Travel Agents Find Ways To Market Brexit

by Marilee Crocker

Post-brexit exchange rates have led to a surge of last-minute U.S. visitors. Photo: Chiugoran

Within days of Britain’s historic June 23 vote to exit the European Union, U.K. specialist Ellen LeCompte was emailing her travel partners in England to check into pricing and availability for a hastily arranged garden tour in early September.

It’s an unusually short planning window. But LeCompte, an independent affiliate for Brownell Travel based in Richmond, VA, wanted to jump on the great values afforded by a plummeting British pound.

With the pound at its lowest levels since 1985, she expected to offer savings of 15% to 20% on an “encore” tour of a small-group program she ran in the spring themed around the 300th anniversary of the birth of landscape designer Lancelot “Capability” Brown.

Like many agents, she saw the currency as a huge opportunity. “We have a lot of clients saying, ‘Should I jump on a plane tomorrow?’ It’s too good an opportunity not to at least explore it,” said LeCompte, who interrupted a family vacation to put the tour together before sending an email blast to clients.

Rush to book?
Not all agents were as proactive as LeCompte, and they had decidedly mixed reports about whether the exchange rates are actually spurring bookings.

“No one’s calling us saying they’ve got to go to London. We’re not seeing it,” said Elaine San Juan, director western region, leisure, for Worldview Travel in Santa Ana, CA.

Howard Lewis, a senior travel advisor with Protravel International in Beverly Hills, CA, had a similar report. “We haven’t seen any impact yet. No one’s rushed to say they want to go to London.”

Ditto for Paul Seiferth, president and owner of Terra Travel in Phoenix. “I think most people are really trying to figure out what the heck it all means. I don’t see people saying, ‘My god we’ve gotta do this.”

But Kathi Sheridan, an independent travel consultant with Altour in Paramus, NJ, said that while Europe bookings had been off this year, “now London is picking up. I’m getting some really last-minute trips. I have a six-night stay in London that came in this week for next week. The pound is so unbelievable, and that means everything is lower—theater tickets, dinners, hotels.”

In Montreal, Tony Fragapane, general manager of Voyages Concierge Deluxe Travel, said that after a soft year for Europe, where “basically because people have been afraid,” now customers are “flocking to England.”

Promoting the U.K.
At CWT Blowes Travel & Cruise Centres Inc. in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, vice president of sales Rob Blowes, CTC, said his firm hadn’t seen any increase in U.K. bookings in the past two weeks. But he is planning to take advantage of the lower currency exchange rate. “We’re in the process of planning group U.K. tours for next year. We had been shying away because of the cost. We’ll also do some general marketing on the U.K. with certain suppliers.”

Travel counselors at McCabe World Travel in McLean, VA, had been pushing London as a good summer value even before Brexit. “With Brexit it’s even a stronger value,” said Beth Jenkins, director of development. “The good news is there’s still space in London and in the countryside of England this summer.”

We have a lot of clients saying, ‘Should I jump on a plane tomorrow?’ It’s too good an opportunity not to at least explore it.

Across the Atlantic, a London-based provider of exclusive high-end experiences reported “an unprecedented increase in enquiries in the past week.” Nicola Butler, managing director and owner of NoteWorthy, said she was seeing “a surge of last-minute U.S. visitors” and is “securing monetarily significant bookings.”

For really upscale travelers, favorable exchange rates don’t typically provide an incentive to book, said Jack Bloch, owner of JB’s World Travel Consultants, a New York custom luxury travel firm whose clients typically spend $2,000 a day when visiting London.

“Currency-wise, I don’t think the luxury market pays much attention,” Bloch said. “Will someone go to The Connaught [in London] now as opposed to before? No. But they will see their checkout bill and go, ‘Oh, nice. It’s lower than before.’ It’s not affecting their habits; it’s only the nice surprise at the end.”

But for more price-sensitive clients who would enjoy a taste of U.K. luxury, the savings on tap could be just the ticket. London hotels typically run promotions in August, and “Brexit has pushed those promotions to be even more aggressive,” LeCompte said. “Five-star hotels will never be this affordable again. That’s what we’re telling our clients.”

LeCompte is also advising clients who are considering travel to U.K. anytime in the next year to buy their pounds now.

What, me worry?
With the fallout of Brexit still entirely up in the air, agents are following the situation closely.

LeCompte, who has lots of friends in England, emphasized that the feeling there is more unsettled than panicked. As for her customers, “some are concerned, thinking maybe this isn’t a good time to go to England because of the uncertainty, all the kafuffle at Westminster. But this really has very little effect on tourism.”

Even the gyrations of financial markets aren’t apt to influence most U.S. travelers, agents said. “Travelers are more concerned with how far their dollars are going to go,” Jenkins said.

For his part, Seiferth voiced concerns about the impact on travel if the U.K. does end up leaving the European Union. “Right now when you are in London you can get on a Eurostar train and get to Paris in two and a half hours. With this change you’re going to have to go through customs and immigration, and that can be a real headache.

“The other thing is, are there going to be others that want out? The European Union is in a state of flux. All the possibilities of where this thing could end up in two or three years quite frankly are interesting.”

For now, though, for U.S. travelers it’s all good news. “Now they can go back to the old days where you go to England first and then into the continent,” said Lewis of Protravel. “We’re telling clients if you’re going to Europe, fly into London and go shopping first.”

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