How travel experiences have changed — and changed again — during Covid: Travel Weekly

How travel experiences have changed -- and changed again -- during Covid: Travel Weekly

Domestic trips

As widely predicted, domestic and regional travel reopened first, as the bulk of borders remain closed to Americans.

And while some package operators and traditional inbound tour operators have had some success by quickly pivoting to more domestic offerings, most traditional guided travel companies abandoned plans for even U.S. tours this summer when varying state responses to surges made it difficult to navigate constantly changing state rules about quarantines and openings.

Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, for instance, created short, seven-day trips in Hawaii, Louisiana and the Southwest in hopes of restarting domestic travel while Europe and other destinations remained close. Initially, those were well-received, said Jon Grutzner, president of the two brands. And while those will be available for 2021, he predicts they will be temporary offerings.

“Ultimately, if people are going to do short-term, closer-to-home trips, they are going to do it on their own,” he said.

Ben Perlo, managing director of U.S. operations for G Adventures, would agree. He believes once borders open there will be a lot of pent-up demand for resuming long-haul travel, because people have spent this year crossing domestic and national park visits off their bucket lists.

“I do think long-haul is going to bounce back very, very quickly and with some strength to it,” he said. “But it all depends on regulations and vaccines.

In the meantime, one pivot G Adventures has made is the launch of day tours in Boston and Toronto, where it has offices. It hopes to expand those offerings to keep customers engaged. 

“This is just very, very small,” Perlo said. “We just want to make sure the audience knows we are still producing experiences.

“This is just the first iteration. I think we will do more. This will be a constant evolution.”

Another evolution has been the development of products by tour operators for local rather than inbound markets. 

G Adventures, for instance, has had about 20 departures in September and October running in Europe for Europeans for what are basically existing programs. Intrepid Travel has also been running some shorter trips for local and regional markets outside of the U.S. 

“It has been very successful,” Perlo said. “We filled those departures, which was our initial concern. And we got great feedback.”

Globus, likewise, has developed domestic products for the U.K. and Australia and New Zealand, although like in the U.S., it hasn’t been able to launch those yet, said Steve Born, chief marketing officer for the Globus family of brands. Their first trips since the pandemic will run in Canada and the U.S. this month and next.

Some river cruise companies, including Tauck, Avalon, Amadeus and AmaWaterways, which normally focus almost exclusively on the North American market, have also initiated partnerships that have enabled them to launch limited sailings in Europe this summer for Europeans and other non-Americans while Europe remains off limits.

“We have been operating cruises serving Germans all summer,” said Tauck CEO Dan Mahar. “That’s gone very well. Customer satisfaction is very high, and the experience is very similar to the traditional river cruise experience.”

While the companies have said they don’t expect to change their long-term focus away from the North American market, which commands higher prices, Mahar said, he expects the results and new relationships with European tour operators will lead to increased diversity among their river cruise guests.

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