It’s been one of the strongest summers for travel in four years, and agents and suppliers told TMR they are relieved and excited with how business is going.
During a trip on Uniworld’s Joie de Vivre in France this week, Cruise Planners’ Marc Bokoff said “business is very strong and interest seems to be very high in many different things” at his agency in Connecticut. “There’s plenty of $399 stuff out there, but the market for quality experiences is really good as well. I’ve had some people say they don’t want to go to France; I think some of the climate at home has made travel abroad a little more difficult for Americans. But in general people are spending money.”
While the advent of online travel agencies really hurt the travel-agent channel in about 2008, “it’s really come back” in the past couple of years, Bokoff said. “Vacation time is really valuable, and people understand that using a professional travel agent helps ensure they make the most of it.”
A Forbes article this week titled “Here's Why The Big 3 Cruise Lines Are Seeing Strong Profits And Rising Stock Prices,” James DeTar wrote that Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean all are riding high. Royal Caribbean chairman and CEO Richard Fain observed in his quarterly earnings call that “instead of buying TVs and cars, people seem to be buying memories as never before.”
Carnival reported outstanding second-quarter results; Royal Caribbean Cruises topped analysts’ earnings consensus with record bookings, and Norwegian beat its Wall Street estimates.
The news is no surprise to travel professionals.
“Summer has historically been slower in sales for me, but not this year. I had my best booking month ever this July,” said Beth Pearlman-Brownstein. “And what made it even more special was that there was no expense in attaining these clients, as each and every one of them were repeat and referrals.”
Justin Wolfson, an independent travel consultant at New Jersey’s Chubit Travel said that “this is by far the best summer season of my career of almost four years. Word of mouth is really helping expand my business to a record number of bookings.”
Michelle Malliet of Wisconsin’s Malliet Travel said she has had the best sales summer since opening four years ago. “Taking advantage of fam trips whenever possible has also boosted my confidence in the markets I sell which instills confidence in the consumer. Social media is a great tool to share site inspection pictures and show people that I am continually learning about the destinations that interest them.”
Scott Carlisle Walters of Go Away Often Travel in Spring Valley, NY, said this year “has been busier than the first three combined – and people might actually be getting the plan-ahead part.”
“We are crazy busy,” said Brenda Pascoe of Goliger’s Travel Plus in Ontario. “Our business has never really slowed down – and river cruises are definitely top sellers.” “I've had some big trips traveling over the summer that were booked last year, one of which booked two cruises, including a world cruise, while on a transatlantic. I also had one repeat client eager to book a promo I sent him say he might try to get to get some friends to come. I didn't really expect much to come of that, it was a one-week promotion, but ended up with four cabins,” said Cathy Udovch, a travel consultant with Travelstore in Irvine, CA.
“This is a great summer and it's not the Caribbean,” said Helen Procillo. “I have many clients looking at Europe – Greece, Spain and Croatia. I've also booked more Ireland this year than the past three years combined.
“Being in business over 25 years and just opening my own, I have been staying busy by trying new shows other than the norm, trying to think outside the box,” said Shelley Elkas. “My new agents who have joined our team have been working hard and it shows with many bookings. We are excited to see what the fall brings after a great summer.”
Loulu Lima of Book Here, Give Here in Austin, TX, also “has never been so busy, with last minute travelers. For the most part, it's been awesome! For me it's been referrals, testimonials, Google. Facebook somewhat, and my network somewhat as well.”
Ina Schweitzer, an agent at European Travel International in Riverside, CA, can’t explain why she has so many September bookings. “Normally it's slow during July and August, but this year it's different, I have lots of last-minute bookings – cruises, European FITs.”
For better or worse, “slow season never hit us this year. The normally leisure summer where we could breathe a little and travel some just didn't happen!” said Gail Hummel, an agent with Burkhalter Travel in Madison, WI.
And Autumn Andretta, in her first year as a travel agent, “set her expectations very low, as I know it takes time to get established. I have been blown away by how quickly business is building,” with 30 bookings since hanging out a shingle in February. “Definitely was not expecting that!” she said.
In short, “it’s crazy busy!” said Amy Rectenwald, a luxury travel advisor at Largay Travel Inc., “I love it!”