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September 2022 : Toundrigo's founders analyze North American tourism

Summer 2022 is coming to an end. One year after the reopening of North American borders, Jean Christophe Viard and Charles Frobisher, founders of the Toundrigo group, talk, without taboo, about the state of North American tourism.

North American tourism regains strength, driven by the USA!

Already 1 year since our previous interview. How has travel in North America been since then?

Jean-Christophe – North American travel is doing very well in terms of volume. We reached 75% of our pre-pandemic sales, compared to 2019. We are really happy about that, for our industry first of all, but also for our teams who have worked hard to make travels possible.

Charles – Honestly, we didn't expect these results so we're really happy with that. That's the positive side of this year. The other players in the market share this vision. After that, of course, these volumes come with a new set of challenges for everyone.

At Toundrigo, whether it's FIT, MICE, Groups or Small Group Adventures, the teams have worked so hard this year to keep up with demand. This year is really intense for everyone.

So, in your opinion, has the return of groups and events on this North American destination been equivalent to the FIT demand?

Jean-Christophe – There was a noticeable difference but that was expected. At Toundra, our FIT brand, we have recovered a very good level of travels compared to 2019. For group travel, and therefore our Receptour brand, the reboot is longer but that is really legitimate. After the pandemic, travelers find it more difficult to travel in groups on a bus.

Charles – On our MICE trips with Think Incentive, sales are really encouraging and close to 2019 as well. And then, it's also worth mentioning that the segment that worked the best for us this year remains small group guided adventure travel! The Windigo brand carried our results this year and exceeded 2019 travel volumes, which is pretty impressive.

Jean-Christophe – Yes, we mustn't forget to say that these results are mainly driven by the USA. Windigo Aventures is our brand which is the most US-oriented to date. Therefore, it pulls us up on this destination.

Charles – Yes, the US has in fact regained this momentum partly because the pandemic is almost over but also for political reasons. Travelers see themselves returning to the U.S., which was less evident in recent years.

Follow this link to know more about USA's success story in 2022.

You said that your brand Think Incentive which is in charge of your MICE activities has also reached levels close to 2019?

Charles – Absolutely. For Think Incentive, we are really confident in our future sales growth. The main reason is this "work from home" new reality! In the current context, many companies are restricting their offices and adopting regular work from home policies. Companies need to bring their teams together for team-building to strengthen their corporate culture.

Jean-Christophe – We believe that these requests will naturally increase in the coming year. The future of corporate events is clearly bright.

The economic situation strenghtens the value of receptive companies but complicates predictions for 2023

Can you talk concretely about the impact of the pandemic in North America after experiencing this 2022 season?

Jean-Christophe Yes, the industry had been in what could be described as a "coma" for the past 2 years and suddenly, the travel industry had to respond to a strong demand, in spite of the deep wound inflicted by this crisis on the industry, suppliers and teams.

Charles – Let's be honest, this observation is similar to other markets. Many professionals left the industry and processes have become obsolete or rusty.

When the travel industry returned, prices naturally rose, availability became limited, inventories were less well managed, professionals struggled to find manpower... The entire travel family struggled in 2022, in North America as elsewhere. This impact is felt by all our tourism partners.

Jean-Christophe – That's exactly it. (Pause) On our side, as a receptive, we are an interface between the client agency and the service providers. We have to resolve possible disruptions on both sides to ensure serenity in travel. This is our job and in this context, it means big challenges.

Charles – Totally. In fact, the receptive companies' job has really gained in value in 2022. The advice and support of our teams to both travelers and client agencies make sense in this turbulent context.

Jean-Christophe – Yes, our job provides real security for both travelers and tourism professionals. This summer we have reinforced our assistance teams to support this entire ecosystem.

Given this unusual context, what is your forecast for 2023?

Charles – It's hard to say. Already in 2022, we were anticipating a maximum of 50% of the travel sales compared to 2019, and these forecasts, at the time, seemed optimistic. In the end, we reached 75% of 2019 sales, which is really exceptional so soon after the pandemic.

I think Jean-Christophe will agree with me that we are cautious about our predictions. It is impossible to say whether we will be able to return to 100% and surpass 2019 sales.

Jean-Christophe – Yes, I agree. What made the destination successful in 2022 may not work as well in 2023. Let me explain.

First of all, there was a "revenge travel" effect this year, travelers wanted to move right away and spend, but will it last in 2023, it is not certain.

Then, the North American destination was successful thanks to its wide open spaces, nature but also safety regarding the sanitary situation. It is a destination where it was finally easy and reassuring to come after the covid. On this point, many destinations will be back on an equal footing so it will no longer be a poignant advantage in 2023.

Il y a aussi beaucoup d’évènements conjoncturels qui empêchent de prévoir clairement ce qui va se passer finalement.

Charles – That's right, with the difficulties at the airports, inflation, weather, military conflicts and all these major events, it's simply impossible to get ahead of ourselves. That being said, our goal in 2023 is to return to 2019 sales, but above all to maintain the quality of service that is unique to us at Toundrigo.

No destination can be free of a concrete responsible approach

Let's talk trends. Do you think these airline challenges this summer of 2022 have the power to discourage the long-haul traveler in 2023?

Jean-Christophe – It's true that this summer brought a lot of pressure on the airlines who were not prepared for this volume of travel. This generated real traffic jams in the airports and long waits.

