Aito operators cite demand as key growth obstacle this year

Specialist tour operators have cited consumer demand as a key obstacle to growth in the next 12 months but said operational issues remained the dominant challenge.

In a new poll, recruitment and staff turnover were also named as a top concern, but less than in the prior year, while fears have risen about industrial action and increased competition in the coming months.

The survey by The Specialist Travel Association (Aito) of its members highlighted challenges from the previous 12 months and predictions for the next 12 months. The data is part of the Aito Business Confidence Tracker Survey, conducted by Spike Insight.

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The majority of operators (59%) predicted operational challenges would be an obstacle for the next 12 months – but this was down on the previous year, when 65% of operators said it was a challenge.

Aito said the drop may reflect the continued collaboration between Aito members and the results of the organisation’s lobbying efforts.

However, consumer demand has now shifted to become a primary obstacle to growth in the next 12 months, according to the survey.

For the last 12 months, 29% of operators said this has been a challenge, but this has increased to 37% for the next 12 months.

Aito suggested this rise could reflect additional consumer demand for specific niches or destinations such as Costa Rica, which has grown in popularity for 2024.

Challenges related to recruitment and staff turnover appear to have eased slightly, with 35% anticipating these will continue to be problematic in the next 12 months, down from 47%.

In particular, businesses saw attracting talent as a continuing challenge while the outlook for retention showed a positive trend, with a 6.2% improvement expected in staff turnover.

As well as worries about demand-related issues, fears have risen about challenges related to industrial action, with smaller companies in particular reporting they felt this was more likely to impact their businesses.

Another increasing worry was additional competition, which Aito said could be driven by a perceived increase in marketing and advertising costs.

Operators said there was a need for a more targeted approach to ensure a strong return on investment – and highlighted that digital advertising was generating much less ‘bang for buck’.

Aito executive director Martyn Sumners said: “As specialist tour operators and travel agents navigate the evolving challenges highlighted, adaptability and strategic planning are key to sustaining growth.

“By addressing recruitment concerns, optimising operational efficiency, and staying attuned to shifting market dynamics, operators and agents can position themselves for success in the coming months.”

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