Tour operators should be subtly tapping in to growing demand from customers in isolation thinking about 2021 holidays, according to touring leaders.

While it’s important to be sensitive to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, bosses say tour operators say the current lockdown means people will have time to plan future travel for when restrictions are eventually lifted.

Speaking in a Travel Weekly webcast, APT managing director and Atas chairman Paul Melinis said: “We need to be delivering inspirational content, but not in a salesy way. You can’t just turn the light off [in terms of marketing], we need to keep the business running.”

He said he expected many of APT’s customers would be researching their next travel plans while forced to stay at home.

Responding to whether touring’s older demographic meant a bigger challenge for the sector in the aftermath of the coronavirus, he said: “The more mature traveller will otherwise have had their day filled with all sorts of inspirational things – but now they are in their homes. They will be researching, thinking ‘where is the next place for me?’

“We know 60 is now 50, 70 is now 60. This is going to work in our favour. It’ll give people the chance to think the norm is not the norm, and they might look at doing something different in 2021.”

Melinis said online marketing is “absolutely vital” but should be done subtly, through “inspirational content” such as video and social media while “keeping it current, fun and engaging”. He added: “We’ve not stopped in that area and we are still getting bookings for 2021.

“UK guests are resilient. We bounce back quicker than a lot of other countries.”

Niel Alobaidi, chief executive of Newmarket Holidays, whose customers are “almost entirely 55+”, said: “Understanding their behaviours after this is pretty critical.”

But he added: “Our customers are no different to Tui or Emirates, where I’ve worked previously. It’s a broad spectrum, we have risk averse customers who are saying they’ll never go on holiday again, and we have some of the most gung-ho customers I’ve ever spoken to who would go next week if they could. To tar an age group with a brush is wrong.

“I sincerely believe they will behave similarly to the broader travel market and a lot of people who have been cooped-up inside for a long time will be desperate to get out and about.

“Will they go somewhere where they perceive a risk? No. So a lot’s going to depend on how this develops and what areas are deemed to be safe and which aren’t. it’s our responsibility as a tour operator to respond to that, build a programme around that – and our customers’ trust and demand

“But I’m confident we will see a boom at the end of it – the tricky bit is knowing when the boom is.”

On marketing, Alobaidi said: “The irony is there is a huge number of people sat at home. It’s been two to three weeks already we are seeing bookings for 2021.”

Laurence Hicks, chairman of touring aggregator Tourhound, said: “The last thing a customer wants to see is a wall of silence until you want to sell them something. Engage with them. They will want to travel in the future. Keep their appetite there for travel in the future. Not in a heavy sales way but in a ‘we are here with you’ way.”