Multi-day tours are emerging as one of the travel products with a viable post-pandemic future. But don’t call them a trend: multi-day tours are, literally, as old as the travel industry itself.
The very first overseas package holiday, organized by Thomas Cook in 1855 for the U.K. market, was a multi-day tour by train around Belgium and France.
A hundred years before this, independent travelers (of sufficient means) had been creating their own “Grand Tour” trips. British travelers could charter their sea passage to the continent and arrange accommodation and transfers in advance or on the fly at the destination.
These tours could last weeks or months, were educational and experiential, overseen by expert guides, personalized, featuring visits to places of historic interest and natural beauty. Sound familiar?
It’s not often that we can identify something from the 18th century which is still relevant to a 21st-century audience.
But multi-day tours have stood the test of time and the sector is gearing up for growth in the post-pandemic era, driven by digitalization.
Here and now
There are many suppliers involved in the multi-day tour industry, from transportation and hotels to attractions and events. Specialist tech providers can integrate this supply into an itinerary, opening up a significant new market for suppliers.
Last month, at ITB Now, a panel discussion about multi-day tours was one of the most-watched live sessions, with impressive numbers viewing the presentations on-demand, confirming the interest in this sector from the global travel industry.
The growth trajectory for multi-day tours has been accelerated by the pandemic, and one business-critical area of interest is how many of these new behaviours and requirements will become embedded in the future of travel, which current trends will accelerate, which ones will fade away.
Digitalization has been turbocharged by the pandemic and not just in travel. Lockdowns and restrictions played into the hands of online retailers in general, resulting in the emergence of an even more digitally demanding travelling public.
Sellers and suppliers cannot allow delays or confusion around COVID certification and travel restrictions to put the brakes on their roadmap.
At some point, the multi-day tour ecosystem will need to connect with the information coming from health-tech providers and governments, in a way that accommodates travelers’ ongoing need for automation and personalization.
Platforms need to be flexible, to blur the lines for the traveler between off-the-shelf fixed and group tours and tailor-made options, allowing different components from disparate suppliers to be held within the same itinerary. Pre-COVID traveler preferences for a single platform for planning booking and managing a trip persist.
In turn, suppliers which have embedded flexibility into their digitalization roadmaps are better placed for their inventory to become part of a multi-day tour.
Travelers will demand flexible cancellation and refund policies while short notice changes to travel advisories remain a possibility. Suppliers must ensure that resellers and platforms can pass this information on to the traveler at the point of booking.
The way forward
Automatically changing an entire itinerary when one component is altered is a technical and strategic challenge. Developments in the area of back-end integrations have laid the groundwork for this to happen – the question is whether travelers would be comfortable with this.
Multi-day tour operators should do as much of the heavy lifting for travelers as their technology allows – ideally travelers whose itinerary has to be changed will be offered a choice of personalized alternatives, each of which can be added into the updated itinerary automatically once the choice has been made.
Automation once a choice has been made is a better experience for travelers than automating the choice on their behalf and imposing it as a done deal.
The addressable market for multi-day tours has been growing, with the biggest strides made over the past 18 months or so as platforms and suppliers took on the digitalization challenge and freed the sector from fixed itineraries.
Early adopters of digitization, automation and personalization within the multi-day tour sector can satisfy the needs of travelers looking for a trip that is memorable, rewarding and COVID-safe and can look forward to capturing an even bigger share of a growing market.