“STA was a big casualty for us”: Contiki CEO talks trade, trends and 60 years of youth travel

“STA was a big casualty for us”: Contiki CEO talks trade, trends and 60 years of youth travel

Like most of the industry, Contiki has seen some major changes as a result of the global pandemic.

Since borders re-opened, the youth travel provider has seen its clients come back with a vengeance, well outpacing other brands from its parent company The Travel Corporation (TTC).

During his first trip back to Australia since the start of the pandemic, Contiki CEO Adam Armstrong told Travel Weekly the youth travel market has been leading the way.

“There’s just so much pent-up demand from the younger travellers,” Armstrong said. “The youth market came back quicker and stronger and bigger than other TTC brands.

Since the bounce-back began, Contiki has seen customers booking longer trips and buying add-ons in bigger numbers than ever before, which Armstrong attributes to travellers’ desire to get “revenge” for time lost to COVID.

“We’re seeing a huge uptake in on-road bookings, with travellers booking their next trip during their current trip,” Armstrong said.

“On-road sales multiplied by four or five times compared to pre-COVID and I think it just reflects that people are in the moment, getting revenge on COVID.”

The brand has also seen an increase in pre-trip communication, with customers getting in touch an average of six or seven times, compared with three or four pre-COVID.

“People are just a bit more inquisitive; they’re looking for reassurance, and asking more questions than they did pre-COVID,” Armstrong continued.

“But once they are on the trip, are spending more, they’re buying more future trips and they’re having as good a time as pre-COVID based on the satisfaction scores we get.

“It’s almost too good to be true. Long may it continue.”

One thing that hasn’t changed though, is the tour operator’s unique relationship with the Aussie travel trade.

“Australia is the one market where trade makes up the majority of bookings,” he said.

However, the disappearance of the country’s major youth travel sellers during COVID delt Contiki a blow it hasn’t recovered from yet.

“STA was a big casualty for us here and overseas and we haven’t seen that business being replaced by other travel agents,” Armstrong explained.

“What it’s meant is that our agent [booking] share has declined. It’s still more than 50 per cent, which is good, but we want it to be higher.

“We’re trying to get the trade back. It’s a piece of business that we really value, and it’s big-ticket trips so there’s high commission potential.”

Looking ahead, Armstrong predicts Contiki will be back to its pre-COVID numbers next year, having reached around half its 2019 booking numbers in 2022.

“We got a lot of last-minute bookings this year, not enough to get back to a normal year, but a significant amount of people chose to travel with,” he said.

“And next year, I think we’ll get we’ll get back to back to normal business and beyond that will grow.

“We just want to keep refining what we do and where we go, evolving our trips and destinations to keep pace with the changing tastes and demands of this age group.”

Having celebrated 60 years of youth travel this year, Contiki has seen a lot of change over the years, but Armstrong said at its heart, the brand’s goal has stayed the same throughout it all.

“Young people have changed their dress and their tastes and so on, but the fundamentals of the brand are still the same: bringing people who don’t know each other together, travelling around, and having a fun, lively travel experience.”

“The core DNA, as we call it, continues just the same as it was back then.”

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