ATOR and Action Travel research: Changes in tourism consumer behavior during Covid-19 pandemic
Association of Tour Operators of Russia and Action Travel, a division of Action Global, conducted a study of the COVID-19 pandemic impact on the consumer preferences of Russian tourists. The research covered the period January 15 – March 31, 2021 with the sales in the segment of outbound tourism, as well as sales for the spring - summer season, including early booking.
It`s important to mention that Russia used to live almost usual life 2020 except 2-3 month of rather light lock down. The flight programs from Russia to Turkey and Tanzania started June 1 2020, to UAE a month later. So in fact the research period January 15 – March 31, 2021 is relatively, but still comparable with the same period 2019.
Experts from 11 leading tour operators were interviewed, which together provide more than 80% of the organized tourist flow in the studied areas. In addition, a survey was conducted of travel chain agencies from over 100 retail offices and 115 tour operators.
Changes in early booking
All respondents note a dramatic decrease in the depth of sales. The average decrease is about 1,5 – 2 times.
It should be noted that the preferences of tourists have also changed when choosing tours for early booking offers. Term of payment, its amount is especially important the clients. In fact, tourists choose offers with the mildest conditions, practically with no prepayment. Comparably to visa destinations, the visa free countries could offer payment on the eve of arrival.
Changes in the selling depth
All the changes in lifestyle because of COVID-19 pandemic have affected the tourism and travel industry. First of all, it is can the mandatory quarantine in the holiday destination. Even though the country is formally open to Russian tourists, quarantine for 1-2 weeks is a hold on factor.
The second significant reason not to make advance booking is the fear of another wave of infections both in Russia and in the country of entry. The result is the change in the entry rules, uncertain conditions for refund.
The third reason holding back the decision to purchase a tour is the pricing policy. The increase in exchange rate plus in prices for tour prices (in some destinations within 70-120%) often does not allow to decide for a vacation abroad. Taking into account the that many tourists mostly make prepayment of about 10 – 30%, there final sum can have a significant rise.
PCR tests in fact are not a significant deterrent. Except the travelers from Russian regional cities, where there is no possibility to obtain the test results (48 – 72 hours before entry) on time.
The mandatory mask wearing, closed buffet and food intake rules in hotel restaurants do not have any significant impact on the decision of tourists.
According to tour operators, the return to sales figures for early booking programs 2018 - 2020 may occur not earlier than 2023.
However, there is an opinion that it is not worth expecting any demand for early booking programs. The pandemic had a negative impact on tourism in general, and travelers will remember the loss of their tours on 2020. So they will try to purchase tours as close as possible to the departure date, despite the profitable promotions and discounts for early booking.
Changes in stay duration
On the average, the stay duration did not change and was 9 - 12 nights. At the same time, operators of premium segments noted that about 15% of regular customers began to choose tours of longer duration - 15-20 nights. Tour operators of all segments, from budget to vip, noted a reduction in duration to 7-8 nights. Thus, on average, this indicator remained at the level of 2019.
At the same time all tour operators noted an increase in the share of 4 * and 5 * hotels by an average of 35-40% compared to bookings in the first quarter of 2020 and 2019.
Operators estimate that about 40% of tourists prefer comfortable stay to more outgoings. Hotels with a large number of restaurants, animation, SPA, heated pools are in high demand.
Changes in the tourist social portrait
The changes also affected the age category of travelers. All surveyed tour operators noted a significant decrease in the number of tourists in the 55+ category. The decline in the share of such travelers is over 60%. The average age of consumers of an outbound tourism product in 2021 is 30-50 years. The share of families with children increased slightly, within 5-7%.
Changes in independent clients’ behavior
One of the interesting trends, which, according to business representatives, began to form in late 2020-early 2021, is the transition of independent tourists to tour operators / travel agents. These are, as a rule, tourists who used to book directly European destinations, which are currently closed. Maldives, UAE, Tanzania are too exotic for them, and they prefer to buy tours in travel companies.
Experts of Russian Travel Digest strongly confirm this assumption with another explanation. The packages booked via Russian tour operators were refunded or transferred for later on. The independent travelers faced all the refund challenges on his own.
Few changes in the behavior of the repeaters
All respondents were asked the question: "Which closed destinations the most stable audience, ready to wait for the opening of the country and not change their preferences?" Most often were named Italy, Greece, Spain, Dominican Republic, Thailand, Vietnam and sea cruises.
To test or not to test
According to the respondents, tourists are getting used to living according to the new reality, following the restrictions on departure and on arrival in open countries.
It should be mentioned that a PCR test is not an obstacle to traveling abroad, except the testing upon arrival. The travelers are afraid of getting a positive or false positive result and being quarantined in the country of arrival.
Mandatory quarantine in a foreign country of can be called the main deterrent. Of course, the fact of spending 1-2 weeks in a hotel without going to the city, to the beach, etc. stops the tourist from going to this country.
According to tour operators the demand for travel cancellation insurance has increased from 10% to 40% compared with 2019-2020.
Key results of the study
o The depth of sales for the coming dates in 2021 has decreased and averages no more than 3 weeks. For early booking promotions - an average of 60 days.
o The duration of the tour in 2021 has remained practically unchanged and is 9-12 nights.
o The share of bookings of tours with accommodation in 4-5 * hotels increased by 35-40%. There are practically no budget tours on sale.
o The share of tourists aged 55+ has decreased by 60%.
o The average age of tourists in 2021 is 30-50 years. The share of families with children among tourists increased by 5%.
o Cost increases in most outbound destinations in 2021 ranged from 10% to 90%. The exception is Tanzania with the decrease of 15% decrease in cost.
o There are no hot deals on the market.
o Tourists are afraid of quarantine in the country of departure, as well as the mandatory PCR test upon arrival. Restrictions on the work of restaurants and cafes in the hotel do not affect the choice of tourists.
o From 10% to 40% the number of purchased travel cancellation insurance has increased.
Most probably the above results will be applicable for the season 2022 - 2023. So the new reality will forсe the suppliers to implement new marketing tools and to make strong selling steps to change the clients’ behavior.