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2024 Tour Operator Trends: Embracing Digitization and Beyond

Last updated on January 5, 2024
9 minute read
Key Takeaways

  • Today's modern travelers expect digitization throughout the browsing and booking process.
  • Short-form video, sustainability, and bleisure travel remain popular tourism topics.

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What does 2024 have in store for the travel and tourism industry? Existing focus areas like bleisure travel and sustainable tourism remain essential, while digitization throughout the experience is a growing expectation among consumers.

With technology continuously evolving and consumer preferences shifting, it is crucial for businesses to adapt and anticipate what’s coming next.

Here are some of the top trends that tour and activity operators should know about in the new year and beyond. 

1. Digitization: A Better Online Experience

Digitization is at the forefront of consumer travel preferences. From smooth mobile bookings to managing reservations online, today’s modern travelers expect to spend the majority of the customer journey online. 

With so many of us planning and booking our holidays on smartphones, it’s crucial for businesses in the travel industry to optimize their mobile presence. A website designed with a responsive layout ensures easy navigation on all device sizes. 

Similarly, maintaining a robust Google Business Profile can increase visibility to travelers searching for activities on their mobile phones. Consider utilizing platforms like Google Things To Do for added exposure and seamless mobile bookings. 

Pro Tip: Enable Google ratings in FareHarbor to allow customers to see your Google ratings throughout their booking experience. This contributes to a comprehensive booking experience that promotes conversions.

Finally, consider other areas of the booking and activity experience that can be digitized, such as online waivers, paperless tickets and digital check-in. Even after a customer makes a booking, they expect to be able to manage their reservations online. If you don’t already offer online rebooking and cancellation, consider enabling these now.

Digitization is no longer optional; it’s a necessity.

2. Flexible Booking Options

graphical user interface, text, application, email

As mentioned above, not only do customers expect to manage their bookings online, but they will also favor businesses that offer increased flexibility. This could look like allowing customers to cancel at the last minute, purchase an add-on ahead of the tour, or reschedule if their plans change. 

When it comes to flexibility, make sure your current cancellation policy is up to date and accurately reflects your practices surrounding last-minute cancellations and no-shows

You might also consider adding an option for customers to purchase trip protection in case they need to cancel closer to the date of the activity. This custom field at checkout charges the customer for a portion of the activity’s total cost so your business still receives some revenue in the event of a last-minute cancellation. Stay tuned for an upcoming article with more details about trip protection. 

Consumer flexibility should also take into account the typical customer booking window – AKA how far in advance customers tend to book your tours and activities. It’s essential to understand the booking trends you’re seeing at your business and evaluate whether your online booking cutoff time should be changed to capture additional bookings. 

In addition to allowing for last-minute bookings, make sure your calendar is built out well in advance to cater to customers who prefer to book ahead of time. By considering the entire booking window, you capture customers booking at any stage – early birds, last-minute bookers, and everyone in between.

3. Short-Form Video

Short-form video may feel like a recent trend, but, as discussed at Spark 2023, it is here to stay. From Instagram Reels to TikTok and more, short-form videos help your business gain exposure and engage with your audience. Not to mention, your videos can also drive bookings!

58% of TikTok survey respondents said they have purchased a travel product or made a booking after seeing it on TikTok. 

In fact, FareHarbor client Wick and Pour receives over 70% of its bookings directly from Instagram and TikTok.

If you still consider yourself a social media video newbie, check out our 10 tips for creating engaging video content

4. Personalization in Marketing & Travel Experiences

Personalized experiences are a significant driver of marketing success. Serving users content based on their interactions, demographics, and preferences can significantly increase engagement. 

This personalization extends to emails, where using the recipient’s name in the subject line and body can foster a more personal connection. And segmentation allows for targeted messaging to specific customer groups. 

Moreover, personalization isn’t limited to marketing; it’s also crucial in the travel experiences offered. 

Tailoring your experiences to the interests of your target audience, and offering customizable options, private tours, or bespoke itineraries can make your travel product more appealing. Personalization is key to standing out in an increasingly competitive travel market.

5. Unique, Authentic Experiences

Unique, authentic experiences are at the heart of experiential tourism. Offering once-in-a-lifetime adventures or off-the-beaten-path experiences that immerse travelers in local culture can set your business apart. 

To market these experiences effectively, make sure your website and marketing copy vividly describe what travelers can expect. High-quality photos can bring these descriptions to life, while customer testimonials provide social proof of the authenticity and uniqueness of your offerings.

a hand holding a book

Creating these authentic experiences involves leaving room for spontaneity in itineraries, allowing travelers to fully immerse themselves in the moment. Partnering with locals can further enhance the authenticity of the experience, offering travelers a chance to connect on a deeper level with the places they visit. In this era of experiential travel, authenticity is the ultimate luxury.

6. Sustainable Tourism

Sustainable tourism, while not a new concept, is gaining popularity as travelers become more conscious of their environmental footprint. It involves making low-impact choices that preserve natural and cultural environments while benefiting local communities. 

Tour operators can leverage this trend by promoting sustainable destinations and showcasing their own eco-friendly initiatives. Offering ‘voluntourism’ opportunities, like coral reef repair or river clean-up events, can further attract responsible travelers. 

Highlighting how your business supports local economies, respects local cultures, and minimizes waste or energy use can set you apart in the increasingly green-conscious travel market. Learn more here!

7. Bleisure Travel – Business + Leisure

Bleisure travel, a fusion of business and leisure, describes the practice of professionals extending their business trips for personal downtime. With more than 460 million business travelers last year (Zippia), this trend is expected to continue growing in 2024.

Tour operators can capitalize on this by offering tailored packages that mix work commitments with local experiences. These could include weeknight activities or sightseeing tours post 9-5 work schedules. 

Package deals could also incorporate team-building exercises, adding value to the business component of the trip. Offering group or corporate discounts can attract companies to choose these packages for their employees, further promoting the concept of bleisure and opening up new revenue streams.

From catering to the bleisure traveler to digitizing the experience at your business, today’s popular travel topics are driven by consumer preferences. As we begin a new year, the key to success lies in adaptability, innovation, and a deep understanding of your customers’ evolving needs.

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