What’s on the horizon for guided tours in 2024? A lot, it turns out. Travel as a whole has been on the upswing for a few years now, but this year looks to be one of the busiest and most exciting yet for guided tours.
I’ve asked tour companies and the USTOA (United States Tour Operators Association) for their predictions, trends, and advice for the year ahead. Here are the biggest tour industry trends to look for as you plan your 2024 travels.
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1. More Solo Travelers Are Joining Tours Than Ever Before
Solo travelers, you’re in good company. Tour companies across the board are reporting a significant increase in solo travelers on tours. In fact, Road Scholar recently did a deep dive into the solo travel trend, and according to the report, up to 30% of its tour participants are solo travelers. Among those solo travelers, 85% are women. EF Go Ahead Tours has seen a similar rise, with 83% more solo travelers at the end of 2023 compared to the year before.
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It turns out that solo travelers often have spouses or partners at home, but still yearn to see the world even if their significant other doesn’t. Solo tour travelers report loving the independence, how easy it is to make friends on tours, and the chance to spend time the way they want to.
2. The Desire for Sustainable Travel Is Growing, Too
The USTOA has been tracking the number of tour companies with formal documented sustainability strategies, and says that there’s been “substantial growth” in the number of companies that have developed plans this year.
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I’ve also noticed a heartening shift toward tour companies thinking about their role in sustainability as I’ve been updating our tour company reviews for 2024. Pretty much across the board, tour operators are dialing up their efforts to support cultural and environmental preservation efforts.
This takes many different forms: reducing or trying to eliminate single-use plastics, supporting local economies through artisanal goods and tourism, offsetting carbon emissions, working with wildlife protection projects, and more.
3. The Shoulder Season Travel Trend Is Real
Whether you’re an independent traveler or going on a tour, there are a lot of benefits to traveling outside of peak seasons. In 2023, EF Go Ahead Tours saw a rise in the number of travelers on shoulder-season departure dates (October through April in Europe, for instance), and the company expects that trend to keep growing in 2024.
During its Black Friday sale, it reported that April was the top booking month for tours. Backroads has also seen a shift to more people booking earlier in spring and later in fall to avoid the crowds, heat, and higher prices of summer. The trend is so pronounced that the tour company has added more departure dates to the 2024 shoulder season.
4. People Are Booking Earlier Than Ever
When I spoke with a representative from Backroads near the end of 2023, the company reported that nearly 40% of its 2024 spots were already booked. Curious to see if other tour operators are seeing similar trends, I asked around. Road Scholar said that for 2024, it’s seeing a continuation of the early booking trend compared to pre-COVID, with an average booking time of 238 days prior to the start of a tour. And Avalon Waterways reports that it’s seeing its highest early bookings in history for 2024, with several cruises already nearing capacity or sold out for the year.
5. More Trends to Watch in 2024
Here are a few more trends that have come up frequently in my research about what to expect on tours the year:
- Destinations: Far-flung destinations are looking increasingly popular. Across the board, bookings are up for 2024 tours to far-away spots including Thailand, Japan, and Norway.
- Experiences: Immersive experiences like gastronomy tours, hut-to-hut hiking, and pilgrimage routes such as Spain and Portugal’s Camino de Santiago have renewed appeal as travelers look for unique vacations.
- Private tours: This is an interesting one because after a big surge in 2021 in tour companies offering private tours, a few tour companies have retired the private tour option. However, in 2024 some tour operators are doubling down on private tour offerings, saying that more and more people are drawn to the relative affordability of being able to create their own tour group.