My observation is that it is no longer as pleasant to travel, but 2022 has been a real lesson for the airline industry and for the entire travel industry. This year has given tourism professionals the keys to prepare their year 2023. The traveler will probably be more wary. I think it is up to us to be more inventive to secure him and allow him to continue to discover.

Charles – What may eventually happen is a decrease in the number of families in the type of travelers. Afterwards, concerning the airlines, we must keep in mind that the difficulty for the air transport professionals, as for us, is that we had no idea of what was coming.

If we want to talk about trends in 2023 and beyond, we must think beyond the crisis. Tourism is changing because travelers are changing. Today, they work while they travel, they are sensitive to environmental issues, they are inspired by social networks and are willing to travel longer and slower at the same time.

Okay, so in your opinion, if there was 1 trend to remember, would it be the slow tourism trend ? How will this impact the your activity in North America ?

Charles – In truth, there are many concepts that come together. Slow tourism is a form of responsible travel, but there are others like ecotourism or solidarity tourism for example.

Jean-Christophe – Yes, this trend of travel awareness is becoming more and more important in the minds of travelers, it is very positive. This sobriety in travel has an ethical dimension but is also constrained by the limited resources we have. Our travel offer goes in this direction, we care about it.

Charles – Yes, all tourism actors, including us, are making changes to integrate an increasingly responsible approach to travel. This is also the case for many of our partners' accommodations and activities.

Jean-Christophe – Yes, it is true. As far as the impact on the incoming business is concerned, it is very difficult to say. We are already far from mass tourism with a high recurrence of visits to our destinations. When travelers come, it is often for a trip they will not repeat for 5 or 10 years. We will, of course, have an impact from this awareness but it is a reality that is difficult to quantify.

Charles – The impact will be greater in the business travel sphere. A transatlantic business meeting can now be done via video conferencing platforms, although this method has limitations compared to a physical meeting. That's where air travel consumption is potentially going to slow.

What can a destination management company like Toundrigo do about these responsible issues?

Jean-Christophe – The topic of responsibility is broad. It encompasses many aspects, environmental, economic and socio-cultural. Our brand Toundra recently wrote an article on this very issue. That being said, the airplane remains the primary concern when it comes to responsibility, in our environmental context.

Let's be honest, on the long haul, we don't have much of an alternative at this time. So, at Toundrigo, we can influence the way we build trips, chose accommodations, distances, transportation and activities. It's a mission that our sales and production teams work on, as well as the Toundrigo Care Committee!

Charles – We want to avoid greenwashing at all costs. When we travel, we move, we take transport and, consequently, there are social and environmental impacts that cannot be at 0. We are aware of our scope of action in our receptive activity to date.

Jean-Christophe – Then there is an important issue around this question, which is that even if this question is growing in the minds of travelers, they are not all in a responsible approach when they plan their stays. There are enough studies that show that value for money is the number one choice.

So, I think we have a role as travel professionals to instill this responsible approach in our travelers in Canada and the USA.

You mentioned earlier the notable success of the USA this year 2022. Do you think this will continue and will it be through responsible tourism?

Charles – No destination can escape this need for responsible transformation. Just look at the climatic hazards that affect the country. This destination already has many initiatives in this direction.

Jean-Christophe – Regarding destination predictions, we are truly confident. The USA has already been successful this year, and this should continue.

Charles – It is also important to take into account that the USA has a greater capacity for accommodation and activities than Canada.

Jean-Christophe – At Toundrigo, we have strong ambitions for the USA. We even have new Toundra Voyages employees dedicated to the destination. We intend to grow this USA pole in both adventures, FIT and groups.

Tourism professionals can be proud

A USA growth involves human resources. It's a tough job to recruit in the industry right now. Have you been affected by the labor shortage affecting our industry?

Jean-Christophe – Yes, we haev been strongly affected. (Pause). With the recovery being greater than anticipated, it is certain that not all seasonal employees returned in time. This affected many service providers but also the recruitment of our guides for example. The situation was not obvious but the teams in place worked much harder to ensure the trips.

Charles – You know, we did the best we could to get through this crisis and we didn't do so badly. The secret to our success and the quality of the travel we provided was keeping key people on board during the pandemic.

Jean-Christophe – Yes, and without any financial support for 2 years. It was an important decision for us and one that has proven to be a winning one. Today, the combined efforts of our experienced staff and our new recruits have brought Toundrigo back to life and ensured this summer 2022 season.

Charles – I would like to say that where the former employees brought structure and expertise, our new employees bring a breath of fresh air and enthusiasm which is good for us!

It's a positive message that you share, thank you! If you had to address the tourism industry to send a message, it would be one of pride in having held up in this crisis?

Jean-Christophe – Yes, I think the travel industry can be proud to stand firm in this context, keep going, keep discovering !

Charles – For my part, I am convinced that we must also invite the tourism stakeholders to remain united and benevolent as we enter the next season. We all share the same challenges.

Excellent, any last word for this interview?

Jean-Christophe – The shock was brutal in March 2020. It lasted two years without a customer, plus a third year in the form of a shattering recovery. We are really proud of our teams who have taken this challenge and come through these three years of crisis.

Charles – Thank you to our teams, our providers, our guides and also our client agencies for their trust. You are the key partners of our Toundrigo dream.

Thanks to both of you for this interview! To contact us : !

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