TOMIS’ 2023 in Review: Trends that Shaped the Travel & Tourism Industry

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As we look back on 2023, there is a lot to digest. It was a big year for the travel and tourism industry, our clients, and TOMIS as a whole.

We are now 3 years past the introduction of COVID-19, which completely stalled the travel and tourism industry, only to come back stronger than it ever was before in 2021. In 2023, we saw continued post-pandemic momentum for some markets and activity verticals, while other parts of the world and certain tour types are still trying to climb back to their pre-pandemic numbers. 

According to America Outdoors, 38% of outdoor tour operators’ 2023 revenues were estimated to be about the same as 2022, and only 25% anticipated they would surpass 2022 numbers. On average, TOMIS clients as a whole were up +16% in total revenue. This demand shows that a strategic digital marketing plan is critical to the overall success and longevity of operators.  

So stick with us as we unpack a year that challenged us, rewarded us, and ultimately made us grow. We will share the outdoor and urban recreation trends we witnessed impact our clients coast to coast, and bring you up to speed with the fast-paced and ever-changing world of digital marketing and customer communication, including BIG changes to our very own TOMIS Product Suite. This is one you won’t want to miss!

Tourism & Travel Industry Trends

International vs. U.S. Domestic Travel

While domestic travel within the U.S. lost momentum compared to previous years, international travel—specifically to European destinations—surged. Intent to travel domestically trailed behind 2022 levels for much of the year. We also observed a cooldown of “revenge travel” in the second half of 2023. This concept refers to travelers seeking payback by taking a trip that hadn’t been able to happen due to the pandemic.

Market-Specific Insights

TOMIS saw certain trends play out across different markets, including for our clients in the Bay Area. The San Francisco market, which was especially slow to recover from the pandemic, experienced a rebound compared to the previous two years. However, many operators in the Bay Area are still significantly trailing their pre-pandemic performance.

The Nashville market experienced an exceptionally strong first half of 2023, followed by a softening of travelers’ spend on certain activities and tours. Strong performance in May of last year could be at least partially attributed to Taylor Swift’s Nashville concert stop. Alternatively, it could provide a hint as to where consumers’ disposable income was going. Nashville also saw a resurgence of corporate travel and conferences, which we expect to continue into 2024. 

Many operators working in or near national parks saw a continued increase in visitation to these areas. This helped boost bookings for some, while others experienced a decline. To capitalize on this influx of travelers, tour operators had to get creative with the types of trips, rentals, and lodging they offered. Some also adjusted their tours by time of day or time of year to work within park permitting restrictions. Keep reading to learn more about this in our Outdoor Recreation Client Trends below.

Booking Protection

One COVID-19-era trend that is here to stay is the concept of trip protection. As travelers increasingly prioritize flexibility and risk mitigation in their travel plans, booking protection has emerged as a proactive solution. More and more tour operators have started including this option for guests, often as an add-on during checkout. 

TOMIS clients who offered a form of booking protection in 2023 saw very few customers utilize the financial coverage. With an average redemption rate of 10-15%, operators were able to realize this add-on as an additional revenue stream.

TOMIS Tip: Thinking about implementing a booking protection add-on option to your 2024 operations? Unless your policy is offered through an official insurance provider, you should not use the word insurance to avoid any legal complications.

The Transition from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4

On July 1st, 2023, Google made the long-anticipated transition to their new way of tracking, commonly referred to as GA4. While TOMIS had been preparing for this change for over a year, once the transition occurred, there were various hurdles that had to be overcome—some of which have yet to be resolved. Many reservation systems’ GA4 integrations didn’t work as expected (and still don’t fully capture all online revenue data), which led to gaps and discrepancies in reporting. Some of these issues included things like a lack of e-commerce data, self-referral traffic, incorrect channel attribution, and loss of tracking on booking iframes. Tour operators’ reliance on these third-party platforms have posed a unique challenge in the industry. Without reliable analytics data, TOMIS and our clients have had to get creative—often resorting to piecemeal reporting, where historically we could rely on Google Analytics as a source of truth.

