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Travel Industry Outlook

I don’t suppose that you receive as many editorials in any given week as I do about the future of travel in “our changing times”. That’s actually a good thing. Some days there are so many disparate opinions that I just want to head straight for the liquor cabinet and crawl in.

But it’s my business, and part of my job is keeping up-to-date on what’s happening, so here goes!

First of all, let’s all agree that no one - in or out of travel - had ever been through this before - or anything like this. So there were lots of bad, and sadly, unrealistically hopeful, recommendations that were disseminated to ignorant (or even desperate) travel providers. And even with nearly three years of experience under our belts at this point, there is still a lot of that going on.

Last season, for example, despite a significant improvement over the previous two years, can only be generously described as the summer of airline meltdowns. To the extent that airline ticket pricing is ever controlled, Group Travel Magazine declared it as totally out of control in 2022, when airfare inflation rose by a stratospheric 42.9%. It attributed this to a pent-up desire to travel where demand had outstripped supply, plus rising fuel costs that were passed on to consumers.

The Group Travel Magazine reporter believes that the airlines got away with it because a plane trip is a choice that reflects money people choose to spend, but don't have to, as opposed to groceries and gas. I’m not sure if I buy that argument, but he was certainly right about the growth of air travel (to the point of complete chaos in the skies.) He did have the presence of mind, though, to admit that there is a breaking point where high prices curb demand.

The tourism industry is not segmented (as the government seems to wish it was) but entirely dependent on all the other components which interact to bring our clients meaningful travel experiences. For example, as a group tour operator, I hire motorcoaches, hotels, step-on guides and historical interpreters, pay admission fees to countless attractions, national and state parks, restaurants, pay event fees and even serve as court jester, and chief cook and bottle washer when needed! As interconnected as all these services are, all of them are dependent on my participants having reliable access to the starting and ending points of our tours! Sometimes that’s the same location, but more frequently not, as we often pursue historic trails on our adventures, which by definition begin in one place and end in another.

For Shebby Lee Tours the past three touring seasons - which I have facetiously dubbed “The Great Disruption” - have consisted of:

1. Select and schedule tours/ book all the various components / advertise them (on the faulty of advice of no one in particular)

2. Cancel all arrangements made in number 1.

3. Repeat numbers 1 and 2.

In other words: one step forward, two steps back.

Just as I was beginning to perfect this baroque dance, my hip chose that particular time in my earthly journey to blow out. [Hip replacement surgery is made necessary because the original equipment we were supplied with wasn't up to the task.] The name sounds like a big deal - and it is! My only consolation was that the process has advanced to the point where it is now largely robotic. Still, I was reluctantly sidelined for several months during recovery.

So what is the outlook for 2023? I am relieved to report that our inquiries for both individual travelers and pre-formed groups are considerably up. And this condition seems to be consistent throughout the travel industry. Still, I’m not in complete agreement with all the prognosticators now publishing rosy outlooks. I do agree, however, that the trend for unique, personalized adventures (a trend that started well before Covid) has intensified. Since that is all we’ve ever done, it has given Shebby Lee Tours a bit of a leg up.

Now if we can just keep that momentum going!



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