Home-Based Agents Urged to Embrace Social, Mobile
by  and  rew Sheivachman

ORLANDO – Home-based travel agents should capitalize on new technology and explore markets experiencing growth in capacity, MLT Vacations president John Caldwell told travel sellers gathered at the Home-Based Travel Agent Forum here.

Speaking at the opening general session, Caldwell said agents should harness the popularity of social media to grow their business.

“Start looking at Facebook from a different angle; look at it as a business opportunity to connect and get your message out,” said Caldwell.

Research & business tool
Consumer trends bear out the importance of social media in the travel research process, Caldwell said. “As many as 87% of people under 34 use Facebook as inspiration when planning their leisure travel.”

Home-based agents, especially those just starting out, should examine Facebook from a business perspective instead of a personal perspective, he advised.

“The marketing and social activity you can engage right now in is just amazing,” said Caldwell.

Mobile technology, which is typically not a focus for home-based agents, is also becoming very important in the booking phase. “Many suppliers are beginning to invest in mobile,” said Caldwell.

“[Most] home-based agents are not using mobile, so get in there and learn about it.”

Consolidation: good for agents?
Caldwell also touched on travel industry consolidation, such as recent acquisitions of Travel Impressions and CheapCaribAir.com by Apple Leisure Group. “Keep an eye on that [consolidation], as it tends to generate change in the marketplace,” advised Caldwell.

He said consolidation can help the agency community. “Consolidation is a good thing, since it allows for a more stable environment for you to sell into.”
Hot destinations
Taking a look at current travel patterns among MLT’s customers, Caldwell said he had seen a few surprising trends emerge in 2013. Mexico, in particular, has been especially strong.

“We’re seeing the economy improving in Mexico,” said Caldwell. “We’re seeing a lot of increased air capacity, and a lot of that is coming out of unusual markets, like the West Coast.”

The Caribbean, meanwhile, has had an average year overall, with some notable exceptions.

“Punta Cana and the Dominican Republic are growing double digits for us each year,” said Caldwell. “A lot of investment is going on there. But the rest of the Caribbean is flat for us.”

Hawaii’s supply problem
Another bright spot is Hawaii, which is experiencing intense demand as global travelers flock to the destination, due to its location between Asia and North America. “Hawaii is literally on fire – and it’s not just the volcanos,” said Caldwell.

But demand for Hawaii is outpacing supply. “The problem with Hawaii is that they’re not building a lot of new hotels, so the global markets like China and Australia are competing for hotel rooms in Hawaii.”

Agents must be proactive to get their clients into choice destinations, he said.  “Our advice to agents is to book early, because there is a lot of competition for the hotel business right now.”

He also suggested that agents bypass oversold destinations. “To find more capacity, avoid Waikiki, for instance.”

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