Fingers Crossed, Tour Firms Look To A Brighter 2017by Marilee Crocker /
Many destinations, such as Ireland, are seeing strong growth, says Trafalgar president Paul Wiseman. Photo: Crash Test Mike
This is the first of a two-part series about the tour outlook for next year.
As this year’s challenging travel season nears its close, tour operators are hopeful that once the U.S. presidential election season is safely past, travelers will get serious about booking trips for 2017.
At the moment, travelers seem stuck in a stubborn late booking pattern, so the hoped-for uptick may not come until after the usual fourth-quarter booking period, some cautioned. Still, barring any cataclysmic events, tour executives are hopeful that bookings for 2017, they told Travel Market Report.
“We’re upbeat because despite all the uncertainty this year—ranging from terrorism to Zika to an incredibly contentious campaign season—people have remained determined to travel. The places they’re traveling to may be shifting, but people are more determined than ever to get out there,” said Jeremy Palmer, senior vice president of Tauck Land Journeys.
Trafalgar president Paul Wiseman said he too is feeling “very positive” about travel in 2017. “We are seeing many destinations having strong growth, such as Ireland, all the Scandinavian countries, Eastern Europe, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. Of course we have a major election, which will move the booking pattern around, but I strongly believe overall we will have a very good year.”
Among positive factors cited by tour executives was the strength of the U.S. dollar, expanded airlift and favorable air fares, growth in the market for solo travel, resurgence in affinity group travel and sustained sales through the travel agency distribution channel.
But behind the optimism is the reality that tour firms, and their travel agent partners, have faced a daunting array of obstacles this year.
“In the past 12 months we’ve had a surplus of dramatic events around the world, plus the vitriol in the States in our [presidential] campaign. It’s not just terrorism, it’s the widening spread of Zika, the new forms of transmission, the possible impacts it could have on people of all ages. All those things together give some people pause, and that’s kept them from making commitments into the future,” said Robert Drumm, president of luxury tour operator Alexander+Roberts.
Drumm called booking patterns during the last three to four months “very erratic” before adding this more hopeful note: “It’s changing a little bit in the last two weeks, so I’m becoming a little more optimistic.”
Election year malaise
Of all the factors dragging down tour sales, only one—the U.S. presidential campaign—has a certain end date. The election has been a big factor in consumers’ pronounced tendency to defer bookings to much closer to departure than usual.
“It’s very common in an election year. The market freezes when it doesn’t know if there’s going to be a full change of regime,” said Travel Impressions’ new president Scott Wiseman. Like others, Wiseman said he expected that once there’s a clear outcome in the election, “it will definitely spark things. I think we’ll see it free up right after the election, and things could get back to a quicker pace.”
Phil Cappelli, president of Insight Vacations, USA, said he focused more on the ups and downs of the stock market. “The U.S. presidential election is always an interesting time, but I am watching the stock market as a better indicator of the impact on travel. Strength in the U.S. stock market is always great for premium and luxury companies like Insight.”
Next time: Tour firms are adding destinations and products to capitalize on shifting travel patterns.