Group travel is one of the most significantly impacted travel segments in the travel and tourism industry as a result of the pandemic. And yet, group travel will resume. It will look a little different than it has in the past, specifically relating to group size and safety protocols. Some of this will lessen over time, but stringent safety and cleaning policies and regulations are expected to remain.

There are different types of group travel, the most common types include:

  • Business (meetings and conventions)
  • Leisure (vacations)
  • Sports (attending games or major sporting events)
  • Student (educational, performance, milestones (i.e. senior trips))

Regardless of the type of group travel, what they have in common is over the past year they have all come to a screeching halt. However, this is just a moment in time. The group travel industry will redefine itself to meet the needs of the post pandemic world. There is already movement in this industry. Here’s what’s happening:

What Lies Ahead for the Group Travel Industry

Rebooking Departures

Tour operators rebooked 2020 departures into 2021 and are focused on late 2021 and 2022 bookings. According to Destination Analysts, travel sentiment is shifting from feelings of “scared, cautious, unsafe” to “excited, cautious, hope” looking at travel in 2021.

Destination Analysts visualization of traveler sentiment

Redefining Group Travel

Group travel is being redefined with a focus on smaller group sizes, off-the-beaten-path destinations and more intimate experiences.

Health and safety concerns are driving an emphasis on outdoor, open-air attractions and destinations. This affects both individual and group travel, giving rural and small-town destinations an opportunity to draw new visitors.

Speaking of group travel trends, the group tour market has always been one with a large senior segment. Now that people over 65 are being vaccinated, they are eager to travel and have already begun booking trips and traveling, as reported by the New York Times.

Shifting Millennial Travel Trends

Americans are coming back around to the idea of group travel and travel agents – especially millennials. TravelPulse recently reported on a study by TravelPort that younger millennials are using travel agents, as they want reassurance about safety and protocols they can’t achieve by booking on their own (33% increased trend among millennials). There is also a trend for single travelers who want to be with a group of people. Overall, 65% of travelers reported that they would increase their use of travel advisors. Even the Washington Post came out with reasons to use a travel agent, and cleared up some of the mystery around the profession for their readers.

Learning

Travel buyers have been actively seeking information and learning opportunities throughout the pandemic, leveling up their skills and knowledge. To prepare for the new landscape of group travel, travel buyers are taking advantage of learning programs, like the ones offered through Online Travel Training (OTT) where buyers can learn about destinations, attractions and transportation suppliers.

Return of Conventions

Projections show late 2021 and early 2022 for a return of business conventions. 54% in Wave 43 of Destination Analysts’ report said they would feel unsafe traveling for business reasons in the beginning of January 2021. But MMGY’s Wave X study from December 2020 found that 38% are likely to take a business trip in the next six months, which was a four-point increase from the previous wave.

Of course, planning for conventions takes time. Travel buyers, convention venues and destinations looking to attract large events that begin working now will be poised to recover faster when travel begins to reopen for this segment.

Destinations and Attractions Planning for Group Travel

What does all of this mean for destinations and attractions? The time to act is now. There is pent up demand for travel and now is not the time to be quiet. Now is the time to help people move from dreaming to doing. Visitors are looking for inspiration on future travel and doing research across destination websites, review sites, travel articles, etc.

There are opportunities today to connect with the travel trade through virtual events, such as ABA Marketplace and TAP Dance 2021. The world of travel will play a huge role in the post pandemic economic recovery. Don’t sit back and wait to see – jump on board for the ride!