By Brad Atwal, Marketing Director at World Expeditions
While COVID-19 has had a massive impact on the World Expeditions Travel Group, the company was well placed to ride out the pandemic thanks to its local operations in key markets including the UK, North America, New Zealand, and Australia.
During the pandemic, each office has been busy with travel in its own region, with locals everywhere seeing more of their own country than ever have before.
Company CEO, Sue Badyari, who has been at the company’s helm for decades and has steered the company through tough times before, said none had been on the scale of Covid.
“Resources that previously went into bringing new and unique international travel experiences to market were quickly diverted on domestic offerings, forcing a much faster expansion of its domestic range than was ever planned,” she said.
Domestic Travel has Been Key
In Australia, for example, new walks were added to the Australian Walking Holidays range, and existing experiences were adapted to suit a broader market, with a particular focus of enhancing authentic Indigenous content, which has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from travellers (further information).
Recognizing a gap in the market for self-guided cycle tours, Australian Cycle Tours was launched. The story of its development is inspiring in itself, with a team of avid cyclist employees heading out to undertake the final research of the range, fast-tracking its readiness for market.
The new brand draws on the company’s experience with its extremely successful UTracks brand, replicating its European model of providing luggage transfers and accommodation along quiet back roads ideally suited to cycling.
At the same time, the company’s youth brand, World Expeditions Schools, transformed its range of international trips into local versions and schools have responded enthusiastically to give their students the unique opportunities for learning that these immersive experiences provide.
With borders closed, the company rolled out their ‘local trips for local people’ model in every area they had an operation. Long established, UK-based Sherpa Expeditions has been re-branded as Walkers Britain, to better reflect the company’s offering of an unrivaled range of quality guided walking trips as well as flexible and affordable self-guided walking tours across England, Scotland, Wales, and the British Isles.
There are new translations – into German and French – of the UTracks website, to cater to the brand’s growing client base in both those countries.
Across the Atlantic, Great Canadian Trails has added to its range in response to record levels of domestic bookings and, in the USA, a new range of cycling adventures is ready for market as North America Active.
The company’s two New Zealand cycling brands, Adventure South (guided tours) and Trail Journeys (self-guided tours) have both been heavily booked, and a brand new walking brand, Great Walks of New Zealand has launched and continues to add to its already impressive product range.
Looking back, Ms. Badyari admits that, although her response to Covid 19 was swift, with an early announcement that the company was cancelling all China trips back in February 2020, she did not anticipate the speed with which the situation would unfold.
A Sign of Hope
While those were dark days for travel, Ms. Sue Badyari was determined to use the company’s well-established domestic divisions as a lifeline to its future viability.
“We were very fortunate that we were not solely dependent on our range of international active adventures,” she said. “We were able to springboard off our strong, well-established domestic divisions to survive.”
“Looking ahead, I think there will be a huge appetite for international travel when it’s possible,” Ms. Badyari said. “We’re already seeing signs of that, with more bookings on extended trips like our Great Himalaya Trail than ever before.”
A single trip example of World Expeditions’ resilience is its biggest selling trip, the Classic Larapinta Trek in Comfort, a walk that takes a route the company pioneered in 1995, and which has since become one of the exclusive Great Walks of Australia.
State border closures had an enormous impact on the trip’s operation in 2020 and 2021 but bookings have rebounded since restrictions were lifted so that almost all departures for 2022 are already booked out.
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