The touring sector is forecast to rebound rapidly in 2022 as travellers seek new experiences and lesser-known destinations, but with the comfort and security of a guide.
Giles Hawke, chief executive of touring brand Cosmos, said forward bookings for next year were outperforming 2019, with around half of that business coming from new customers rather than from rebooked passengers delaying travel due to the pandemic.
He said: “We will come back really strongly. People in our demographic – 55-plus – are wealthy, curious, they want to travel but they want that hand-holding.
“I’m looking at bookings for next year and at the moment, for 2022, our business is ahead of where we were at the same time in 2019.
“There are customers who are desperate to travel but want the comfort and security that a tour can offer them, and no other holiday really can.
“We will see touring and adventure holidays grow into next year, for sure.”
Both Cosmos and G Adventures reported customer feedback was better than before the pandemic, while the latter said the average age of its customers had risen thanks to populations with higher vaccination rates being quicker to restart travel.
Speaking at Global Travel Week, in a session organised by Atas (the Association of Touring & Adventure Suppliers), Hawke also cautioned against tour operators overlooking sustainability in the fight to survive the challenges of the pandemic.
He said: “Survival is key. If we don’t make our businesses survive, we won’t be here. But we launched our Lighthouse project in April this year, which is a whole new project around sustainability. We’ve used some of the down time to focus on what we do on sustainability, improve our footprint and start working with Planeterra.
“I see that as becoming a bigger thing rather than less important, and in the medium to long term I think companies that aren’t sustainable won’t be here, so survival includes sustainability.”
He added that the company’s Undiscovered programme, focusing on lesser-known areas, was set to expand, especially among repeat customers. Claudia Miguel, director of Turismo de Portugal, also said the touring sector was crucial to bringing travellers to less-visited areas such as the interior of mainland Portugal, Madeira and the Azores.
Atas account director Claire Brighton said the expansion of the association during the past 18 months showed the resilience and growth potential of the sector.
She said: “We’ve added more supplier members and a lot more agent members. I think the training has been really appealing and we’re working with a lot of homeworkers now that we weren’t working with before.
“It’s great to see people keen to interact with us even during this period.
“We’ve got our largest-ever Atas Conference in three weeks’ time which is really exciting, we’ve got more training and some virtual and face-to-face events coming up, and we’ll be making some improvements to our website.”