By Roger Sands
Now that social distancing has become embedded in the global lexicon, perhaps this form of interaction will carry over into the travel industry once things return to some sense of normalcy. As opposed to travelers booking multi-person tours, they may instead opt for small, private tours that are limited in number but large in scope. Several travel officials offer their informed opinion.
CIE Tours, Elizabeth Crabill, CEO
Smaller groups and private tours have already seen significant growth in the past few years, especially with an increased interest in specialty itineraries as well as multigenerational families looking to travel together. As travel recovers, these small intimate groups will likely be the travel style of choice for people transitioning from social distancing back to “normal” behavior across travel segments. As restrictions ease and travelers look to explore once more, new learned behaviors around health will continue to be top of mind. Travelers will feel cautious and want to have more control of their environment. At first, they’ll seek out short, local trips where they feel more comfortable. As their confidence increases, they will begin to venture farther afield, flying both domestically and overseas, but with caution. They may possibly revisit familiar places or destinations perceived as safe and easy to navigate.
TCS World Travel, President Shelley Cline
We think small, private tours will definitely be the area of travel that bounces back first. It’s understandable that as the world reopens, travelers will want to have more control over their itineraries as well as the people with whom they are traveling. We have seen a significant spike already in people inquiring about our creating bespoke itineraries using a private jet to travel between destinations. Not only does this allow them to decide exactly where they want to go and what they want to do, it also gives them increased flexibility and security. We fly our guests in out of FBOs instead of larger airports and set up VIP handling and customs where possible, which helps minimize contact with larger groups of people. We have also heard from past guests they are interested in our private, luxury trips because of our ability to pivot and reroute guests at the drop of a hat.
DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co., Mia Liefeld, Marketing and Content Director
Once the tide begins to turn travelers will no doubt be eager to explore. We can expect the return to travel to feel somewhat different. We predict travelers will seek out small-group experiences or private travel, ensuring that their fellow travelers are people they know well, see often, and feel safe around — their immediate or extended family, or a close community of friends. The flexibility of private planning allows us to keep experiences small-scale: family restaurants with only a few tables, boutique hotels with just a few rooms, or exclusive one-on-one visits with artisans and producers. We seek out lesser-known roads that are more remote and less populous, resulting in a vacation that feels less overwhelming as we gradually transition from social distancing. Also, travelers will feel comfortable starting with closer-to-home and domestic destinations. For Americans, it’s a great time to explore their own backyard.
Discover 7 Travel, Eric Grayson, Founder & CEO
This will eventually precipitate a move to smaller, private tours that will gradually increase in popularity. Some of our ultra-high-end clients have expressed interest in late summer holidays in remote locales (when some clients are anticipating a window for travel to open again). Glamping experiences in the Pacific Northwest and luxury ranches in Montana have both been targets. Conversely, clients seem disinclined to consider anything in larger cities, favoring sparsely populated destinations that can offer genuinely private experiences in more controlled environments.
ToursByLocals, Paul Melhus, Co-Founder
It’s becoming clearer by the day that the touring industry will not be returning to business-as-usual once it’s safe to travel again, and we welcome the opportunity to help travelers discover and explore new places, with health and safety as a priority in the new normal. ToursByLocals has always catered to travelers looking for an individual or small group experience, and we suspect in a new era of shrinking comfort-zones, the demand for these kinds of tours will only increase. We’ve already begun to see some developing trends in our bookings over the last couple of weeks. Early data from travelers starting to book tours in late 2020 and into 2021 indicate that driving tours and customized, off-the-beaten-track excursions are gaining popularity as an alternative to tours where walking in crowds or taking public transit is usually required.
SmartFlyer, Managing Director, Erina Pindar
We anticipate that private touring will become more prominent across several sectors of the travel industry. We are seeing a strong desire to be away from big crowds and cities due to health and safety concerns, and reconnecting to nature is going to be a big driver for people after extended periods indoors. Another great option for a fully customized private group who wants to get a taste of the outdoors is Iceland. A Reykjavik-based organization, Nordic Luxury, can pull some strings throughout the country. We love mixing relaxation at the hot springs with the thrill of snowmobiling on glaciers for our adventure-seeking clients, with the options to retreat to your own private villa after a day of explorations. Finally, out to sea, we predict demand will shift to primarily to small vessels where clients can do a complete buyout for their closest family and friends.
Hands Up Holidays Group, Chris Hill, founder and owner
Private travel has the great advantage of having an itinerary crafted to each traveler’s exact preferences, time frame and budget, so there is no cookie cutter trip that you have to fit into. This flexibility, as well as the confidence of having a travel advisor who can help advise and protect you if there are any unforeseen issues is priceless, and when travel returns this is sure to increase for those who can afford it. I also think people may be reluctant to be part of a large group when travel first returns, so for those who can’t afford a private trip, smaller groups will also be more popular.
Abercrombie & Kent, Stephanie Papaioannou, Vice President, Tailor Made and Private Travel
Before this new reality of social distancing and staying at home began, the merits of a vacation were often measured by Instagram likes rather than the actual impact of the experience. Now, as people are more physically isolated but virtually connected, we’re seeing a greater curiosity about the world around us, one that we predict will continue once things go back to “normal” and we begin exploring the world again in person. People will still want to get away for an unforgettable, luxurious holiday, but the definition of luxury is changing. It’s no longer simply about physical amenities — fancy chandeliers and high thread count sheets — it is about the luxury of discovery and gaining a deeper understanding of a destination through experiencing something firsthand, in an authentic way, not just reading or watching a video about it.
Credit to Forbes.