Reasons why staying closer to home may benefit your travel program
Global travel is showing early signs of resuming activity. Countries are loosening restrictions, airlines are increasing capacity, and the U.S. State Department recently eased its five-month-old warning. While this is encouraging, unlike prior world events that shocked the travel business like 9/11 and the financial crisis, the lingering effects of the coronavirus may lead to a slower rebound for travel, many experts predict. What’s a travel planner to do?
Yellowstone National Park by Debbie Jordan
The challenge of planning for the future, especially now
Planning group travel requires anticipating the future. What will appeal to travelers this time next year or even two years from now? In this time of uncertainty, should you stay the course or consider destinations perceived to be less risky? For a number of reasons, it may be wise to hedge your travel plans and consider offering your community an experience closer to home. Regardless of your group’s special interest – the natural world, culture and history, photography, or birding – there are enriching options that serve to keep your community engaged.
Domestic travel has traditionally been less appealing to organizations and leaders. Domestic travel is generally not as impactful as venturing afar, travelers can more easily visit these locations on their own, and they can provide less financial return (if that’s an important consideration). “Travelers have the perception domestic trips should be cheaper than international, but they are often just as expensive,” says Kate Sanders at Oregon State University. Yet Sanders and other planners are adding more domestic programs to adjust to the lingering pandemic.
Atlantic Puffin as can be seen in Maine
The state of travel today – emerging trends
Travel trade magazines and research studies support the notion that travelers may be cautious about resuming their pre-COVID patterns of travel. A May 2020 U.S. Travel Association Survey revealed that 57% of travelers say they are more likely to book travel to U.S. destinations. 43% say they expect to travel to destinations closer to home in the post-pandemic world. The Washington Post recently wrote how the pandemic will change travel, with Americans electing to travel closer to home and international trips becoming more expensive due to the cost of implementing safety measures (see below for other trending articles).
Five reasons to consider domestic travel in the near-term
1. The Safety Factor
Travel within the United States has less risk than international travel. Despite our high current rates of infection, many appealing places are more remote, away from urban areas. With smaller groups and practicing social distancing, the safety factor is reassuring. Plus, should a member of the group contract the virus, the repercussions are less restrictive. Re-entry is not an issue and medical facilities abound.
Prince William Sound, Alaska
2. More Affordable in Economic Downturn
Travel in the U.S. is typically less expensive. The cost of airfare is less, and trips tend to be shorter in duration, thereby limiting the overall cost. The downside is that travelers expect to pay less though accommodations remain expensive. It may be harder for a sponsor to add a stipend, or the stipend might be lower. A well-planned travel itinerary can keep the program affordable and still provide highly educational experiences.
3. Amazing Experiences in Our Backyard
National Geographic published a landmark issue back in 2009, “50 Places of a Lifetime.” Ten of these are in the U.S. and Canada. Right in our own backyard, there are natural and historical treasures to explore. Who better to share this than expert leaders and trusted organizations? A well-designed itinerary, spiced with educational talks and unique experiences, can be every bit as enriching an international program, with less risk.
4. Build More Affinity by Being Proactive
A good way to build loyalty and stay connected to your travel community is by being innovating and listening to trends. It’s always a good idea to reach out to members with new programs and content periodically – in this environment, providing more options can bolster your members’ trust. However, it’s important not to vary from your stated mission and provide a well-designed program to a destination that reflects your values, not a tourist destination. An added bonus is that offering a domestic travel program might spur your members to reconsider international destinations as they warm up to the idea of travel.
Florida Scrub Jay by Jake Scott
5. A Hedge Against Slower Return
Finally, as can be expected, offering domestic travel in your mix is like having a balanced financial portfolio. Depending on the times, it is good to re-balance by offering safer, more familiar options. There is generally no downside, except for the added time required to do the planning. A good travel provider can help with well-planned programs so that your work effort is limited.
While the world remains hopeful of a vaccine and an end to the current crisis, it is likely that travelers will be slower to rebound. A good mix of travel programs can be helpful in restoring their confidence.
Sources and further reading:
Travel Is Bouncing Back From Coronavirus, but Tourists Stick Close to Home, Wall Street Journal, 7/18/20. Article.
What Travel Will Look Like After Coronavirus, Wall Street Journal, 7/29/20. Article.
How the coronavirus pandemic will change travel as we know it, Washington Post, 6/15/20. Article.
The Future of Travel, New York Times, 5/6/20. Article.
The future of affordable travel, CNN Travel, 7/23/20. Article.
Main photo by Jake Scott