With GA4’s event-based data model, sessions, bounce rates, and conversion rate calculations have been redefined. We’ve leveraged tools like behavioral reports that measure event and conversion data, as well as metrics like engaged sessions that provide insight into how users interact with our clients’ websites. This shift from a sessions-based data model has required users to adjust their interpretation of metrics. Changes in data collection and reporting upon transitioning to GA4 also impacted year-over-year comparisons. Despite these changes, GA4 offers more advanced insights into user behavior and engagement, facilitating new data-driven marketing strategies.

Have you seen an increase in “(not set)” in your website analytics data? This is due to new levels of data privacy that were introduced with GA4, which reduced some of the user data that had previously been available. This has brought on a greater need to leverage first-party data when possible (think chatbot conversation logs, email lists, lead forms, etc.).

The TOMIS App allows you to see GA4 and UA data in one place. You can easily move between the Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics dashboards to benchmark performance trends.

Bonus Benefit: The TOMIS App also stores your historical UA data, so you don’t have to stress about one day Google deleting your UA property.

Increased Use of AI

Last year was a big one for AI. Even though our ChatBot program has utilized AI for years, TOMIS leveraged many AI tools in new and exciting ways to increase efficiency in 2023. Running experiments, tests, and audits became quicker and more repeatable. Using AI to uncover data trends or for creative ideation (think blog templates, paid ad creative, email marketing copy) proved invaluable last year. 

We’ve continued to see AI tools pop up in our everyday marketing platforms, like MailChimp, Meta, and Canva. As a connectivity partner to OTAs and Google Things to Do, Magpie Travel introduced AI features to help manage products within its platform.

While AI technology is advancing at record speed, we believe it’s as important as ever to follow best practices and help our clients find useful ways to leverage these tools (see our tour operator’s guide to using ChatGPT).

Urban Client Trends

Event-Based Travel

Pop culture events can impact tourism in a major way. One big event from 2023 was the premiere of the record-breaking Barbie movie. Some tour operators took the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon with things like limited-time Barbie-themed tours or special events.

Buzz around the Taylor Swift “Eras” tour was hard to avoid last year. Fans traveled from near and far to attend sold-out shows in various cities around the country (and the world). While we may never see another concert event like this have so much influence on local economies, we will continue to see event tourism contribute to a city’s revenue growth. For example, 11 U.S. cities will host the FIFA World Cup in 2026, and the 2028 Summer Olympics are set to be hosted in Los Angeles. 

With an influx of travelers to any particular destination comes increased demand for tours and activities. Integrated and targeted marketing strategies are key to ensuring our clients are well-positioned to capitalize on these events when they happen.

Exclusive Experiences at Premium Prices

We saw an industry shift last year to more urban operators using “premium” or “VIP” messaging to create a second tier of products available at higher price points. The idea of exclusivity appeals to certain types of travelers, and operators are finding more targeted and tailored ways to appeal to these groups.

Outdoor Recreation Client Trends

Environmental Constraints 

In the outdoor recreation industry, we are not strangers to environmental events. It is a risk that comes with operating in the great outdoors. And while they don’t typically halt operations completely, they can have a significant impact on how businesses operate and what numbers look like at the end of the year. 

Between the devastating Maui wildfire that killed over 100 people on August 8th, 2023, historic heat waves throughout the Midwest and Southern U.S. that took 247 lives, and the life-claiming tornadoes that damaged parts of the central United States throughout 2023, natural disasters took their toll. In fact, NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information calculated that 2023 came with a natural disaster price tag of over $92.9 billion in damages, and that does not account for all December events.

To combat this, operators had to get creative. Some were able to flex their seasons—staying open later into the season if they had stronger water flow with late-season rains. Rivers too low to run white water rafting trips? Instead of calling it quits, we had clients ramp up their fly fishing trips and even introduce river tubing floats. Instead of defaulting to refunding trips canceled due to natural disasters, operators rescheduled trips when possible and tried to push for trip credits, as well as online or in-store retail credits.

TOMIS Tip: Some TOMIS clients are encouraging their customers to purchase travel insurance that covers events such as natural disasters, especially for expensive, multi-day trips. At the very least, we recommend considering an in-house flexible trip policy or booking protection add-on as mentioned above. 

The More Advanced Recreationalist – People Searching for Bigger Challenges

We have been following this trend closely, as the needs of the traveler have changed throughout the years. People have found their hobbies, dove deep, bought the gear, and now adventure on their own to places where they used to book guided trips.

