Travel Agents To The Ultra-Wealthy Predict A Good Year

by Marilee Crocker


Travel agents who cater to the ultra-wealthy around the world predict strong sales in 2017, but their optimism is dampened by one big unknown, the so-called “Trump effect.” Inbound U.S. travel is most likely to suffer.

That was the picture painted by M. Quentin Desurmont, president of Traveller Made, a France-based global network of luxury retail “travel designers,” speaking at the organization’s Essence of Luxury Travel conference in Deauville, France, last week.

Now in its fourth year, Traveller Made encompasses 270 agencies around the world, with the largest share, 133 agencies, in Western Europe; 33 member agencies are in the United States and Canada.

To be eligible for membership in Traveller Made, agencies must provide custom-tailored luxury travel to the ultra-rich, clients with more than $30 million in liquid assets. Some 680 agents and suppliers attended the group’s conference.

U.S. inbound travel
Overall, Traveller Made agents expressed robust confidence for travel in 2017, founder Desurmont said. In a November 2016 survey, 78% of 485 member agents said they were either “very enthusiastic” or “optimistic” about business prospects for 2017.

As for U.S. inbound travel, Traveller Made’s 2017 Barometer found a strong outlook for key U.S. source markets, including Germany and the United Kingdom.

At the moment, the impact of Trump anxiety, Brexit and terrorism fears was “minimal,” said Desurmont, who is CEO of the Paris-based travel agency Peplum. Similarly, he said, in Europe, “the lower Euro still doesn’t impact outbound travel for now, [although] it might in the future.”

Mexico, the second-highest U.S. inbound source market after Canada, is expected to produce “high travel spending, despite a complicated economic situation,” Desurmont told some 80 journalists.

But, as a source market for U.S. inbound travel, Mexico is where the “Trump effect” is most likely to have the most harmful impact, he said.

‘Strong anxiety’
Overall, Desurmont said he is hearing considerable uncertainty from member agencies about the potential negative effect of President Donald Trump’s actions and rhetoric, especially on U.S.-bound travel. Cautioning that it’s difficult to measure such factors, he commented that “you can feel there is strong anxiety of what is going to happen in the U.S. Agencies are asking themselves, should they send people to the U.S.? Are they going to be entitled to get into the country? People are anxious.”

In an interview with Travel Market Report, Desurmont observed that outside the United States, “people are worried of the travel bans, and they think it’s unfair. They think, ‘What’s going to happen tomorrow? One day they’re going to say, OK, the French do cheese, cheese is bad, so …?’ People are getting a bit crazy with that. Potentially people might go less to the U.S.”

Mixed signals
And yet, the hit seems not to be materializing. Gemma Antrobus, managing director of Haslemere Travel, a high-end travel agency in Surrey, U.K., said none of her clients had voiced concerns about travel to the U.S. The U.S. has been “a really big sell” since the recession, she said, and she saw no signs of the trend reversing itself. “No one’s saying anything negative, at least not to us. When you’re a more educated traveler, you can see past the headlines.”

Cathy Rodriguez, international leisure sales manager for The Biltmore in Coral Gables, FL, said that before the November election, she found “a lot of hesitation” among German and Swiss travel agents about booking U.S. destinations; agents said their clients were “very hesitant. They’re afraid of supporting a country that’s not welcoming to foreigners.”

In contrast, though, in Paris in late February, French travel industry members seemed to have gotten over such concerns; “they could care less.”

The next few months will be telling, Rodriguez said. “If anything will have an impact, it will be the first two quarters, in terms of the economy. We think that once we get past the first two quarters, things will go back to normal.”

For the moment, though, because the Euro and the dollar are “closely paired,” even high-end travelers are a little more cautious about their spending and/or how long they stay in the United States, she said

Tough for Mexico
But the so-called Trump effect is being felt in one travel destination that relies heavily on the U.S. market. A ground operator in Mexico, who asked not to be quoted by name, said many of her supplier colleagues in Mexico are on edge about how the year will shape up.

Her firm already has seen “a lot of cancellations” from U.S. travelers in the past few months, including a booking for a large villa. They “are concerned about how they will be seen in Mexico.”

How’s your Mexico business holding up? TMR will be doing a quick survey about Mexico in the next few days; please share your experiences there or email Cheryl Rosen at crosen@TravelMarketReport.com if you have a story to tell.

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