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Aito chairman predicts ‘golden age’ for tour operators next year

Tour operators could be entering a ‘golden age’ of travel in 2022, according to Aito chairman Chris Rowles.

He made the forecast at the opening address of  The Specialist Travel Association’s 2021 conference, held in the UK instead of overseas due to the pandemic, despite the problems caused this week by news of the Omicron variant and tighter entry restrictions for different destinations.

He said: “I believe the ‘golden age’ for tour operators could be here as soon as 2022. As long as travel can happen, members believe they could have their best year ever in 2022.”

Speaking directly to Aito’s members, he said: “This golden age comes down to you and your customers. You are survivors. You probably know your businesses better than you have ever known them before.

“You are lean and mean and ready to go, ready to look after your customers but also to be truly profitable. Customers have been deprived of travel but they want tour operators; hold their hands, they want you and need you to.”

Rowles admitted there would be challenges and it “would not be easy” but said he believed there had been a significant shift in the government’s attitude to the travel industry.

“I fully believe that the government does want travel to really happen as seamlessly as possible. Six months ago it seemed like they wanted to pull the drawbridge up. The mood music has changed,” he said.

Referring to comments this week by transport secretary Grant Shapps that pre-departure tests in resort will not be reintroduced because they would ‘kill off the travel sector’, he said: “Even now the government is restricting moves to bring more restrictions in.”

Rowles described the discovery of the Omicron variant and subsequent tightening of restrictions as a result as a “setback”, adding: “One thing that gives me hope is that bookings have slowed down but didn’t stop.”

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Aito operators told the conference they felt positive and hopeful about next year.

Inside Travel Group co-owner Alastair Donnelly said: “Everyone needs a holiday so I would agree there are great days ahead.”

But he cautioned: “Consumer confidence will be a massive issue. The market is going to take time to recover.”

Latin Routes co-founder Martin Johnson agreed: “I feel quite optimistic about next year. From Latin America’s perspective, they are desperate to get tourists back. It [business] has started to come back again and it could be a bumper year next year.”

Amanda Marks, founder of Tribes Travel, said there was an overall feeling of frustration among tourism providers in Africa but also a lot of ‘positive vibes’ about travel picking up again from around April next year.

She said: “They are not so confident about January to March but more hopeful from April onwards. There is cautious optimism. I am hanging on to hope.”

Moderator Jono Vernon-Powell, founder of Nomadic Thoughts, said: “Despite the new variant there seems to be a lot of positivity. There is a real feeling that there has never been a better time to be in the market. As we come out of this we are really well positioned and our true worth as travel destination specialists has never been more valued.”

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