So, how do we keep that past customer of guided trips engaged and booking our trips moving forward? Offer more challenging, longer, and more specific trips. We’re seeing more and more that guests want to push themselves and learn something new—not just go outside and post a picture so they can prove they did so.

TOMIS Tip: Consider introducing clinics to your offerings, or build an educational course into your multi-day trip. Offer different levels for guests with varying skills or experience—specifically more advanced offerings.

Obstacles Operating in or Around National Parks

If there is one thing that draws in tourism, seemingly regardless of external factors like economic turmoil or pandemic pressure, it’s our national parks. Historically, being located near these destinations is a fool-proof way to guarantee business success. Operate within a national park versus outside or near national parks? That can generate even more demand! Being able to utilize and rank organically for popular keywords in search engines can increase business demand and interest.

However, as the demand continues to skyrocket for national park visits, the NPS is having a hard time keeping up its infrastructure, staff, and programs to match. This summer, the U.S. Department of the Interior released the following statement:

“For some parks, providing great experiences has become more challenging due to increases in the number of people visiting, changes to when and how visitors arrive, and evolving visitor needs and expectations, including how visitors want to  engage in the parks. Some parks are finding the level of visitor demand to be  significantly outpacing their ability to accommodate, resulting in the need to explore new management strategies. Park facilities and staffing levels are challenged to keep pace with this changing visitation, impacting the quality of the visitor experience, health and safety, and resource protection. These visitation changes are also felt outside park boundaries in adjacent lands, waters, and communities.” (USDI, 2023)

Many national parks are utilizing permitting systems to control visitation, which seemingly has had the largest impact on tour operators leading experiences within the park.

TOMIS Tip: We recommend getting creative with your offerings. How can you expand during shoulder seasons when there are fewer visitor restrictions? Can you create a more intimate outdoor experience for your clients by visiting destinations around the park with similar views and offerings? 

Overwhelmed with where to start? We can help. Shoot us a message or give us a call so we can discuss what would work best for your specific business. 

Rentals are Down, Retail is Up

As mentioned above, people interested in outdoor activities are expanding upon their knowledge, becoming experts in the space, and in some areas, relying less on rentals and certain tour offerings.

As we’ve seen a decrease in demand for rentals for some of our clients, we’ve seen retail sales increase—solidifying the need to lock in your e-commerce presence and offerings.

Grizzly Hackle, a TOMIS client offering both guided trips and retail sales, saw a 75% increase in online retail sales in 2023 vs. 2022. This growth followed a rebuild and relaunch of their online store, as well as an increase in marketing efforts to support e-commerce sales.


Guests Want to Learn, Not Just Cross Off a Bucket-List Item

This year, we noticed an interesting trend that swept across activity verticals and geographic locations; customers are looking to immerse themselves into the local culture, learn in-depth information about specific wildlife, and develop a new skill they can build upon and/or take back to their day-to-day routine at home. Customers are past simply traveling to a location to snap a picture of themselves doing something cool or standing somewhere famous. They want to learn and grow. They want to challenge themselves.

Arrival predicted the growth of Experiential Tourism in 2023 and beyond sharing, “Many tourists are keen to experience the real world more authentically.”

TOMIS Tip: Looking for ways to make your offerings more immersive and experiential? Start small. How can you adjust the tours you already offer to accomplish this? Consider hiring local guides with in-depth knowledge of the surrounding area and culture. Add a storytelling component to each of your trips. Expand upon your online tour descriptions, sharing what customers can expect to learn after participating in one of your offerings.

2023 Paid Advertising Performance Averages for TOMIS Clients

Google Things to Do 

Google Things To Do (GTTD) is a newer product from Google designed to simplify the process for interested travelers to discover and book tours and activities for specific points of interest. Operating through a dynamic ad format, Things To Do placements, both paid and free listings, appear prominently in a carousel format at the top of the search engine results page, but are also found throughout the search result page. These placements are triggered by broad searches like “things to do in Chicago,” on both mobile and desktop. Google TTD enhances visibility, builds brand awareness, and attracts more users to websites, creating ample remarketing opportunities. 

