It was the news Australians waited a year to hear.
When New Zealand finally announced the trans-Tasman travel bubble last month, it brought relief to those aching to see loved ones and hope to frustrated travellers keen for an adventure.
At youth travel company Contiki, the announcement was its green light to get back to what it did best – helping young people discover the world.
Now, more than a year after global tours were aborted due to the worsening coronavirus crisis, the first international Contiki trip since the pandemic is about to set off in New Zealand.
Contiki is offering 11 tours across the ditch, with the first cab off the rank, the Sweet As tour of the South Island, departing on May 23.
The company brought back Australian domestic tours at the end of last year but international travel was what everyone was really waiting for. As soon as the trans-Tasman travel bubble was announced last month, Contiki saw bookings of its New Zealand tours skyrocket by 300 per cent.
“We’ve had trips in Australia, and people have been excited about seeing their own backyard, but the essence of Contiki is seeing the world,” Contiki Australia’s managing director Katrina Barry told news.com.au.
Contiki is about to relaunch overseas trips, starting with New Zealand. Picture: ContikiSource:Supplied
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“It’s really nice to see borders finally reopening and groups of young people are able to come together and connect with each other through their love of travel.
“I think people have been feeling a little bit gypped that 2020 took that away from us, that big overseas holiday or that gap year, and we know the younger generation has been more open to travelling as soon as they can.”
Research by Contiki into the travel attitudes of 18 to 35-year-olds found not only were they raring to get out and see the world, they missed opportunities to meet strangers and make friends overseas.
“There had been a bit of a trend towards younger people being a bit too cool to go on a group trip, but they’re telling us that now, they’re really missing connecting with other people,” Ms Barry said.
“Contiki is flavour of the month now. They’re realising they can go overseas and meet people from all over the world and a company is going to make sure the experience is fun but safe for them.”
The Kawarau Bridge bungee jump in Queenstown. Picture: ContikiSource:Supplied
Queenstown’s famous Shotover Jet. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied
It had been a long year for the travel industry, and tour operators in particular, since international borders slammed shut in March last year. Contiki’s entire global network of hundreds of tours across six continents was brought to a standstill.
“No one knew how long it would go on,” Ms Barry said. “But we thought, never waste a crisis. What can we do that will make us smarter and better? What are the projects we’ve been wanted to do for ages but never have time to do?”
As the long months ticked by, Contiki kept busy with its sustainability strategy – it recently announced it will be an entirely carbon neutral company by 2022 – and went about vetting each of the companies it worked with on tours, from hotels and restaurants to transport operators to ensure they’d be up to top-notch standard when travel returned.
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Hobbiton is always a highlight in New Zealand.Source:Supplied
Australian trips resumed late last year, including an island-hopping tour of North Queensland, and then it was a matter of waiting for that bubble with our neighbours across the ditch.
With New Zealand tours about to get under way, Ms Barry said Contiki was already looking ahead to Singapore, which is likely to be the next destination to open a travel bubble with Australia.
“We’re thinking Japan after the Olympics as well,” she said.
As the world continues to reopen in travel bubbles, young tourists are likely to lead the charge, armed with savings and built-up annual leave, and perhaps more adventurous and flexible than older generations.
While Contiki’s best selling European tours have generally been around 14 days long, the current top selling tour is a mammoth 45-day odyssey across Europe in 2022.
“I think there’s a sense among young people of, ‘I didn’t appreciate travelling as much when it was too easy and it was constantly there for me’,” Ms Barry said.
“Now they don’t want to take it for granted and want to see and do as much as they can. They’re thinking, ‘I want a long trip, a big trip, because I don’t know when I might be able to do that again’.”
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