Skift Take

Considering how much the appetite for single-country trips has grown in recent years, why go through the constant hassles of grappling with widely divergent protocols and testing requirements in a Covid era?

The large number of travel restrictions enacted in the wake of Omicron killed any chance of a significant boost tour operators — many of which haven’t fully recovered since the start of the pandemic — were expecting in the new year. 

But those curbs are also accelerating a trend in the travel industry: tour operators increasingly taking their clients on single-country trips. As destinations worldwide have enacted Covid protocols that often vastly differ from those of their neighbors, tour operators are running more single-country trips to avoid the hassles of dealing with the different requirements they might encounter.

“With Covid, there is no global consistency around testing, vaccines, and quarantine requirements,” said Guy Young, the president of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, two companies that have launched five single-country trips during the pandemic. “With different countries having different protocols, it is easier to run a single country tour.”

Yves Marceau is another tour operator executive who can attest to the reduced challenges of organizing single-country trips, especially in regards to testing.

“For example, a traveler may pay for one PCR test to go on a single-country trip to enter that country, and then be required to pay for another test to return home,” said the Vice President of Product for G Adventures, which has recently added single-country trips in Europe, Africa and Asia to its itinerary. “The more countries and border crossings, the more complicated and costly it becomes.”

How costly can those tests be? Marc Sison, the product director for Kensington Tours, told Skift that while the cost of a PCR test starts at $100, a test in the remote areas of Botswana — a country where the company has conducted tours — could be to close to $300 since a lab technician or nurse needs to fly to camps where travelers are staying.

And Covid tests are time consuming as well. Sison said that it could take up to two hours to drive clients to a testing facility if the company is unable to bring the tests to them, adding that waiting for those results could take up to 48 hours.

Those challenges have made organizing single-country tours more appealing for tour operators. Several company executives told Skift they’ve run more such trips since the start of the pandemic. Young said that 68 percent of his two companies’ offerings for 2022 are for single-country trips, a six percentage point increase from the figure recorded in 2019. Meanwhile, Globus Tours launched a series of 13 single-country tours in North America and Europe last year, a development the company’s Chief Marketing Officer Steve Born said was influenced by the pandemic.

Single-country trips have also sparked a surge of travelers booking closer to their depature dates. Sison estimates that 31 percent of the trips Kensington Tours booked last year were taken within 90 days of the booking — a jump from the 25 percent figure recorded in pre-Covid years. Those last-minute trips, he said, were primarily for single-country tours, adding that many of the company’s clients chose their destinations based on Covid protocols.

So will tour operators turn to running even more single-country trips post-pandemic? Although Marceau still sees an appetite for multi-country trips, he believes that some of them that were popular pre-pandemic — such as those that took travelers back-and-forth into the same country — have become less popular over the last two years.

“Travel restrictions are not going away in the future and single country trips enable us to deliver a smoother experience,” he said.


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Tags: borders, covid-19, tour operators, travel restrictions

Photo credit: An image from Germany, where some Dutch have gone to escape lockdown. Sergey Ashmarin / Wikimedia Commons

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