Travel Agents See Market ‘Enthusiasm’ As Small Business And Consumer Confidence Reach 12-Year High
by Cheryl Rosen
Travel Agents See Market ‘Enthusiasm’ As Small Business And Consumer Confidence Reach 12-Year High

Travel to Italy remains strong as the U.S. economy recovers. Photo: Rome Tourism

Both consumers and small businesses are feeling pretty good about the economy, say two recent influential reports. And many travel agents say that already bodes well for their customers and their businesses this quarter.

The National Federation of Independent Business said on Tuesday that U.S. small-business confidence reached a 12-year high in December, sparked by the optimism of business owners about the economy following the November election. The group's index of small business confidence rose to 105.8, its highest since December 2004, and up 7.4 points from November, the biggest monthly increase since July 1980.

The feeling of confidence carried over to consumers as well. The University of Michigan survey of consumer confidence in December reported an index of 98.2, the highest level since January 2004. The U.S. Travel Association last year also measured what appears to be a rise in travel plans.

And indeed, travel agents with whom TMR spoke this week shared the optimism as well. “I’m doing at least double the business I was this same time last year,” said Perrin Cothran Conrad, owner of Azalea Travel—South and Beyond in Summerville, SC. “I’m sensing a lot of optimism for the future from clients, and I’m busier than ever."

Travel agent Loulu Lima agreed, saying she “is getting more travelers looking to increase spending and folks who normally would just go to the OTAs. I’m projecting a very strong 2017.”

There are always the challenges. “I specialize in Paris and France and though we’ve seen a steady increase every year, the events of late 2015 and 2016 knocked us a bit sideways,” said Julia Browne of Walking the Spirit Tours. “That said, I saw a record number of visitors at Christmas this year. When talking to my clients they say, ‘We were nervous for a while there but you know what, we just want to go.’ It feels like there’s a new warrior spirit—to realize the world has changed and they’re determined to roll with those changes. Many of my clients are African-American and there is a real drive now to feel part of the larger world; 2017 is starting off really strong for us and I’m super-energized by the enthusiasm of my clients."

Debby Hughes of Debby Hughes Dream Vacations in Broomfield, CO, says, “Wave season is definitely starting off strong this year, with our total sales 50% over last year. People are excitedly booking new ships, destinations and itineraries as soon as they are available!”

Theresa DelToro of Dream Traveler in Vero Beach, FL, says her “numbers for bookings and spending on both land and cruises are indicating a tremendous sales increase this year. Italy, either independent or escorted travel, still remains the favorite for my clients. Although we cannot predict the future it does seem clear that people will travel more in 2017."

After seeing her sales fall 50% in 2016, Lainey Melnick of the eponymous Dream Vacations franchise in Austin, TX, says “my sales are at a 1458% increase so far this year. I am seeing more interest in premium vacations, affinity groups and land travel to exotic destinations. So far it’s looking like a great year.”

In short, says Faith Sproule of Niche Travel Group in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, “We are starting 2017 off with a bang. We see an increase in river cruise, luxury coach tours and African safari. The baby boomers have decided to stop putting off their dreams and Millennials refuse to start."

And Karen Coleman-Ostrov of Associates Dream Vacations says 2016 sales were up 21% over 2015, and this year is up 26% over the period last year. Beyond consumer confidence, she attributes the rise to the fact that “people are tired of getting no personal service and are flocking back to ‘traditional’ travel agents in my opinion.”

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