For well-traveled clients craving new experiences, Asia promises adventure and a culture rich in traditions. For travel agents, the long-haul trips coupled with local tours ensure a healthy commission. And for tour operators, the tendency of travelers to rely on professionals to help them plan a trip makes things easier for everyone.
“People like to talk to people, so there’s nobody better to sell a destination than a human,” said Mark Grundy, Avanti’s managing director of Asia. “Americans are more adventurous, and Asia is the next step once they’ve taken heritage travel trips like Italy and Germany.”
From the provinces in China to the exotic coasts of Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, Asia used to seem unreachable to North Americans. But social media has helped sell the destination and to a new generation of intrepid travelers, the 12-hour flight doesn’t seem as daunting.
In 2016, more than 4 million Americans traveled to Asia, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office, a 9.5% increase from the previous year.
Collette’s vice president of marketing Courtney Iannuccilli said Asia’s allure lies in its impressive list of landmarks, unique wildlife and local cuisine, offering clients a wide range of experiences. And the duration and cost of these trips, combined with the fact that they are so different an experience, make most travelers turn to a professional agent to make the booking. Agents also can guide clients through the paperwork and the travel insurance, and put them in touch with local guides and tour operators.
Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Photo: A&K
“Teams on the ground live in the destinations where they work, they understand the culture and the political situation,” said Shawn Johnson, national account sales director for Abercrombie & Kent. “We’re able to understand Western travelers and make them comfortable.”
Tour operators eye growing demand
The trend toward most experiential travel – from visiting elephant sanctuaries in Thailand to exotic beaches in Vietnam – is apparent in many tour operators’ products. They are adding new itineraries and expanding their offerings.
Collette added a tour of Japan for 2017. Cultural Treasures of Japan includes stops at the famous Ginza district, the Imperial Palace and Asakusa’s famous Buddhist temple Senso-ji. The country had a record year in tourism last year, with 16.6% more Americans traveling there in 2016, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office.
Insight Vacations Luxury Gold, small group tours featuring luxury hotels, fine dining and exclusive VIP experiences, offers journeys to Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Bhutan this year. Its itinerary in Laos, for example, takes travelers on a walking tour through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang, on a sunset cruise on the Mekong and to meet hundreds of saffron-robed monks and offer alms.
Avanti offered tours to six countries in Asia last year; now it’s up to 14, with plans to add four more by 2018. Its initial Asia offering of China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, launched in December 2015, now also include Singapore, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Taiwan. Forward bookings for 2017 are robust, Grundy noted.
Abercrombie & Kent recently launched Luxury Tailor Made Travel to Asia, India and the Pacific, with itineraries for custom travel to 25 countries in Asia and the Pacific. Each itinerary is developed in consultation with A&K’s 15 offices across the Asia Pacific region.
Myanmar. Photo: A&K
“This portfolio helps travel advisors be more productive by providing a starting point for conversations to personalize an itinerary that reflects a client’s interests, from art and architecture to active adventure or local culinary specialties,” said Abercrombie & Kent president Keith Baron.
Also seizing the opportunity is Travel Impressions, which this month announced an expanded partnership with specialist tour operator Wendy Wu Tours. Travel agents how have access to its tours to China, Southeast Asia, Japan and India.
Tauck, too, said bookings to Asia are seeing very robust growth this year. This fall, the tour operator will again partner with filmmaker Ken Burns when his documentary "The Vietnam War" airs on PBS in September, working with him on exclusive enhancements to Tauck's two tours that visit Vietnam.