If there were one thing about group travel that you could change, what would it be?
Our industry is in the middle of an important transition period. Tour operators and travel suppliers understood the previous generation of travelers well and tailored group trips to fit their tastes. But as the Greatest Generation ages out of the market, the travel industry is looking for ways to entice baby boomers to join the ranks of group travelers.
Many industry pros have discovered that the new generation of travelers has a different set of tastes and preferences than their parents did. And looking down the road, it becomes even more obvious: Making group travel attractive to Generation X and millennials is going to require a lot of change.
I asked the heads of four major industry associations questions about meaningful change and ways to improve the image of group travel for our story “Group Market Seeks Authenticity.” They each gave good answers that addressed big-picture problems and solutions.
There are plenty of big issues to be tackled, but sometimes small changes can have oversized results as well. As I thought about changes I would like to see in group travel, three areas came to mind. Each would make a significant impact on our industry as a whole.
1. Embrace and integrate technology.
Today’s world is wired — or wireless — for constant connectivity, and many modern consumers use their smartphones and tablets for nearly every activity every day. Some travel companies, such as airlines and hotels, have done a decent job of creating mobile applications and tools for consumers, but the tour industry lags behind in this area. I would like to see tour operators make Wi-Fi a standard feature in their hotel partners and transportation providers. And travel companies of every kind could do better in creating opportunities for social media activity during trips. The “Kodak moment” needs to become the “Instagram minute.”
2. Minimize time on the motorcoach.
No other means of mass conveyance offers the affordability, the convenience and the relatively small environmental impact of the motorcoach. Buses will always have a significant place in group tourism, but “bus tours” have become unpalatable to many travelers. I would like to see tour providers find ways to reduce the time their travelers spend on buses and embrace other vehicles and technology for transportation when there are opportunities to do so.
3. Expand the restaurant menu.
Beef, chicken or fish? On many group tours, that’s the choice you must make for every included lunch and dinner, and it gets old. Many tour operators get discounts at restaurants by working out a preset menu with managers before arrival. That helps on cost and gets the meals cooked and served more quickly. But the upcoming generations of travelers tend to be food lovers and won’t be happy about having such limited options during their tours. Tour operators and their restaurant partners are going to need to find ways to expand the menu to keep those folks happy.
That’s my wish list — what about yours? Let us know on Twitter at @grouptravelpubs; use the hashtag #bettertours.