Operators are encouraged to incorporate Google TTD ads into their advertising strategy. They target users with broad search intent, providing a cost-effective method to engage potential customers in the research phase of their purchase journey. Google TTD ads expand a brand’s reach and can influence new customers, ultimately driving revenue and increasing market share.




TOMIS Product and Services Updates

Unified Inbox 

Our Unified Inbox was an exciting launch, as our team has been working hard behind the scenes for years to make it a reality. Operators now have one place to check their ChatBot messages, Facebook Messages, Instagram Messages, and form submissions. As owners and operators, we know your time is money. Save time by using our Unified Inbox, and put that time back into growing and operating your business.  

Customized Pre and Post-Trip Messaging 

Tour operators can now customize pre-trip messaging at the activity level. Sometimes your departure locations differ, packing lists look different from trip to trip, or you need clients to sign different waivers depending on their booking. Now, you can clarify your pre-trip needs, by trip, for each of your bookable options through an integrated reservation system. 

Automated review generation software for tour operators

Additional Reservation System Integrations 

In 2023, we added three new reservation integrations into the mix: Adventure Office, TourCMS, and Bokun—bringing our total number of reservation system integrations to 14.

Other reservation systems supported by the TOMIS App and ChatBot include Rezdy, Xola, Arctic, Singenuity, Peek, Flybook, FareHarbor, Checkfront, Zaui, Ventrata, and Origin. Don’t see your reservation system in the mix? Let us know! We are happy to work with you to see if we can develop a custom integration just for your business, so you can see all your sales and marketing data in one app. 

 AI ChatBot Growth 

With conversational AI soaring to new heights in 2023, we were excited to elevate our TOMIS AI ChatBot offerings. Since our initial ChatBot builds in 2019, our build structure has changed quite a bit. We are now utilizing a hybrid Large Language Model, what we call a knowledge base, of operators’ TOMIS AI ChatBots to work within. With this new build structure, we are able to provide the ChatBot with a variety of new resources to pull answers from, but limiting what they have access to, ensuring that information given in a customer answer is factually correct.

So what do the numbers say? We thought you might ask. The average TOMIS ChatBot led to $26,157.27 in online revenue, converting bot users at an average rate 150–200% higher than the typical website visitor. Now that’s a strong ROI!

AI ChatBot for Tour Operators

Custom and Templated Websites

Internally, we call 2023 the year of the websites because HUGE changes happened for our clients and TOMIS when it comes to website builds. We offer a high-converting template option, as well as a fully customized website package. Choose what is right for your business, and we can help you bring that vision to life. Now more than ever, how you present yourself online through your digital storefront, branding, booking flow, and tour details, can help you set yourself apart from competitors and OTAs alike. If you think your site could use a fresh look, shoot us a message. 

Website development for tour operators, wordpress

Looking Ahead

Sustainability & Travel

There has been a growing emphasis on sustainability in tourism experiences, with more and more travelers including sustainable practices in their planning and decision-making.

A “Return to Normal?”

For tour operators who experienced record years in 2021 and 2022, 2023 proved to be somewhat of a disappointment in comparison. However, some industry experts are predicting 2024 to be somewhat of a “return to normal.”

Growth at TOMIS

There is no end in sight when it comes to TOMIS continuing to evolve our Product Suite to meet our clients’ (current and future) growing needs. As we look to the future, we are planning to build out new reservation system integrations, continue working on our CRM, strengthen our AI ChatBot building process, and customize our reporting dashboards to better meet clients’ needs for reporting and operational purposes. 

Charting the Course for 2024 

Between the pendulum swing from domestic to international travel, the quickly evolving world of AI, and devastating natural disasters, 2023 was a year marked by significant shifts in tech and challenges that demanded adaptation and innovation. Despite facing hurdles related to environmental constraints or the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, our clients and TOMIS as a whole demonstrated resilience and growth with the numbers to prove it.

As we navigate the complexities of post-pandemic recovery and respond to changing consumer preferences, it becomes increasingly evident that a strategic approach to digital marketing and customer communication is paramount. As we prepare to take on 2024, we remain committed to empowering tour operators with the targeted strategies, tools, and resources needed to thrive in a competitive landscape. If you’re looking for a seasoned partner to assist with your digital marketing and technology needs, reach out to TOMIS today!

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