TravelAwaits looks into tour trends now that a test to return to the U.S. is no longer required.
We reached out to some of the top tour operators in the world, G Adventures, Tauck, Intrepid Travel, EF Go Ahead Tours, Trafalgar, and Globus, to find out whether the U.S. dropping its testing requirement has had an impact on bookings, and also to identify emerging tour trends. Here’s what they had to say.
Tour Bookings On The Rise
We asked major tour operators if they have seen an increase in bookings since people entering the U.S. no longer need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
“Absolutely. While interest, and bookings, have been steadily increasing, the CDC announcement definitely gave a boost to sales for both summer and fall travel bookings internationally. It seems that many people were still hesitant to book a trip because of the x-factor around protocols to return back to the US. We’re also seeing more countries open borders, which of course helps with bookings,” said Steve Lima, G Adventures director of marketing for the U.S. and Latin America.
“We are continuing to see strong bookings for travel this year. Since April, bookings for 2023 travel have increased 89 percent over the same period in 2019 (pre-pandemic),” according to Marina Goodwin, senior manager of PR & Brand Partnerships at EF Go Ahead Tours
“Many U.S. travelers were uncomfortable flying on an overseas adventure travel journey because a breakthrough infection would mean not just getting stranded up to 2 weeks in a foreign country at their own expense, but also missing work, arranging child or pet care, and other logistical headaches back home. With that requirement now gone — and the U.S. joining Canada, Australia, and virtually all of Europe in scrapping the test mandate — we have seen a surge in international travel and bookings.”
“The return testing requirement had been one of the single biggest barriers to travel, and a source of great anxiety. Getting rid of the requirement has lifted a huge burden from our guests, and it marks another major step forward on the path back toward normalcy,” said Jeremy Palmer, CEO of Tauck.
2023 Tour Trends
Major tour operators to tell us the top two or three destinations that are being booked for this year.
Lima says, “In terms of destinations, South America and Europe are leading at the moment, which supports the ‘big trip’ trend that we’re seeing. We’re starting to see a return to the multi-country vacation, thanks to opening borders and more relaxed protocols.”
2024 Tour Trends
“Bookings for 2023 are definitely on the rise,” according to Kim Greiner with G Adventures. “While book-to-travel windows are shortening, we also have seen a jump in the 6 to 10 months out timeframe too, showing a large increase in the intent to travel in 2024.”
“Yes, definitely bookings are coming in strong for 2024,” says Berna. “People are ready to prioritize spending on travel expenditures, and this is more vital than ever for communities that were financially crippled by the cessation of international travel and where inflation is even worse. There is of course a natural limit to customers’ willingness to tolerate inflation in travel. Consumers may be looking to travel where their dollar goes the furthest and it appears that most travelers still consider vacations a high-budget priority for the near future. Demand for outdoor adventure travel has increased dramatically, people wanting to get away from city crowds and closer to nature.”
A recent American Express Travel survey revealed that almost 50% of respondents were planning their summer 2024 trips, so now is the best time for tour and activity operators in the U.S. to start preparing.
Travel agents also say that people are spending more on holidays despite the higher cost of living. According to several holiday companies and tour operators demand for bookings was high in 2023 and it is expected to surge even more in early January 2024.
For some people, booking in advance gives them something to look forward to and work for. Also, average spending per holiday has increased by about 5% from last year. However, there are concerns that there could be delays at airports because of staff shortages after thousands of staff were laid off during the pandemic. Nonetheless, the U.S. Travel Foundation predicts that travel spending will increase in 2024 compared to 2023.
Travel is back — and in a big way!
17 Best Group Tours | Most Popular Tour Destinations To Visit In 2024
Here are the top tour destinations being booked for next year, according to major tour operators.
1. Great Britain
Great Britain is one of the top destinations being booked through EF Go Ahead Tours. One of the best sellers is London, Paris, and Rome, an 11-day tour that offers a taste of three quintessentially European cities and a chance to see iconic sights such as Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, and the Colosseum.
