Back-Roads Touring and sister brand Topdeck have rejoined the Association of Touring and Adventure Suppliers as the sector emerges from the pandemic.
Ed Pettitt, global general manager for Global Touring – the parent brand of Back-Roads Touring and Topdeck, said: “We are slowly but surely seeing the world emerge from Covid, with UK booking, enquiry and web volumes getting close to pre-pandemic levels.
“With the 2022 season looking bright, it’s the perfect time to reconnect with our trade partners in the UK and Atas helps us do that.”
He said the enforced break in operations during the pandemic offered an opportunity for “reflection and product refresh”.
From next season, all Back-Roads tours will include an additional day at the beginning of the tour for customers to meet their fellow travellers over a relaxed welcome dinner rather than an early morning rush.
“We have a fantastic connection with our customers, with many having travelled with us throughout the UK and Europe, and this is something that came through loud and clear in their feedback,” he said.
“One of our new tours that I think our UK customers are going to love is A Taste of the Camino: Porto to Bilbao.
“All of our trips get our customers away from the usual tourist trails – it’s in our DNA – and this trip is no exception, travelling through Galicia and Castile and enjoying the amazing food, wine and local hospitality along the way.”
Topdeck’s product range has also been refined over the past 18 months and Pettitt tipped two tours that will be particularly popular with UK clients: Delve Deep: Australia Queensland Coast and Delve Deep: Japan.
“Our research has shown that, post-pandemic, people are wanting to travel longer, see more and tick off major bucket-list destinations, and they don’t get better than Australia and Japan,” he said.
“With our Australian roots going back almost 50 years, you could say we have some form.”
Commenting on the past 18 months, he said they have been “beyond difficult” as a whole season had to be cancelled in three months.
“To watch the impact that Covid has had on our industry – our partners, suppliers and team members, has been awful but the industry as a whole has pulled together, shown resilience and is on the brink of a far brighter future,” he said.
“Both brands have had to prioritise the things that really count and defend the DNA that makes them unique.
“As we emerge from Covid, that process of simplification and focus has put us in a great position to deliver value to our customers. We know who we are, what we do better and why our customers love us.”
He hailed the “great relationships” with UK travel agents, which can be traced back to the mid-1970s for Topdeck and more recently for Back-Roads.
“As travel becomes more complex, the role of the agent in providing end-to-end support, guidance and insight is going to be vital for our industry and we are excited to already be partnering with some of the best agencies out there,” he commented.
“We are nothing without our trade partners, and have webinar/Zoom/pre-recorded sessions we can provide for both brands to keep the UK on top of our programmes.
“Our uber-successful Sell 20 (Topdeck) and Sell 12 (Back-Roads) are still available, with the added options of Re-book 20 and 12 respectively, as we know many of our agents are holding credits with our brands.”
He said the brands’ research found that 96% of customers cited international travel as the thing they had missed the most in the last 18 months – beating family and friends to the top spot.
Furthermore, 87% of Topdeck customers said they are planning to travel as soon as borders open and restrictions ease with 60% of Back-Roads customers already planning their travel in 2022.
“Travel and group touring, in particular, is seen by many as an antidote to the distancing we have all had to live through and that is a key message we will be landing over the coming months,” said Pettitt.
“We have certainly seen a rise in the importance of flexibility and health and safety when it comes to tour consideration – 95% of customers have said they would feel safest travelling in a small group tour, and that is borne out in our forward booking trends.”
Over the next two years, the brands will add emerging destinations in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
“We see a lot of opportunity in southeasat Europe, a part of the continent that has all the ingredients we look for,” Pettitt commented.
“As part of our restructure last year, we brought together our customer insight, relations and operations teams into a wider Experience Team.
“This focus on the customer curiosity will be central to our strategy over the next five years.
“But before all that we just want to get back out on the road operating regularly again.”
Claire Brighton, Atas account manager, said: “We’re delighted to welcome back Back-Roads Touring and Topdeck. They offer exciting and innovative adventure and touring holidays and recognise the important role of travel agents in our sector, so they’re great partners.”
Dylan Hearne, global head of sales, is handling trade requests, and can be contacted via email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org