Strong sales of luxury travel are defying the odds posed by a stubbornly sluggish U.S. economy.
That was the consensus of travel sellers attending Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas this week. The trend was also noted by CBS travel correspondent Peter Greenberg in a report from in front of the Bellagio Resort, where the conference was in progress.
Greenberg reported on CBS This Morning that upscale travel is booming.
“With questionable job numbers and rising gas prices, it’s easy to write off travel and other leisure activities these days,” Greenberg told viewers. “But the numbers say otherwise.”
Greenberg quoted statistics from Visa showing that its U.S. cardholders added $17 billion to the international tourism economy during the first half of 2012 – up 7% over the year before.
Much of this tourism activity is being driven by luxury travelers, some of whom are reaching new heights of lavishness, Greenberg said.
“We’re talking private islands in the South Pacific, villas in Europe, private jet and yacht trips, and let’s not forget outer space – lots of people are spending $200K to be the first on their block to go on Virgin Galactic’s suborbital space rides.” (See related story, “Travel Seller in Orbit Over Space Tourism,” Aug. 6, 2012)
‘Better and better’
Agents attending Virtuoso Travel Week affirmed to Travel Market Report that the luxury travel sector is indeed gaining momentum.
"It's getting better and better everywhere. We're selling lots of luxury tours, cruises and FITs,” said Georgann Swearingen of Global Travel in Boise, Idaho. “Families are starting to travel again; multigenerational is back.”
“People are spending again,” agreed Jay Johnson, CEO of Tafari Travel in Garden Grove, Calif.
He noted that affluent travelers are looking for new destinations.
“New river boating in emerging markets is the next thing – literally booming,” he said. “There is a definite shift from traditional destinations. The Mediterranean has dropped off; how many times can you go to Florence? Our clients say they need to go somewhere new."
Whiskey tastings in Ireland
Travel consultant Carissa Cummings said that while her clients are value-conscious when choosing accommodations, they are splurging on memorable activities.
“They are focused on experience. I just booked a couple going on their honeymoon – they're going to Paris for wine tasting, then flying up to Ireland for whiskey tasting,” said Cummings, who works for Coastline Travel Advisors, a sister company to Tafari.
Last-minute bookings, extensions to previously planned trips, and more group bookings are other trends, she noted.
“The children of families who been with us for years are coming back. We're booking a lot of trips to Europe, Australia, the Mediterranean and New Zealand. Europe is always popular, even with the Costa Cruise incident,” she said.
At Main Line Vacations in Wayne, Penn., solid sales in 2012 follow on the heels of a strong 2011 for his agency, said founder Craig B. Martin. Most of the business is repeat and referral-based.
“My clients are doing more adventure, active vacations,” he said.
“Italy is always strong. There's lots of pent-up demand. The biggest hold up is the price of airfare to Europe. But some people are going to spend on luxury no matter what."
Virtuoso agents typically cater to a luxury clientele, but they’re not the only ones who are reporting strong sales on the upscale side of the market.
One travel seller who is not affiliated with Virtuoso told Travel Market Report this week that while summer is normally a slow time for her agency, not so this year.
Clients are booking further out and requesting more off-the-beaten-path locations than usual, said Deborah McEwen, manager of TRI Travel, a Results agency in Maumee, Ohio.
And she’s getting many more high-end bookings than usual.
“It’s not your everyday little trips, it’s the people who have money and they’ve finally gotten tired of waiting to see what’s going to happen,” she said. “They’ve decided I’m going to do this regardless.”
Marilee Crocker contributed to this report.