Ireland is another one of the top destinations for 2023 according to EF Go Ahead Tours. The 12-day tour of England, Scottland, and Ireland takes a sightseeing route through London before taking a train through the English countryside up to Scotland’s medieval city of Edinburgh. Arrive in the Emerald Isle by way of the Lake District and Wales, including the Welsh village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, the longest-named place in Europe. Have a pint in Dublin before heading off to see the stunning sea views of the Cliffs of Moher.
An ever-popular destination, Italy tops the list for a few tour operators. It is one of G Adventures’ most popular destinations for 2023 and Palmer says that Italy remains Tauk’s top-selling group trips destination in Europe.
Italy is also one of EF Go Ahead Tours’ most-booked destinations for next year. Its 9-day tour of Venice, Florence, and Rome is a best-seller. It kicks off in Venice, where tour groups get a true taste of Italy through the city’s gondola-filled canals and picture-perfect piazzas. Highlights include Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, and a glass-blowing demonstration. In Florence, gaze up at the hand-carved doors of the Duomo and shop along the Ponte Vecchio. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it sure has been falling apart for a while. Tour many of the ruins in this ancient city, including the Colosseum.
Is there anywhere better than Greece? EF Go Ahead Tours’ 9-day tour of Athens, Mykonos, and Santorini takes visitors from the ancient Greek capital to the azure waters of the Aegean and white-washed buildings of the Greek Isles.
Cradle of the Incan Empire, Peru tops the list of group trips 2023 bookings for G Adventures. It’s easy to see why — Peru is home to Machu Picchu, the Amazon rainforest, and Lake Titicaca, one of the highest lakes in the world. Over 50 tours of Peru are available, offering guests a chance to hike through the jungle, trek the Andes, and surf northern beaches. One of the top sellers is the week-long Inca Trail group tour, which passes through the region’s ruins, mountainscapes, and cloud forests.
6. Costa Rica
Costa Rica is another popular 2023 destination for G Adventures. It is no wonder why — this unspoiled tropical paradise is blessed with beaches and biodiversity. Choose your own Costa Rican adventure from G Adventures’ 19 tours of the country. We wouldn’t mind going on the Wellness Costa Rica tour, which features thermal hot springs, yoga, and a therapeutic mud bath.
7. The Galapagos
Check The Galapagos off your bucket list with one of the 22 tours available from G Adventures. A guided tour is a great way to see this amazing archipelago because you don’t have to worry about transportation and accommodations on this remote island chain more than 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. A small group tour to the Galapagos will show you how it inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Meet sea lions sunning on white-sand beaches, giant iguanas, 100-year-old tortoises, and a few species of booby — and that’s just on land. Wait until you strap on your snorkel!
Another popular 2023 destination for G Adventures, Morocco is home to spice markets, ornate doors, several types of tagine, and more mosques than you can count. This exotic yet affordable North African country is just a short ferry ride from Spain. From riding camels in the desert to climbing Mount Toubkal, one of G Adventures’ 17 Moroccan tours is sure to suit you.
Egypt is another popular destination in North Africa for G Adventures. Seven tours are available. Dig into the geography, culture, and archaeology of an ancient Egyptian civilization on the Highlights of Egypt tour. Gaze at the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Nile, the Sphinx, and more.
Thailand can get pretty wild, so it’s a good idea to go with a tour group like G Adventures to arrange hotels, transportation, and activities. This side of Southeast Asia boasts stunning scenery, interesting history, tropical beaches, idyllic southern islands, many mountains, delicious food, and amazing people.
Explore Thailand’s ultra-modern capital, Bangkok, and iconic temples such as Angkor Wat. Sail the Mekong, savor noodles in Hoi An, and shop in Ho Chi Minh City on G Adventures’ 29-day Indochina Encompassed tour. Or, while you’re over there, see two more Southeast Asian countries on the Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand: Riversides & Railways 22-day tour.
