Experts are calling it the “silver wave”: a movement of older Americans who, now that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, are set to begin traveling in droves this summer and fall.
This demographic, which has long been the bread and butter of the group tourism industry, was largely sidelined during the pandemic. But since they were among the first to be vaccinated, they have also been among the first to begin booking travel again. And this means a wave of opportunity is about to wash over the tour business.
The silver wave promises a return to business and even profitability for many tour companies and travel organizations. But this is not a universal guarantee. A year of pandemic conditions has left the travel industry dazed and confused, and some destinations, attractions and companies are not prepared to maximize this opportunity or handle an influx of travelers.
If that describes your situation, don’t worry; there’s still time to catch the wave. But it’s going to require bravery, flexibility and creativity.
Here are five essential steps every tourism organization needs to take in order to ride the silver wave back to prosperity in 2021.
1. Reset Your Thinking
A year is a long time, long enough to create new routines, habits and thought patterns. And in the year-plus that the travel industry has been dealing with pandemic conditions, many of the protocols and processes we first thought of as temporary have firmly entrenched themselves in our minds. Although that’s understandable, it’s also dangerous because a tentative, wait-and-see attitude will hold you back from riding the wave of travel’s return.
Though the pandemic dominated our collective minds in 2020, it’s time now to reset your thinking to a mind-set of post-pandemic prosperity. Stop dwelling on risks and start pursuing rewards.
If you continue to think as you did in 2020, you’re going to see the same results you saw in 2020: no sales, no travelers and no recovery. So say goodbye to cancellations, postponements and obsessing over safety. And say hello to the wave of eager customers.
2. Refine Your Messaging
Recent studies have consistently shown a huge demand for travel, especially among consumers that have been vaccinated. But many travelers and group travel planners are hesitant to book trips they want to take because they’re unsure where they’ll be allowed to go and what they’ll be allowed to do once they get there.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, the travel industry’s messaging was all about cancellations and quarantines. Then, as things gradually began to reopen, the message switched to masks and safety protocols. But with all the ups and downs of the pandemic over the past year, the messaging has become jumbled, and travelers are confused.
To ride the recovery wave this year, you’ll need to cut through the confusion with strong, clear messaging: “We are open!” Don’t emphasize restrictions and safety measures in your communications because everyone already knows about masks and hand-washing. Instead, highlight the great experiences you can offer customers right now.
3. Rebuild Your Itineraries
If your tour itineraries or the sample itineraries you circulate to travel planners were created more than two years ago, they’re probably out of date and inaccurate. Even under ideal circumstances, itineraries need frequent updating. With the pandemic, though, there’s a good chance that a business you usually include in an itinerary isn’t operating the way it normally does. And sadly, some have closed for good.
If you plan travel for groups, work on creating new itineraries that spotlight great travel experiences that are currently available. Check in with your destinations and suppliers to make sure the information you’re publicizing is accurate. If this will be your first tour since the pandemic began, consider a shorter trip to a destination close to home to help your customers ease back into travel.
If you work in destination or attraction marketing, you should also create new sample itineraries that reflect where your destination is today and where it is going tomorrow. Let your travel planner customers know that everything you’re sending them is something they can do right now.
4. Rehire Your Salespeople
When the pandemic hit, many leaders of tourism organizations reacted to the financial strain by letting employees go, especially sales employees, who wouldn’t have been able to sell much anyway. And though that decision was understandable a year ago, today is different. To ride the silver wave back to tourism’s recovery in 2021, you need your experienced salespeople in place.
For tour operators and group leaders, now is the time to start a person-by-person campaign to reach out to existing customers, especially those eager to start traveling. If you have a sales staff, get them busy making these calls. If you don’t have a sales staff, start making sales calls yourself. Many of your potential customers are simply waiting for you to invite them to book a trip.
If you work in the travel industry, get busy filling your sales roles as quickly as possible. Put those salespeople to work reaching out to all the travel planners in your database to re-establish relationships and start the travel planning conversation.
5. Restart Your Promotions
Under the best of circumstances, it can take months to plan a group tour, and with all the disruption caused by the pandemic, getting new trips off the ground might take even longer. That makes it critical to get your ads and messages into the marketplace right now in order to inspire people looking for fall travel opportunities. If you wait until public health authorities officially declare the pandemic over, you will have waited too long and missed the window of opportunity.
If your newsletter or email campaigns have fallen dormant, restart them now. And if you reach travelers in your community through local newspaper or magazine ads, start advertising again with an offer for a specific trip that your potential customers will be eager to take.
If you work for a CVB or an attraction, it’s critical to end your budget freeze and take decisive action. Savvy travel planners are doing the legwork now for trips they’ll take this fall. To reach them, start advertising in print and online in earnest.