The Balkans region is well-placed to capitalise on demand for “socially distanced” and off-the-beaten track destinations, according to speakers at the New Deal Europe virtual conference.

Panellists representing tour operators, agents, hotels and airlines agreed that a consistent and reliable testing regime was essential to reinvigorate global travel.

And they said the product on offer in the Balkans and the flexibility of partners in the region meant it could be in high-demand when travel begins to restart in earnest in 2021.

Andrea Godfrey, brand managers for Regent Holidays, said the operator was assessing its entire programme and managing costs and risks to ensure customers were confident to book.

She said Regent was increasingly working with airlines that offered flexible rates and payment terms and said partners in the Balkans had been “absolutely brilliant” in offering flexibility and guarantees around pricing.

Jennifer Tombaugh, president of Tauck, said 2020 had been on track to be the US tour operator’s best year on record, but said bookings for its 2021 Balkans programme were already ahead of prior year.

She said: “With the idea of outdoors, open spaces and smaller group experiences, the Balkans has so much to offer.”

She added: “Our Balkans programme has an average 24 guests in a group and we’ve seen a huge surge in demand in America to want to travel in that ‘bubble’, whether on a private departure or within a small group.”

Dominic Burke, managing director of Irish travel agency consortium Travel Centres, said the Balkans could appeal to customers in higher-risk groups who were looking to explore off-the-beaten track destinations to avoid major crowds.

He also said there could be a group of customers whose finances had not been adversely affected by the pandemic and would consider pooling two years of holiday budgets on a 2021 trip including branching out to explore new destinations.

The 2021 New Deal Europe summit will take place on April 12 as a hybrid virtual and live event.