Jordan is also in the top 10 destinations that G Adventures is seeing the most bookings for next year. Instead of staying in luxury hotels, take the Egypt, Jordan, and Israel tour overnight in a Bedouin tent in the desert of Jordan. A stop in Petra gives visitors the chance to explore the 2,300-year-old city carved into rose-colored sandstone mountains. Relax in the Dead Sea before touring the historic cities of Jerusalem and Nazareth in Israel.
Another top-seller for G Adventures, Mexico is a treasure trove of ancient sites and vibrant indigenous culture. Some of G Adventures’ 17 tours give you the chance to see other Central American countries as well, such as Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Belize, and Guatemala.
Home to towering mountain peaks, massive glaciers, and gorgeous fjords, Iceland is an unforgettable experience. Best of Iceland is one of G Adventures’ eight Iceland tours, offering guests a chance to see erupting geysers, visit glacier lagoons, and explore breathtaking waterfalls and black-sand beaches. Add the Aurora Borealis in the mix with the Iceland Northern Lights and Golden Circle tour, which includes soaking in steamy geothermic hot springs, hiking through Þingvellir National Park, laying eyes on the pony-sized Icelandic horse, exploring lava caves, and chasing waterfalls.
“We’ve seen consistently strong demand for Switzerland,” says Palmer. It’s no surprise, considering the European country is home to such natural beauty as the Alps and glacial lakes. Tour Geneva, Saint Moritz, Lucerne, Stresa, Lausanne, and Bern on Tauk’s Switzerland: Europe’s Crown Jewel tour. Marvel at majestic mountains on The Ultimate Alps & Dolomites tour. Or, make your way down to Switzerland from Amsterdam on the water via The Rhine and Moselle river cruise.
“Our guests are absolutely thrilled that Australia and New Zealand have reopened,” Palmer tells us. So are we! See the big cities, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, the Outback, and more on Tauck’s Australian tours.
Australia offers diverse landscapes and vibrant cities, making it a top destination for group tours. Sydney’s iconic landmarks like the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, along with the stunning Great Barrier Reef, attract tourists seeking natural wonders.
Melbourne’s cultural scene and the rugged beauty of the Outback also draw groups. The amazing Gold Coast is a favorite for its beaches and theme parks. With unique wildlife, ancient Aboriginal sites, and the scenic Great Ocean Road, Australia offers unforgettable group travel experiences.
16. New Zealand
New Zealand’s staggering scenery includes glaciers, fjords, vineyards, gardens, and beaches. Tauck’s New Zealand tours “offer an in-depth exploration of the North and South Islands, including a taste of the Maori culture, local wines, and the natural wonders found throughout Milford Sound.”
17. United States
“America is now Intrepid Travel’s single biggest destination,” says Berna. “We launched an additional 15 new itineraries across the U.S. focused on backcountry and hiking adventures that provide both a minimal footprint and immersive nature-based experiences few others get to see.”
The launch of these new active trips will take the company’s U.S. tour range from 65 to 80 trips, its largest offering group tour in the world within one country while providing its customers with more sustainable and remote trekking experiences.
Are Group Tours Cheaper?
Yes, as one would expect, group tours tend to be cheaper than private tours for those on a tight budget. Travelers can benefit from the savings associated with sharing resources, but this also depends on the number of people in your party. On the other hand, you should also consider that tours save you a lot of time you would spend doing research, organizing everything, and booking your trip and activities.
How To Choose the Best Tour Company?
The best tour company you can get these days is the one that is inexpensive, eco-friendly, provides local guides, and gives back to the local community. Group tours were once synonymous with inauthentic travel experiences. The idea of big buses and cheesy attractions is an old and outdated perception. These days tour groups feature more genuine experiences and more local guides. Also, consider the group size. The ideal number should be between eight and sixteen people.
What Are the Disadvantages of Group Tours?
There are a few downsides to traveling in a group. Time-saving, tried and tested itineraries that group tour operators offer may not necessarily tick all the boxes for you. The group travel dates and timespan may also not be a good fit. Or you might want to spend more time in one location and skip one stop completely. The charm of solo traveling is that you are the master of your own destiny and in complete control of when and where you travel.