Group Tourism takes on a youthful look
When we speak of package tours by coach, it usually means the traditional “tour and travel”. We think at once of customers who are pensioners or persons taking early retirement. Today, we notice a wave of rejuvenation: the average age of the passengers is closer to 55 years than the age of the pensioner (65 years). Thanks to the increase in thematic tours and new destinations, the chartered tours in motorcoach get a second breath and interest a more diversified customer basis.
An important sector
The study on the Québec chartered bus industry, realized in 2001 by the Chair in Tourism of the UQAM, showed the importance of this sector for the tourism and the economy of Québec. We found that some 14% of all the tourist revenue in Québec comes from chartered transport.
Let us clarify that chartered transport defines itself as an occasional service reserved for the exclusive transport of groups of persons, as opposed to the tourist transport which offers a service of tourist visits to the general public. City visits belong to the tourist transport, while the tourist tours, over one or several days, and organized by professional or voluntary tour operators are associated with the chartered transport.
To each its job
Contrary to what we find in Europe, the bus operators in Québec do not usually organize the journeys. This is the job of the tour operators, such as DMC, Transat, who set up the tours and find the customers. Some people act as receptive agencies and work with tour operators. Most of Québec bus carriers limit themselves to the transport portion of the business, by offering a fleet of buses and qualified drivers.
In Europe, the structure of the market differs appreciably. Numerous bus operators do both, producing and distributing tours. These “buses-operators” act as complete travel professionals. In France, the market of group travel represents 3 billions Euro annually.
Baby-boomers at the rendez-vous
We distinguish two main categories within the group travel market, individuals assembled in groups by travel professionals and the groups set up from the start. These last ones often come from clubs, associations, company committees, etc.
The arrival of the baby-boomers (a third of the Canadian population), with more money and free time than any other segment of the population, changes the picture of group tourism. They already have a good experience in travel, mostly acquired as F.I.T. The current boomers (40 – 59 years) are looking for something different from the traditional group travel. Those who opt for traveling in group expect a high comfort, as well as a pleasant group atmosphere.
Tightly packed schedule trips are no longer the rule. Baby-boomers are looking for different ways to be tourists: they want to experience thematic tours, to live a cultural immersion, they want time on their own, and time to relax. In Europe, for example, tour operators count on special events to diversify the offer. They sell the Seville Feria, the Christmas markets in Innsbruck, the Carnival of Nice, etc.
The groups made up of individuals sharing a common interest also constitute an interesting customer basis. These people assemble around a theme, such as gastronomy, museology, ornithology, oenology, sports, etc. There are so many passions which can be the object of thematic outings for targeted customers. A survey by the Direction of Tourism in France confirms that the activities practiced by the groups are more and more diversified, while the themes of culture, nature and gastronomy are the most popular (fig 1).
Activities practiced by French group tourists in 2003
More than ever, the companies/firms/organisations in the travel industry will have to be very professional. People will expect to see a detailed schedule before departing and that it will be respected. The guide, with the group from the start, plays an important center role, as does the driver, from whom one expects versatility, courtesy and patience.
This can mean significant costs in personnel formation for the bus carriers. In a survey by the Florida International University over 70 carriers in North America, 64% declare investing in staff formation for a better customer service. Many understand the importance of well formed drivers, their main ambassadors with their customers.
Expectations are growing, but value is growing as well. While all included group tours were essentially at the mid and lower range, a luxury window of opportunity is slowly opening. In 2004, Transat has successfully launched high end products in the CAN$4,000 – CAN$5,000 range.
Competition is growing, with new destinations coming of age. For instance, in Europe, Eastern countries like Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania are beginning to be significant destinations with a growing customer basis.
In Québec, group travel will go on, but the offer must evolve if it wants to keep its power of attraction. More diverse formulas will have to be created to attract people not previously interested in group travel. Integrating exclusive elements into the package, unavailable for individual travelers, may become a pole of attraction for these new customers. Finally, developping theme outings may be a winning formula. Among the themes susceptible to have a high level of attraction in Québec, let us mention:
- Festive events
- The Saint-Lawrence River and its attributes
- The wine trail and the country's flavors
- Québec: the history of a nation and its patrimony
- The willd life and Nature's great expanse
Furthermore, a renewal of the offered tours will help develop customer loyalty, enticing them to come back for more. Offering segmented tours could also attract the individual Québec tourists, traditionally less inclined to bus travel in group.
– Filliâtre, Pascale. «Le Tourisme de groupe a encore de beaux jours». L'Écho Touristique, 7 mai 2004
– Carter M., Cheryl et Jinlin Zhao. «A survey of customer service training for motorcoach drivers in United States and Canada», e-Review of Tourism Research (eRTR) , vol1, n04, 2003
– Desvignes, Claudine. «L'enjeu du tourisme en autocar, conquérir de nouvelles clientèles». Espaces, vol 209, nov. 2003
– Désiront, André. «Les baby-boomers se convertissent aux circuits en autocar». La Presse, Vacances Voyages, 10 mars 2004-10-25
– Direction du Tourisme de France et C.O.C. Conseil/Daniel Picon. «Le tourisme de groupe, synthèse des enquêtes réalisées en 2003 auprès des prescripteurs et des professionnels», déc. 2003
– Chaspoul, Claudine. «Fram redessine sa gamme tout autocar», Espaces. Vol. 09, nov. 2003
– Chaire de Tourisme de l'UQAM. «Étude sur l'industrie québécoise du transport par autocar nolisé», 7 septembre 2001.
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