Small groups and single-stay itineraries ‘key to touring return’

Touring and adventure operators will increasingly focus on small group sizes and ‘stay-in-one-place’ tours to reassure customers when they start travelling again, according to experts.

Bosses said both initiatives would give consumers greater peace of mind about travelling, as they will see them as measures that minimise the risk of infection.

The comments came as Mail Metro Media released exclusive research at the Atas Virtual Touring and Adventure Week, which found consumers thought an average of nine people per tour would be the optimum group size.

Speaking at the online event, Cosmos chief executive Giles Hawke said: “We’re just about to launch a number of tours which will be following where our normal tours go.

“But we’re having certain dates in the year that are small group tours, just to give those people who are nervous about that space issue comfort that there’s going to be extra space for them.”

He added: “We’re also doing ‘stay-in-one-place and go touring from there each day’ options, if you want to. So it allows people to know ‘right, I’m going to that one hotel, I’ll understand all the protocols there and I won’t be feeling that I’m having to go from place to place to place and worrying about the risk of some cross-infection.”

Kerry Golds, managing director of Abercrombie & Kent and Cox & Kings, said: “We’ve got a maximum of 18, but most of our groups are looking to operate on about 14, so a bit higher than the nine, but not too far away.

“We’ve also looked at something very similar for Cox & Kings around single-centre touring so people have that kind of comfort, if you want, in destination and they’re not moving around everywhere. I think that’s what the consumers are looking for and certainly the small group sizes have been a key.”

Asked if she thought this would be the case for the long-term or just as touring started to come back from the Covid-induced pause in operations, Golds said: “I think it will be around for some time, if I’m honest. I think there will be a nervousness for a while and people will be evaluating how they travel.”

Niel Alobaidi, chief executive of Newmarket Holidays, said: “There is a bit of a skew towards smaller group tours at the moment because of current circumstances and we are certainly looking at providing more smaller group sizes. But we are still getting a key demand for those large group sizes.

“Our group sizes are actually larger, generally, up to 55, and we’ve had tours away this year of 20, up to 30.

“I think the important thing is you have to make sure they are safe, regardless of the size of the tour and there will always be, we believe, customers who still want the larger tours, because that gets you a low price point. And there will be people who want to pay more for the smaller tours.”

Hawke explained that many new protocols had been introduced regardless of group size to keep guests safe.

“A lot of it is around enhanced cleaning. Our coaches are having a deeper daily clean, we’re working with all our partners, whether they be hoteliers, whether they be excursion providers, whether they be venues that we might go and visit, to make sure they’ve got enhanced protocols,” he said.

“In hotels, there are no more buffets, we’re making sure it’s table service everywhere. So we’re going through every aspect of the tour and saying, ‘How do we make sure these things are done in a way that customers will feel much more comfortable with and reduce that risk of infection?’”

Hawke added: “We’re using more personalised headsets so people can be further away from each other when they are listening to their tour guide, and they have a thorough clean before people are given them at the beginning of the tour.

“So we’re just making sure all those points when they might be in close proximity to other people, that they have that space.”

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