John Warr, global sales director atWendy Wu Tours, looks at the elements operators need to master to succeed during the next decade

Consumer attitudes are changing as people want to travel on a deeper emotional and much more personal level and nowhere is changing quite as much as in the escorted touring sector.

Escorted touring used to be one-size-fits-all but not anymore as customers now want to fully experience a destination by connecting to its history, people and culture. The challenge for operators in the touring sector is how to provide customers with a new, unique and authentic way to experience the world.

People want to reclaim what’s real

In the last three years there has been a move by customers to escape from homogenised experiences and instead focus on more adventurous and immersive travel, while still being looked after from start to finish. We’ve found that customers want a more flexible product allowing them to do their own exploring while at the same time having an experienced guide on hand for knowledge and reassurance.

As an example, on most of our trips to China, we visit Juyongguan which gives easy access to a well-preserved section of The Great Wall. However, on our more active tours, which allow for more extensive walking, we’ve introduced a ‘wild’ part of The Great Wall at Jinshanling. This section of the Great Wall is further away from Beijing but offers extraordinary scenery, fewer visitors, providing a much more authentic experience and enables those visiting to appreciate the Great Wall as it was in centuries gone by.

In Vietnam you can cycle through paddy fields on our immersive ‘Go Beyond’ products as well as taking an early morning boat trip with the local fishermen to catch the meal of the day. This perspective of experiencing what’s real is also evident in our Mekong River cruise holidays. Our brand new, deluxe river cruise ship, Victoria Mekong sails from Can Tho, a much quieter part of the Mekong following a route that is much more immersive and has a range of excursions offering authentic, local experiences.

A new breed of escorted tours

We’re also seeing a trend from travellers who are much more interested in talking about what they saw, did and who they met whilst on holiday. More than ever, people want to interact in a much more genuine way with other travellers, locals and cultures. This is all leading to a new breed of escorted tours, tours that strike a balance between personalisation, independence as well as in-the-know support and assistance from guides.

Nowhere is all this more evident than in the solos sector which is single handedly changing escorted touring. Solo travel is now a lifestyle choice and is no longer confined to single people. In fact, 60% of British travellers travelling alone are in relationships proving that there is a growing segment of the market of couples who want to travel independently of each other. To coincide with this market trend, we have created a range of tours catering specifically to the solo customer which have a huge range of benefits for those travelling independently, from more free time to explore to the chance to mingle with like-minded travellers.

The next five years

Wellness tourism is growing fast and so it’s essential that operators are in this space. Customers are more aware of the impact they have on the destination whilst they are on holiday and at least a third of customers would choose one company over another that has a better environmental record, urging companies to look at their responsibility of giving back as opposed to taking.

Bespoke touring is also rising which calls for a much more tailored service, not only in the delivery of the product but also in the design and its vital that operators have an adequate mix of destination specialists on their teams who are well placed to service the demands from customers. Group size is also very important as touring becomes more fragmented across different specialisms, hence operators must have the foresight to plan for this. As it stands our Classic Tours range from 28 and 18 in our Go Beyond range.

Agents are the way forward

Agents are instrumental to the future of escorted touring and we are working closely with agents to show them the benefits of this burgeoning sector. For example, we pay a very healthy commission level on the full value of the booking and so on average when you make a booking with Wendy Wu Tours you earn £1,000 per booking as a minimum.

We are also widening our network of business development managers who can really help agents infiltrate this market. To make it easier for agents to close the deal we have a great selection of offers that agents can promote to customers such as free upgrades to upper deck on Victoria Mekong and free business class upgrades on international flights.

Tour operators must be forward-thinking

Escorted touring is evolving at a quicker pace than any other segment in the travel industry and so the most forward-thinking operators will be able to truly show how an experience is authentic rather than just stating it’s authentic. As well as being organised, tours need to be personalised, allowing room for spontaneity and flexibility for those who want to uncover a destination, culture or heritage in depth or use their time on tour to learn something new about themselves. Tours need to offer social travel experiences that connect tourists to the local community, offering the chance for travellers to appreciate a destination.

If operators can successfully manage all of these elements, then they have a chance of succeeding in the touring market in the next decade.