Preview 2023: Tours

Economic uncertainty such as inflation and a rising cost of living could curtail travel plans and even stunt demand, travel suppliers say, despite trends that show people are still going to spend more on travel in the coming year.

“While optimistic, I think we all have to acknowledge that there are still factors that are outside of our control and could impact growth, so they’re still considered risks for next year,” said Elizabeth Crabill, CEO of CIE Tours and vice chair of the USTOA’s executive committee.

That’s why tour operators say value is going to play an important role in the decisions travelers make when it comes to booking their holidays, even for those who have plenty of savings stockpiled or are high-income earners.

Jennifer Tombaugh, president of Tauck, provided the example of two Tauck clients who had booked multiple trips with the tour operator in one year. Tombaugh said they shied away from going to Australia and New Zealand, not because of the price of the tour but because airfare was so high due to limited flight availability.

“Could they have afforded it? Probably,” she said. “But was that good value? No. And so it was better for them to take their dollars and apply it to a great experience in Europe, where they felt like they were getting more for their dollar … and they’ll wait until prices come down.”

Portugal, the U.K. and Jordan are some of the “hot destinations” identified in the USTOA’s annual economic impact survey as some of the most in-demand places. 

Demand for Greece has driven several tour operators to deepen their investments in the country, with new tours and property developments.

“If you’re in the Instagram generation, Greece is like the ideal,” said Steve Perillo, CEO and owner of Perillo Tours, which will launch its first tours in Greece in April. “You’re going to have your shots in front of the Parthenon or in Santorini, with all those whitewashed buildings. It’s Instagram gold. Greece is hot this year.”

Ireland is also seeing consistently high demand.

CIE’s Crabill said more people were booking multiple trips closer together at the same time.

“It definitely shows the booking pattern of American travelers and that pent-up demand is real,” Crabill said. “They’re almost accelerating their consumption and travel because probably they were locked out of travel for so long.”

Iceland, Egypt, Norway and Saudi Arabia also top the list when it comes to off-the-beaten-path destinations.

And even though industry trends show that travelers are ready to return to urban areas, cities and indoor activities coming out of the pandemic, there is still a lasting desire to be outdoors.

Wilderness travel is what Red Savannah said will be a trend to look out for in 2023, with destinations such as Bhutan, Alaska and Kenya being some of the top places for travelers to enjoy the outdoors.

“There’s been a lot of interest raised by the Trans-Bhutan Trail,” said George Morgan-Grenville, CEO and founder of Red Savannah, referencing the recent reopening of the 250-mile trail that had been closed for 60 years after falling into disrepair.

In 2023, the luxury tour operator is launching its 10-day Taste of the Trans-Bhutan Trail itinerary that will include two full days of guided hikes and visits to the monasteries and small villages found along the trail.

“It allows clients to really discover a very rural part of Bhutan that would be difficult to see,” Morgan-Grenville said. “Walking in Bhutan and seeing the backdrop of the Himalayas and lovely river valleys and monasteries is a very attractive idea.”

Family and multigenerational groups will be strong in 2023, but solo travel is also having a moment. EF Go Ahead Tours and Globus’ tour brands said interest in solo travel has grown significantly in recent years and is expected to continue in year ahead. 

“We’ve actually seen solo travel up 75% in 2022 compared to 2018, and 120% for 2023,” said Lael Kassis, director of product development at EF Go Ahead Tours, which is launching a slew of solo tour itineraries in Thailand, Peru and Egypt in 2023. 

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