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Small group tour at Grand Canyon National Park

The current landscape of FIT and small-group touring

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postedJanuary 5, 2020

During vTREX, NTA’s online conference in November, members learned more about the ever-expanding world of small-group travel during a seminar called “Get FIT! Working with Independent Travelers and Small Groups.”

The session, led by Julie Payne, CTP, and Ann Pilcher, focused on how travel companies—specifically destination marketing organizations and tour suppliers—can reach independent travelers.

Payne said that many of the conversations she’s had point to FIT trips coming back more quickly as travel returns, and she’s seen that happening at her company, Hershey’s Chocolate World. She noted that the three main elements of FIT include tour operators, suppliers, and visitors.

“The current FIT supply chain makes things different, due in part to receptive operators and online travel agencies altering the landscape for FIT programs. For suppliers and DMOs, a key question is whether they want to focus on business-to-business or business-to-consumer.”

Pilcher talked about who FIT and small-group travelers are—during COVID they’ve been domestic travelers, primarily within their own region—and what their expectations are.

“While safety remains the highest priority, [travelers] also seek access to cultural experiences and up-scale comfort, and they want freedom and flexibility in scheduling. Exclusivity is a huge factor, and that includes bragging rights experiences such as cooking classes, hidden local gems, nature experiences, and more.”

Payne offered four thoughts regarding the question of what tour operators are—and will be—looking for and how DMOs and suppliers can respond:

  1. The most important thing is listening. Find out what operators really need, and how you can meet that need.
  2. Competitive rates are especially important, and flexibility is a given.
  3. There is a need to monitor and respond to changing expectations.
  4. A lot of the key players have changed, so DMOs and suppliers who are on top of things can really stand out to tour operators who need updated information.

Payne also urged DMO and supplier representatives to get connected with their local tourism partners, as well as ones on a regional and national level. “Travel associations and travel trade shows, such NTA as Travel Exchange, are great resources.”

Top photo: Grand Canyon National Park
Photo by Pat Henderson