With 2020 finally over, sales managers at several top group destinations are optimistic about 2021. Here’s what they have to say about this year’s travel outlook.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Joy McNealy, senior sales manager for the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism, said a lot of groups that canceled in 2020 moved their tours to 2021.
“If everything holds and tour passengers feel safe again, we see 2021 booming again,” McNealy said.
Pigeon Forge is located in Sevier County, and McNealy pointed out the county is currently under a mask mandate for all indoor areas. The department of tourism requires six-foot distancing under the Tennessee Pledge. The Tennessee Pledge provides guidelines that allow businesses to operate while continuing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“Hopefully, with Tennesseans getting the COVID-19 vaccine everything will return back to normal mid-spring or summer,” McNealy said.
She uses a variety of methods to stay in touch with tour operators. “I have had several group Zoom calls,” she said. “I also make it a point to contact operators each week by email and phone calls just to check up and assure them we are ready when they are ready to travel again!”
McNealy’s key message for tour planners is that 2021 will be a great year. Pigeon Forge, she said, is open for business with all of its safety precautions in place just for them.
Lenni Neimeyer, director of leisure group sales at Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB, said Branson is very excited to welcome groups back in a big way in 2021.
“Spring and early summer dates are still building momentum, but September through December looks amazing for groups to return to Branson and our community is look- ing forward to more people feeling safe to travel,” she said. “We know based on reports from area lodgings, shows and attractions the advance group reservations for our area are seeing a significant rise from groups of all kinds who are ready to go.”
Neimeyer noted professional tour operators and travel agents have been contacting her to put together popular itineraries for small to large groups in preparation for pent-up demand for domestic leisure group travel. Many mentioned international out- bound travel will be slow to move in 2021.
The groups that did travel to Branson last year were smaller than in the past —15 to 20 people versus 40 to 45. That trend may continue in 2021, Neimeyer said, because people might feel better in smaller group sizes. Also, people are requesting more soft adventure of outdoor activities and free time so as not to be confined in rooms of large groups.
Branson’s theaters have done an amazing job of social distancing, she said, so groups can enjoy themselves while feeling safe and secure.
While email blasts have been an effective way for Neimeyer to stay connected with tour operators, she has received the most benefit from virtual meetings. Neimeyer’s key message for tour planners: “When your group is ready to travel — Branson is open! Come and see us and let’s have some fun in 2021!”
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Sandy Haines, group tour sales manager for Visit Myrtle Beach, said the outlook for group travel in her area is positive for 2021.
“I am excited to say, many groups are already planning and selling tours to the Myrtle Beach Area,” Haines said.
She added the good news is that groups will still be able to maintain their itineraries flawlessly with social distancing guidelines in place.
Haines has been reaching out to operators via phone calls and virtual meetings. “The tour operators seem to prefer phone calls versus Zoom calls, which I prefer as well,” she said.
Haines’ key message for tour planners is that Myrtle Beach is open and ready for groups.