The rules of the road have changed.
If you’ve traveled at all in the past 12 months, you’re probably aware that things aren’t what they used to be. The pandemic and the chaos it created have caused widespread challenges throughout the tourism and hospitality industries. And although government-imposed restrictions seem to be disappearing by the day, other factors such as labor shortages and rising consumer prices are continuing to reshape the travel landscape.
If you’re planning to ramp up your group travel program to full force this year, you would do well to take these headwinds into account. Here are five rules of the road to keep in mind as you plan group trips for 2022 and beyond.
Offer a Guarantee
Before the pandemic, few people thought much about what would happen to the money they prepaid for their vacations if the trip didn’t go. Today, though, that eventuality is on everybody’s mind. As a tour leader, you need to help people put those concerns to rest. When working with tour companies or cruise lines, have them provide cancellation terms to you in writing, and try to work with reputable organizations that are bonded against service interruptions. Then extend your own cancellation and credit guarantees to your customers so they know their money is safe with you and your partners.
Make Insurance Mandatory
Travel insurance has always been a smart purchase, but in light of the mass cancellations of the pandemic, insurance has become essential. Public health conditions and government policies can dramatically affect your group’s travel plans, and travelers who get sick during a trip may be subject to drastic quarantining requirements. The best way to protect your travelers from financial fallout is to package a travel insurance policy with every trip you sell. Look for insurance that will pay out if your trip is canceled by an operator, as well as if a traveler has to miss a trip or quarantine during a trip for health reasons.
Prepare for Testing
Testing for COVID-19 has become a fixture of the travel landscape and may continue to be involved in international travel for some time. You need to make sure you and your tour provider are aware of any testing requirements that will come up during your trip. Make sure a testing stop is built into your itinerary if need be. Another good idea is to stock up on at-home test kits and bring them on your trips. Offer one to anybody who starts feeling under the weather while on the road.
Plan More Time
Pre-pandemic group tour itineraries were often packed with activities, and tour organizers prided themselves on delivering experiences with minimal wait times. Today, however, practically every service business in the country is short-staffed. This means that restaurant service, hotel check-in and attraction ticketing are likely to be slower than in the past. And new staff, with less experience, may not deliver the level of customer service tour groups are used to. Savvy travel planners should adjust to this reality by slowing down their itineraries and adjusting traveler expectations for the time being.
Increase the Budget
You’ve noticed it at the grocery store and the gas pump — everything in life is getting more expensive — and fast. With annual inflation close to 10%, prices for goods and services are rising more quickly than usual. Larger tour companies that locked in contracts with providers last year may be protected from those rising prices but only temporarily. Sooner or later, inflation and the labor shortage are going to make every trip more expensive. You can get ahead of the problem by raising your prices now and budgeting more money for variable costs that could go up between now and when your trip departs.