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Comment: Smaller groups offer benefits beyond extra legroom on the coach

A move towards intimate tours creates many opportuntities for an improved experience, says Cox & Kings sales and business development director James Coughlan

Our view of the post-pandemic travel landscape is beginning to come into focus. And it’s clear that many of our clients’ priorities have shifted. One priority that I have repeatedly seen rising to the surface in client surveys and questionnaires, is that those interested in escorted tours are looking to travel in smaller, more intimate groups. Some operators have adjusted their offerings accordingly.

At Cox & Kings, we’ve always aimed to keep our groups compact and manageable, but since the pandemic we’ve further reduced our maximum group sizes. Currently, all our escorted tours operate with a maximum of 18 guests, and the average size is around 14.

In some environments, small groups can enable guests to maintain a comfortable physical distance and can certainly make it easier for suppliers to maintain cleaning and hygiene measures. Of course, travelling with a smaller cohort has many other benefits and arguably results in a richer experience all-round.

Feedback from our clients has confirmed that small groups encourage the formation of a strong group dynamic, allowing guests to get to know one another, create tighter bonds and sometimes form firm friendships. It’s this aspect of small-group touring that may appeal to those clients who are not only craving exploration abroad, but also looking for some interaction and camaraderie after periods of relative isolation.

Small groups allow for more connection – not only with fellow travellers, but with locals. Being a face in a large crowd can make it difficult to engage with local people and can prohibit authentic encounters such as sharing a meal with locals in a small restaurant or chatting with people you meet along the way.

Knowledgeable and affable guides – local or otherwise – are crucial for successful group tours. Small cohorts allow clients more time to ask questions, engage in conversation and enjoy a more personal level of attention from guides and tour managers.

Travellers in a small group can often get closer to the nature or culture that’s drawn them there in the first place. There’s less waiting in line, quicker assembly times, and no jostling for position to get a good view of monuments or wildlife – which means more time for them relax and soak in their surroundings.

Small groups are more nimble; they make it easier for clients to get up-close to sites and rub shoulders with locals in a non-intrusive way. And in some places, it’s easier for a small group to stray further from the beaten path.

Lower numbers can be more easily accommodated in smaller, boutique-style hotels, which are more likely to be locally owned or family run.

Last, but certainly not least, small groups are often less disruptive to the places we‘re taking our clients to. Of the attitude shifts I mentioned at the outset, one of the most positive is a greater awareness of, and sensitivity to, the varying impact that tourism has on destinations.

It’s for these reasons that, of the many adjustments to how we sell and operate our travel experiences, smaller group sizes is one change that can have advantages beyond more personal space and extra legroom on the coach.

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