As we near the end of the decade, travel is shifting to offer a more personalised experience. Fuelled by the rise of social media and a new appreciation for unique cultural experiences, today’s traveller expects to be able to create their own adventure. 2018 was the year for TV tourism (think Game of Thrones tours in Northern Ireland) and eco-tourism. 2019 will see more of the same, but new developments in technology and changes in traveller attitudes will inspire new trends. So what should tour companies expect this year, and, more importantly, how can they deliver the best experience to their customers?
Wellness holidays go mainstream
‘Self-development stays’ have existed in some form for decades, but they’ve become increasingly popular in the past few years. Wellness tourism worldwide was worth £500bn in 2017, and last year grew at more than twice the pace of tourism overall. An emphasis on better emotional self-care, driven in part by the rise in Instagram-inspired wellbeing retreats, has brought the wellness trip into the mainstream.
In January, VisitScotland published its annual review of travel trends. The review noted an increase in demand for holidays centred around improving oneself, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually. The UK coach tour industry, then, is well placed to respond to this trend. 2019 is the year to start offering trips that cater to this new client base, whether through curated retreats, ethically-minded hideaways or traditional local events.
Eco-conscious excursions evolve
Just like the wellness travel trend, 2019 will be a big year for “green getaways” – trips focused on getting back to nature and respecting the environment. Sure, eco-friendly travel has been a hot topic for a few years now, but it’s only in the past year that travel companies have begun to grasp the potential value of them. Not only do they help conserve the environment for future visitors, but a travel company’s eco-credentials can also entice a new generation of environmentally aware travellers.
A recent study by Booking.com found that 86% of global travellers would be willing to spend some time on activities that offset the environmental impact of their stay. That’s why coach tour companies should use 2019 to begin integrating more eco-friendly features on your tours. If you can adapt your vehicles to reduce the environmental impact, do it. Adding tree-planting, wildlife conservation or wild camping to your tour itineraries could open up a whole new world and simultaneously conserve our own planet. What’s not to love?
Authenticity beats package
Just as eco-holidays grew from an increased awareness of the impact of travel on our environment, the demand for authenticity in travel has been fuelled by an increased focus on the impact on local cultures. Travellers in 2019 don’t want to be a spectator, they want to be an active participant, and, just as importantly, they want to learn. In fact, over half (56%) of global travellers claim they learned invaluable life skills while travelling.
This push for authenticity was apparent in the rise in domestic tourism last year. Travellers want to be immersed in a culture, even if it’s the culture of a neighbouring town or city. For coach tour companies, that means pushing activities over sight-seeing. Partner with local businesses to allow travellers to develop new skills based on local knowledge and practices. The more visual the activity (think pottery-making or gin-distilling) the better. After all, behind the push for authenticity is the ever-present desire for social-friendly photo opportunities.
Personalisation is the travel trend
The one-size-fits-all model of holidays will no longer cut it. Travel companies have responded by shifting to curated experiences that deliver hyper-relevant individualised content direct to the customer. Coach tour companies might want to study the following statistics found in the Booking.com study:
- 34% of travellers now expect travel recommendations for them
- 41% want travel brands to use technologies such as AI to make travel suggestions based on past travel experience.
- 52% would be excited about tech travel innovations such as a digital tour guide
New technologies are at the heart of helping travellers create their own adventures. For coach companies, this means identifying a customer’s interests and catering subsequent offers to them. A customer who books a hiking tour in the Scottish Highlands, for instance, would be more receptive to additional offers for hiking gear than someone who’s booked a city break.
Social media is still essential
That means try to get your coach tour company included in the post, either by a direct @ of your company or through a hashtag (for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.). Of course, you can offer incentives to passengers, such as being entered into a prize draw, if they include your custom hashtag in their posts.
Social media will also continue to be an invaluable marketing tool. The only real difference will be a bigger focus on targeted content. Even the smallest of tour companies now have access to tools that allow them to optimise their message for different audiences. Customer personas and social analytics software allow you to narrow down your branding to laser precision. After all, it’s not just about getting your content in front of as many people as possible; it’s about targeting the right people at the right time.
Micro-trips become more common
2019 will see a rise in the number of travellers looking for short-breaks. And when we say short, we’re talking as little as one to two days. This is in part due to financial constraints – paying for two weeks in the sun is not an option for everyone, after all. But it’s also due in part to travellers opting for a genuine ‘travel’ experience over a ‘holiday’. Travelling to multiple locations requires more planning and is usually more expensive than staying in a single setting. That’s why modern travellers will often opt for several short-stay trips spread across the year.
The popularity of the micro-vacation can also be attributed to the rise in ‘bleisure’ trips, where the traveller combines a business trip with a few days of leisure. It makes sense, after all, to take advantage of time in a new country that you might not otherwise visit. But these ‘bleisure’ trips offer coach tour operators a unique opportunity too. Single day round-trips and even half-day packages could be just the ticket for time-strapped passengers. Be warned, however, as one- day round-trips can entail a significant amount of time on the road, so make sure to stock up on onboard entertainment features.