticipate a July 2020 opening for North America tourism, while another 17 percent of respondents expect to reopen in September 2020; 9 percent project a January 2021 opening to North America.
At the same time, USTOA Active Members continue to take a destination-by-destination approach to resuming operations around. “While our last survey showed cautious optimism for a fall return in a handful of regions, we’re now seeing fall having the strongest possibility for the U.S., Canada and Europe, while early 2021 shows promise for many of the long-haul international destinations,” Dale said.
When asked when they anticipate restarting operations in destinations around the world, the results are as follows:
- Africa: More than a quarter (29 percent) of tour operators foresee restarting operations in the first quarter of 2021, while slightly less than a quarter (21 percent) anticipate returning to the region in September 2020. Active Members also showed new optimism for a November 2020 return to business, with the response jumping to 18 percent, compared to 7 percent reported in the May survey.
- Antarctica: Roughly one-third (31 percent) of respondents with itineraries to Antarctica anticipate resuming operations in the first quarter of 2021. A quarter (26 percent) said they plan to return between November and December 2020, showing a significant change from the May Active Member survey where 54 percent said they had anticipated returning within that same timeframe.
- Asia: The most selected response for a potential restart of operations in the region was the first quarter of 2021, chosen by 31 percent.
- Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands: More than half (53 percent) of tour operators with programs to this region anticipate resuming operations in the first quarter of 2021, showing an increase of almost 10 percent from the May Active Member survey.
- Canada: A third (36 percent) of Active Members see September 2020 as a potential return to operations in Canada. Respondents also showed new optimism for an October 2020 return to business, with the response jumping to 12 percent, compared to 0 percent reported in the May survey.
- Central America: The most selected response for a potential operations restart in the region was the first quarter of 2021 at 33 percent.
- Europe: Half (50 percent) of respondents anticipate resuming operations in Europe between September and October 2020 remaining consistent with the last survey. Responses for an August 2020 return jumped 5 percent from the May survey with 14 percent of Active Members anticipating a return in late summer.
- Mexico: 20 percent of tour operator respondents with programs to the destination anticipate returning in the first quarter of 2021, showing a 12 percent increase from the May research report. Fewer Active Members (7 percent) are showing optimism for a September 2020 return, a slight decrease from the 17 percent cited in the survey conducted in May.
- South America: 30 percent of tour operators with programs to countries in South America anticipate resuming operations in the first quarter of 2021, showing an 11 percent increase compared to the survey response in May. Another third (37 percent) anticipate resuming operations between September and October 2020.
- United States: Half (52 percent) of respondents anticipate domestic operations restarting between September and October 2020. Respondents also showed new optimism for an October 2020 return to business, with the response jumping to 15 percent, compared to 0 percent reported in the May survey. Now only 15 percent foresee a July 2020 start, compared to the May survey results were roughly a quarter (26 percent) of members had forecasted July 2020 as a potential opening.
Type of Tour Products: Smaller Groups and FIT
When asked about potential destination group size limitations when tourism reopens to North American travelers, more than half (55 percent) of USTOA DMO Associate Members selected “other,” primarily noting “too early to be determined.” Roughly 19 percent responded that group size limitations may be up to 10 people maximum, while 13 percent noted potential group size limitations of up to 15 people maximum and 9 percent selected up to 20 people. The remaining 4 percent responded that group size limitations could be set at up to five people.
According to the same DMO Associate Member survey, nearly all (94 percent) responding DMOs expect FIT product to come back sooner and stronger compared to other tour product as their destination begins to reopen for tourism. Three-fourths (74 percent) of destinations believe small groups will come back sooner and stronger than other tour product.
Almost all (99 percent) DMO respondents see some level of opportunity for integrating sustainability practices or initiatives into recovery plans. Roughly 11 percent of those respondents indicated that sustainability practices/initiatives will be the central focus of their recovery plan, while more than a quarter (28 percent) believe there is an opportunity to integrate sustainability to a great extent.
When it comes to health and safety practices, an overwhelming 94 percent of DMOs say they will use their own governments health and hygiene protocol. Nearly half (43 percent) reported that they will rely on UNWTO/WHO guidelines, while 15 percent noted that other health organizations guidelines will be utilized.
The Active Member survey was completed on June 9, with a 63 percent response rate of Active Member brands. The destination management survey was completed on May 29, with a 28 percent response rate of DMO Associate Members.