Extended family and friends’ groups, delayed weddings and graduation trips are contributing to a revival in group travel in destinations like Argentina, Colombia, Perú, Paraguay and Bolivia. The residual effect is that travel agents are in demand again, and back into bricks-and-mortar offices to help travelers plan more book these trips asap.
While solo trips seem to be on the rise in other markets, in Latin America, group trips are showing signs of recovery and revaluing the role of reliable travel agents.
International trips of more than a dozen and up to 20 people began to pick up in the region — in Argentina, Colombia, Perú, Paraguay and Bolivia- late last year, and consolidated during the first months of 2022, according to Buenos Aires-based market research and tourism marketing firm Promovêre.
Besides extended family and friends’ groups, delayed weddings and graduation trips also boosted the trend. Depending on the dates, the average expense in air fare, transportation and stay is about $4,000 per person.
While this segment used to comprise about 10 to 15 percent of vacation traveling in pre-pandemic times, currently that number is of about 40 percent, according to Promovêre’s research, which crosses data from most travel associations in Latin America as well as wholesale operators and tourism agencies. The consultancy also provides training and manages representations for hotel chains, destinations and wholesalers from Argentina, Colombia, the Caiman Islands, Mexico, the U.S., among others.
Andrea Tosi, founder and communications manager, told Skift: “We are seeing this trend mostly in luxury clients, which are the ones that immediately began traveling internationally once the pandemic restrictions and requirements began to come down. They do not base their decisions on price, but still want to get their money’s worth when living these experiences.”
Martin Romano, country manager of Atrápalo Argentina, agreed that the movement began at the end of 2021, “because there was a need to return to family trips after two years of lockdowns. But the inquiries, bookings and assessment requests have not diminished since.”
“The Omicon variant slowed things down until February. Then we had an increase of family trips for groups of six to ten people, specially to beach destinations as Brazil or the Caribbean,” he said.
Romano believes South Americans are opting for shorter trips to close by destinations, to travel more times a year. Every occasion serves as an excuse to do so — birthdays, anniversaries — and invite the whole family.
Gabriel Ibarra, sales and marketing director for Mexico Grand Hotels, has also seen evidence of this trend: “In 2021, we had a high demand for our larger suites (two, three and four-bedroom suites), and our residences. It was safer and more convenient for groups to stay all together in the same unit.”
“Today, the demand for our larger suites is not as high as in 2021, but is still above 2019. We definitely have seen an increase in group leisure travels, family or friends traveling together after a long lockdown,” he added.
If Not Now, When?
There’s definitely a pandemic effect behind this trend, according to Tosi. Some countries in Latin America had very restrictive quarantines, pushing travelers to seize the moment now. After months of not being able to see their loved ones in person, people have been dreaming of treating the whole family or friends group once it was possible.
“What we are seeing is also a sense of urgency. Not only groups are becoming bigger than before, but also these trips that took months of planning now are requested from one month to the next”, Tosi said.
She believes this put a renewed importance on to the role of the travel agent, since to carry out the plan in time, people are not organizing the trip themselves. It is also pushing agents back into the offices, since clients want to speed up the process by meeting in person, which also gives them a larger sense of security when making a large expense.
“People want customization and personalized attention, so the firms offering this will be the ones with the advantage right now,” said the consultant when asked by Skift how should tourism companies make the best of this trend.
Also, she mentioned post-pandemic group travelers are looking for all-inclusive experiences that offer differentials — like waterparks, a planetarium, and others — without having to risk outside of the hotel. And that companies in the region need to start doing a better job in communicating sustainability measures and actions that add value to travelers and local communities.
More Than a Post-Pandemic Surge
Aside from family and friends’ groups, women’s groups, anniversary trips, destination weddings, student groups and incentive trips for execs are some of the main targets for this type of experience, according to data from Promovêre
The destination wedding, for instance, is becoming a larger trend not only in countries where it is tradition, as Bolivia and Paraguay, but in others where it is rare, like Argentina and Uruguay. “Some people who got married in the last two years, instead of planning a party for 300 people are taking the closest 40 to 60 people on a trip,” Tosi mentioned.
“Women’s groups are more common in Europe but relatively new in Latin America’s tourism industry. Just now more companies are creating women’s units and catering to them. They are selling a bonding experience, which creates loyalty travelers: these groups become more united after the first trip and continue planning adventures with the same agents,” Tosi said.
Caribbean destinations and Mexico are the ones taking the lead among Latin American group travelers, and Tosi foresees Cuba will also see a huge reactivation now that is opening up and regular flights are returning.
Within that, the consultancy firm says less traditional destinations like Costa Rica, Holbox Island, with less crowds than Cancun, for instance, are gaining ground. Mexico is still one of the favorites, and Playa Mujeres is a growing destination for luxury group trips.