OSSN Offers Health Insurance Plan for Members
The Outside Sales Support Network, a trade association for home-based travel agents, launched a health insurance program that enables OSSN member to pay group rates for a range of coverage, including medical, dental, disability and life insurance. The health benefit plans are guaranteed issue, meaning no medical questions will be asked and pre-existing conditions are covered, said Gary Fee, OSSN president.
"Health insurance has been a huge challenge for home-based agents for many years," Fee said. "We're one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry, but it's been tough for our members to find dependable, affordable health coverage. That's why we're very pleased to debut this new option for our members."
The enrollment period for the program ends Friday, Feb. 15. More information is available from OSSN.
USTOA Launches Live Facebook Chats . . .
The U.S. Tour Operator Association (USTOA) introduced a series of live Facebook discussions titled Coffee Chats. Hosted on the USTOA Facebook Timeline, each monthly chat features a 45-minute Q&A with a top executive from a tour operator member of USTOA.
Dan Mahar, CEO of Tauck, is scheduled to host the first Coffee Chat on Tues., Jan. 22, at 2 p.m., EST. Mahar will discuss travel trends for 2013, inviting participants to join the conversation and submit questions on USTOA’s Facebook page live. Questions can also be submitted in advance by posting on USTOA’s Facebook timeline. Upcoming chats include: Feb. 27, Richard Launder, CEO of the Travel Corporation, and in March, Phil Otterson, CEO of Abercrombie & Kent.
. . . and a Twitter Photo Contest Too
USTOA introduced a Twitter initiative – #TravelTogether. Participants can submit favorite group travel photos via Twitter using @USTOA or #TravelTogether, for a chance to win a $50 gift card. All submitted photos will be posted live on USTOA’s new website. Photos can also be submitted by posting to the USTOA Facebook timeline or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The #TravelTogether campaign will run through May 2013; a monthly winner will be selected at random.
Agents as Super Savers
“I see travel agents as the super savers of travel.” – John Hach, senior vice president, global product management, TravelClick
Cruise Holidays: Cruise Pricing Is Trending Up
While cruise prices to Europe remain relatively low, there are signs that pricing for the second half of 2013 is on its way up, according to the 2013 Cruise Holidays Cruise Trends survey. Caribbean pricing for a 7-day cruise has remained flat, while 7-day Alaska cruises are up about $20 per person, per day, compared to cruises booked in 2011 for 2012.
While the survey showed pricing for a 12-day Mediterranean cruise for 2013 fell by about $35 per person, per day, compared to last year, there are mitigating factors, according to Mark Schiffner, vice president and COO of Cruise Holidays International. “This number reflects reservations that go back to early 2012, when demand may not have been as strong as it is now,” he said. “Pricing for some of the premium and luxury cruise lines that many of our passengers favor is actually ahead of last year.”
Survey results were based on pricing and booking statistics from more than 550 cruise specialists in North America for 2013 sailings booked as of Dec. 17, 2012.
Caribbean Slipping as Favored Cruise Destination
The Caribbean remains the top cruise destination, but its overall dominance is declining – from nearly 60% of total bookings in 2012 to under 55% of total bookings for 2013 so far, according to the 2013 Cruise Holidays Cruise Trends survey. The difference is made up by Europe, whose share of the pie climbed from 11% to 13%, and by Alaska, whose share climbed from 6.7% to 8.5%. Hawaii, transatlantic sailings and South America also showed gains. “While the Caribbean reigns, it does not rule,” said Mark Schiffner, vice president and COO of Cruise Holidays International.
Younger Agents and GDSs
“GDSs continue to be the primary source of corporate management business, but we now have a generation of younger agents who are used to the Internet world of Windows and Apple.” – Michael O’Connell, senior vice president, distribution and demand sales, Pegasus
Reaching Affluent Consumers Requires Strong Online Engagement
For businesses targeting high-end consumers, having a robust, engaging and sticky website, as well as a proactive social media and mobile platform, is no longer an option, but a necessity, according to a new study by Unity Marketing.
The survey of 1,000 affluent consumers with an average income of $248,000 determined that this segment has fully integrated the Internet into their luxury lifestyles. Fully 98% of those surveyed used the Internet to shop and make purchases in the three-month study period. "Online shopping is ubiquitous among affluent consumers,” said Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing. “The typical affluent consumer spends about 5 hours a week online conducting shopping-related activities."
Another key finding is that social media usage (defined as having one or more profiles on a social networking site) has effectively plateaued at over 80%, showing no significant growth from 2011 to 2012. Also, while young affluent consumers are the most active on social media (93% of those ages 24-34), nearly three-quarters of those in the oldest segment (ages 55-70) also use social media. In other words, social media is a viable way for businesses that target an older demographic to connect with their customers.
JetBlue, Virgin America Lead in Passenger Satisfaction
JetBlue and Virgin America were ranked No. 1 and 2 in 2012 for passenger satisfaction in economy class travel, in a survey conducted by Let’s Fly Cheaper. The study looked at six factors: cabin service, cabin staff language skills, cabin cleanliness, in-flight entertainment, seat comfort and food quality. Both Jet Blue and Virgin American ranked especially high in the in-flight entertainment category. Delta, lauded for its cabin service but not for food quality, came in third.
United ranked at the bottom of 10 airlines, while American and U.S. Airways came in at eighth and ninth place, respectively. Both United and American ranked high in seat comfort, but United was criticized for its cabin service and American for its food quality. “A majority of these negative ratings are cabin service related,” said Ramon van Meer, CEO of Let’s Fly Cheaper.