Operators' outlook improving, somewhat, as 2020 winds down

Average year-to-date decline by sector
Average year-to-date decline by sector Photo Credit: Arival

After a year that saw many tour operators essentially shuttered, new reports from two industry groups indicate cautious optimism for the year ahead.

Arival, which tracks the day tours and activities sector, reported that total sales by tour, activity and attraction operators worldwide were down 76% in 2020 but said "many operators have seen business improve somewhat since the dramatic decline in March and April and have taken steps to stabilize their business."

While 32% of day tour operators in April reported a risk of failure if pandemic lockdowns continued for six months, that number declined to 21% in the group's recently released October survey.

The number of operators reporting a risk of failure if the lockdown lasted a year also dropped, from 52% in April to 44% in October.

Operators are feeling more confident
Operators are feeling more confident Photo Credit: Arival

A new survey from the USTOA, meanwhile, showed travel bookings were on the rise and members were confident about resuming travel in 2021, particularly in the second quarter and beyond.

A full 98% of members who responded to the latest USTOA poll, also conducted in October, said they intended to restart operations in 2021. And 63% reported an increase in bookings over the last 60 days.

"In August, we asked the same question, and only a third (38%) of active members had seen an increase in bookings for the two months prior, showing a positive increase in momentum in consumer travel-planning since early summer," said USTOA president and CEO Terry Dale.

Twenty percent of USTOA members said they had already started operations in the U.S., and another 28% said they planned to restart before the end of the year.

In the day tour sectors, Arival reported that one in four operators have yet to reopen. 

Average year-to-date decline by region
Average year-to-date decline by region Photo Credit: Arival

Europe was the hardest hit for that sector, down 79%, the Arival research found. The U.S. and Canada were down 67%.

The Arival report also noted that countries with larger domestic travel markets and sectors featuring outdoor and small group experiences have fared better -- "or less worse" -- than others.

Local, domestic bookings accounted for 90% of business in the U.S. and Canada and nearly two in three bookings in Europe, Arival said.

Outdoor and adventure operators fared the best, reporting a 70% decline, compared with a 73% drop for culinary tour operators. Multiday and sightseeing operations were down 83% and 87%, respectively.

Overall, day tour operators' outlook remained mixed, with just two in five optimistic and a similar number pessimistic.

Still, the Arival report notes "determination persists: 45% of operators say their business will survive the pandemic 'no matter what.'" 


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