We asked three leading group tour companies to share what’s driving their success and divulge what’s guiding their business into 2020.
Buoyed by a strong economy and a rising stream of Americans entering their prime travel years, the tour business continues to see record growth. We asked three leading group tour companies to share what’s driving their success, how they’ve innovated their products and divulge what’s guiding their business into 2020.
Steven Born, Chief Marketing Officer, Globus Family of Brands
“More than ever before, travelers want the control to personalize their experience, both in terms of how they shape their vacation package and what they do once they’re there.”
Our four brands — Globus, Cosmos, Avalon and Monograms — are all competitively positioned in the market, resulting in lots of choices for group travelers. Here are a few of the trends we are seeing and how we’ve positioned our business to meet the demand of changing customer interests:
A New View of a Familiar Destination
With so many American travelers having experienced destinations like Britain and Italy in some form, there’s a huge demand for those wanting to return via a tour, but with a completely different experience of the destination beyond the tried-and-true cities. We’ve built new product lines around these destinations, Undiscovered Italy and Undiscovered Britain, which are a wide selection of Globus and Cosmos tours built completely around the idea of exploring each country’s lesser-known towns, villages and hamlets.
More than ever before, travelers want the control to personalize their experience, both in terms of how they shape their vacation package and what they do once they’re there. We’ve introduced “Your Way” travel both for Avalon and Monograms, providing the ability to choose the length and structure of the cruise and independent package. For Avalon, we offer Avalon Choice, providing our guests with a choice of included excursions on each cruise, from classic to active to discovery (local encounter) experiences. And for all brands, we offer the ability to pre-purchase optional excursions pre-trip or on-trip, allowing them to select from a huge range of add-on experiences beyond all that’s included. Also, we’ve introduced handy travel apps for each brand — Globus, Cosmos, Monograms and Avalon — that gives all of our travelers the ability to tailor their adventures in destination.
Endless Summer — Extending the Travel Season
We’ve seen dramatic growth and interest in off-peak travel to Europe. The value (40 percent savings vs. high season, on average), absence of crowds, temperate weather and unique view of a destination during the winter months are big drivers. And with more and more Americans finding flexibility in their work schedules, it’s easier to get away any time. of year. We have an entire product line, Escapes by Globus, dedicated to this off season travel.
Groups Increasingly Venturing out
Most of our groups comprise seasoned travelers, looking to their group leader to make a recommendation for that “next” destination — beyond the familiar. Popularity of emerging destinations like Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, exotics and our undiscovered tour series in Italy and Britain show that a pre-formed group is a perfect way to take that next step in travel.
Along with our consumer patterns, there’s an increased demand for flexibility and independence among our groups. The fast-rising growth in our Monograms business, as well as the emerging popularity of Cosmos Lite (independent touring), is showing that the market wants more of that balance between the support that a tour provides with a high degree of independence when at their destination.
Barbara Norton VP, Groups & Special Events, GoWay Travel
“Our customers want to see the major sites and have some meals included, but then free time and open evenings to do their own thing.”
GoWay is a big company and our group business has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. We have 22 in our group department now and all we do is customize groups. I’ve been with GoWay for 35 years and I started as a one-person office, so we’ve grown a lot!
Group Sizes Trending
A group of 40 rarely happens now; a lot of our customized groups fall into the 10-to-15-passenger range. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot more family, multi-generational and also celebrity groups. Another one of the bigger trends is themed groups. We work with a lot of women’s- only groups, singles groups, faith based and more active travelers. They want to be out walking, playing golf, really into the whole experiential realm. Our customers want to see the major sites and have some meals included, but then free time and open evenings to do their own thing. The key is having a good balance in the itinerary, both with included features and free time. We are also seeing trends in lodging where customers want uniqueness, so boutique-style accommodations instead of the big American box-style hotels.
We are seeing 8 to 12 months as the typical booking cycle, but popular destinations are filling up fast. We have groups booking for ’21 and ’22, and some already in the ’22-’23 season for South Africa, France and parts in Europe. If groups don’t book early, they won’t get the space, especially if they want a specific activity or hotel. Other popular destinations include the Mediterranean countries like Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Croatia. We’ve also witnessed a big pick-up in the Middle East.
Boomers Demand Activities
In the next 5 to 10 years, the baby boomers will be fully moving into retirement. That is such a huge market to draw on because they are more affluent, they will have the time and want to travel. They are also more active, so they don’t want to be sitting back on that coach bus all day. It’s just ripe for beautiful customized itineraries for groups. I always say group travel is really group therapy because you get to learn from each other. My first group I ever traveled with was a Contiki trip to Europe in 1980. In 2019, four of us from that trip are all getting together in South Africa. That is the positivity of group travel. Somebody else can solve the problems — you don’t have to worry about your luggage, your safety — all that is taken care of. Just feed me, show me around and tell me what to do, I’m happy.
Nish Patel, President, Mayflower Cruises & Tours
“We are seeing a big change in passenger demographics. We are getting into the 55-to-60 age range compared to the typical 68-to-72 range.”
Mayflower Tours was purchased last fall by the Scenic Group. The transition has been very positive and employees have been enjoying the new office. But as far as day-to-day, there’s no change here. We have a new owner who has given us free range to continue doing business. The biggest difference is that we don’t have to look for river cruise ships for our customers—we have access to 22-plus ships all over the world.
The interest in river cruising has always been there; it is the fastest growing segment in this industry. We have been growing 20 to 25 percent on the segment year-over-year prior to the acquisition and now we are growing 60 to 70 percent. The Rhine and Danube are still the most popular itineraries. Our uniqueness in Egypt and Croatia with small ships is phenomenal. Egypt has always been on peoples’ bucket lists and now with safety concerns being lower and the price point good, it’s a good time to go. Croatia is doing extremely well partially because we cruise on a yacht, and not too many people have a yacht in Croatia.
Iceland has been our No. 1 destination outside of river cruising and Greece is doing phenomenally well. Italy has done well. East Africa is gaining momentum.
Domestically, our top sellers include New England where we’re looking at 20 to 30 buses every year. Charleston and Savannah sell very well and we have some unique itineraries throughout Yellowstone National Park.
We are deep into the group business. If you are promoting a group and you get six or more people then you get special group treatment. Plus, our Navigators Club loyalty program rewards group leaders based on their volume. Our top producers went to Egypt last year; this year we are going to India. Our top groups are still traveling with an average of 35 to 40 people per departure, especially in the bank business. It’s similar looking into the chamber business and park districts — anywhere we can find a pied piper!
Our travelers have changed in a couple of ways. First of all, as we grow more into the river cruise business, we are getting travelers that are spending about $6,500 per person. When they get off the ship, they’re looking at other programs that we have, whether it’s a domestic air tour or Africa or Japan. It has increased our international tours, which now represent about 60 percent of our business. We are seeing a big change in passenger demographics. We are getting into the 55-to-60 age range compared to the typical 68-to-72 range. We are looking at more active programs to support this. Our 2020 business is superb. We have an anomaly with Oberammergau as it’s once in 10 years and it’s happening in 2020, so we have quite a few people booked on that. We are anticipating a massive growth.