Leisure travel to Toronto during the summer of 2022 was robust and led by travellers from the domestic and select international markets. While the US market has been slower to return, it is expected to see a stronger recovery following recently lifted border restrictions. As can be seen in Destination Toronto's Market Performance Dashboard, the UK, Germany and Mexico are rebounding while Japan and China are slower to return.

While forward-looking indicators point towards continued recovery, international competition for visitors is increasing as restrictions lift globally and the Toronto tourism community needs to stay abreast of current trends, opportunities, and challenges facing the industry. 

In the latest EDGE Event, The Evolving Needs of Travel Trade Business Channels, Chris Hedley, Managing Director, Canadian Affair; Vince Accardi, President, Ontario Motor Coach Association; Vicky Reid, Vice President, Sales and Operations, Jonview Canada; Roseanne Longo, Vice President, International Travel Trade, Destination Toronto; and, Sonya Stevenson, Marketing and Trade Consultant, Destination Ontario joined moderator Andrew Weir, Executive Vice President of Destination Development to explore how the complexities of COVID have impacted consumer bookings through travel trade channels. 

Our panel of experts led a discussion in the above recording, with the following five themes emerging from the conversation:

1. Labour shortages

Labour shortages are impacting all sectors of the industry around the world. From hospitality staffing within destinations to new staff at tour operators and travel planners’ offices, the entire industry is working to ramp back up to 2019 capabilities. There is an expectation from visitors for the hospitality Toronto is known for and as time progresses, a reluctance to accept staffing issues as a reason for a poor experience. 

International tour operators who lost staff are training or retraining their staff on Toronto product. Participation in destination familiarization programs and/or educational webinar training when available is an opportunity to share the value of your business with front-line sales and reservation staff from these companies.

Be sure you keep your DMOs, like Destination Toronto and Destination Ontario, up-to-date on current product and service offerings; they can act as an extension of your sales force during business development efforts with domestic and international clients.

2. Hightouch bookings

Tour operators and inbound receptive operators are an integral part of travel planning and packaged travel distribution in international markets, and the pandemic only highlighted the importance and relevance of their expertise and destination product knowledge. Some European and Asian markets have legislation in place that compensates consumers should they run into an issue while travelling if the package was booked through the travel trade channel. Domestically, agents and operators continued to show value by supporting travellers in understanding restrictions throughout the pandemic, especially for inter-provincial markets.  

If a trip needs to be changed, postponed or cancelled, consumers find it easier to work with one contact point, rather than through multiple suppliers. And an issue mid-trip is easier to navigate with a travel professional working on your behalf. 

Hightouch bookings put tour operators and agents in a position to share updates and enhancements on your business. Keep them informed. As sustainability increasingly becomes a consideration during trip planning, note any sustainability modifications you’ve made to your business so the information can be highlighted in documentation to operators. 

3. Longer trips, higher spend

While the economic slowdown could have an impact on future travel, our experts are currently seeing longer trips with a higher spend. Internationally, increased trip length means itineraries are being built to include destinations that would not traditionally be paired together. However, while total trip spend has increased, value is still important.

With the motorcoach market, high-end programs are in demand. No longer just for seniors and students, the newer vehicles offer a luxurious experience with WIFI, leather seats, and the opportunity to engage in experiences as part of a group or with friends.

4. Return to urban 

When travel initially started to return, there was a preference for rural destinations that offered more opportunities for distancing. As travel increases, there is a renewed interest in large, metropolitan cities that offer vibrancy and excitement. Toronto is well positioned as an urban stand alone city stay program, in addition to a wider holiday experience. When visitors are travelling to Eastern Canada, there is a high likelihood that Toronto will be a part of their itinerary. 

From a product perspective, attractions, festivals and events, performing arts, concerts, culinary experiences and sporting events remain a big draw for bringing visitors back to urban centers. Visitors are also looking for unique, high touch experiences, like a chef visiting their table, or a backstage tour of a theatre. Toronto is well positioned to deliver on these types of offerings. 

5. Early booking windows

Preliminary travel recovery included shorter-booking windows. That trend is shifting now as agents and operators are seeing travel booked earlier, some bookings as far out as 2024, with strong advance bookings in 2023 from select international markets. This trend highlights the importance of working closely with tour and inbound receptive operators and travel agents to confirm rates early, so they can capture the demand and move on to future opportunities. 

Thank you to those who joined us. Check out our EDGE Event line up at Education & Events.