The group travel market was hit harder than almost any other travel industry segment, for a variety of reasons we don’t need to ever talk about again. But now it’s roaring back, and so many tour companies are reporting big numbers again for 2023 trips.
There are so many themes and trends to discuss in travel right now, as customers have learned all sorts of lessons from their experience in the pandemic, and their behaviors and desires have consequently changed, sometimes drastically.
Drawing on the experience I have running a Tourpreneur [facebook.com/groups/tourpreneur], a community of 5,300 tour operators around the world, I’m going to focus on what I’ve seen specifically in the group travel segment.
Nature, Walking & Mental Health
We’ve all been scarred by the mental health effects of the pandemic. During lockdown, many urbanites discovered nature because they had to. Trips to national parks were up, for example. That trend is here to stay. Groups are being formed around yoga, group nature hikes, and even walking trips, in which a group spends days or weeks going on extended walks, sometimes in groups, sometimes self-guided. These types of experiences are helping travelers feel physically and mentally whole again, whether doing yoga together or simply being present in the splendor of natural landscapes.
Part of the excitement of 2022—which will only continue in 2023—is the reopening of parts of the world that were slower to recover and reopen than the U.S. and Europe. Countries like Japan, Thailand and Indonesia are once again seeing a surge of travelers interested in booking group trips through their largely locked up countries. Tour Group leaders previously used to doing specific destinations are opting to discover places that are new and fresh, part of everyone’s desire for novelty, surprises and fresh experiences after a period of years of monotony.
Large tour operators are also noticing that many group trips are being filled with larger proportions of solo travelers, especially younger travelers opting to travel alone and sometimes in a group. Others have specific reasons for traveling alone: divorced travelers looking to bond. Travelers with quirky interests not shared by friends or spouses. The simple desire for new connections. Tour operator Intrepid Travel, for example, reports that more than 50% of their group trips are now filled with solo travelers, a huge uptick.
Younger & Multi-Generational Travel
Group trips are no longer just for retirees boarding a motor coach together (not that there’s anything wrong with that). After the pandemic, many have rediscovered the value and importance of family, and are several generations are opting to travel together in groups.
Tour companies are seeing a rise in millennials and Gen Z traveling in groups. Whether it’s the need for connection and bonding again, or the availability of large home rentals, people are looking to travel in ways that forge larger group connections, and not just satisfying individual needs.
Maybe we all watched too much Netflix and TikTok these past few years, but group trips with specific themes or led by influencers are on the rise. “Influencer” no longer means someone in a hat smiling for Instagram. Companies like Modern Adventure are creating trips around well-known chefs, for example. And TV show-themed tours base on shows from The Gilded Age to Homelander are becoming a very popular way to organize a trip. Guests can bond instantly over their love of culture.
Technology is now pervading every aspect of the group travel experience. New apps are helping groups discover each other. Software startups are revolutionizing how companies organize their tours on the back end. Booking software platforms are allowing anyone to accept payments, organize group lists, and become a tour operator. On tour, from QR codes to photo sharing apps, tech enhances the customer experience.
By Mitch Bach