The Selling Travel team chats to the travel industry's movers and shakers and finds out the latest news and views
Peter Shanks, Managing Director, UK & Ireland, at Silversea Cruises talks about the cruise challenges the industry is facing during the pandemic and how agents can help revive cruise bookings
Noel Josephides - Chair of Sunvil, as well as The Travel Foundation, Director of Industry Issues at AITO and ex Chair of ABTA - talks to us what post-pandemic travel is likely to look like
Ged Brown, founder & CEO of Low Season Traveller, the first DMC dedicated to promoting off-peak travel, says now is the time to persuade people to travel in low season and the advantages are much more than good value
Siobhan Shaw, Manager UK & Europe, Destination New South Wales, talks to Laura Gelder about how agents should sell Australia's most famous city and the state beyond
Maria Cook Shaw, General Manager, Ffestiniog Travel, talks to Laura Gelder about the tour operator's worldwide rail holidays - its history, its future and how it's dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic right now
Norbert Kettner, Managing Director of the Vienna Tourist Board, talks to Steve Hartridge about how Vienna is preparing to restart its Year of Music
“You’ve got to be visible to your customers and proud of who you are - your service and knowledge. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they want from you”
Sheena Whittle, Head of The Personal Travel Agents at Co-operative Travel, talks to Laura Gelder about how agents who have survived should be focused on how to revive their business
"The travel industry is incredibly resilient and we are used to dealing with a crisis but the scale and reach of COVID-19 makes it undoubtedly the biggest we have ever faced. But the shining light throughout this crisis, and what makes it so different to 9/11 where customers were afraid to book, is that people still want to travel and are dreaming of travel.
"In the initial weeks agents were dealing with getting customers home as borders closed and flights were cancelled. The biggest challenge for our homeworkers, who pride themselves on their knowledge and expertise, has been attempting to provide their clients with answers regarding refunds despite a lack of decisions from the government.
"Added to that was the fact that they were doing it all for nothing. Agents have been fighting hard to move bookings and protect commissions but it’s not always possible. But you cannot fault the dedication of our agents and what this has shown is the very personal relationships they have with their clients.
"We had a plan to survive and then revive. We ripped up the rule book when it came to our role of supporting agents, and our focus shifted from helping them to sell to helping them to stay sane and in contact with customers.
"We’ve encouraged all our agents to step away from their desks and take part in our Wednesday Walk as a bare minimum.We’ve also had desk yoga sessions and during National Wellbeing Week we shared lots of tips on how to help mental and physical health.
"Once we went into lockdown we did a survey in order to understand what customers were thinking. We adjusted our marketing accordingly, from selling to supporting, with initiatives like Tom the Traveller. Agents used this character to share travel-based puzzles and quizzes with customers who were home schooling. We also issued adult colouring templates to help with mental wellbeing and ran a travel-related pub quiz online.
"All this showed the personal side of our agents. It was all about keeping in touch but in a softer way. Customers loved it!
"At the moment only 9% of our bookings are for 2020 and the rest are for 2021. However, there is an increasing number of customers asking to be put on a list to be prompted to book when they can travel.
"We need the FCO ban to be lifted, for the government to lift the 14-day quarantine and for insurance companies to cover COVID-19. Thankfully we’ve seen some examples of the latter. But once these three key things happen then everything suggests that this pent up demand will transfer into more bookings. If planes are back in the air and air bridges are in place for July then I see no reason why there can’t be a lates market for summer holidays.
"Once we entered the revive stage we started some soft marketing - such as sharing beautiful destination pictures to see if it engaged people on social media and to get people thinking about where they want to go. And from then on, we started introducing offers.
"I think a lot of people will want to go away in the UK and avoid flying and I sense customers will leave it late to book the rest of the world and be governed by what is open and what air bridges are established.
"For next year we are selling a lot of Europe but what’s also emerged is lots of bucket list destinations and top-end holidays. It appears that customers are thinking that if they can’t go on holiday this year that they will splash out next year. Perhaps the pandemic has also made them think - ‘why delay my dreams anymore?’ So don’t be afraid to advertise the expensive stuff!
"We’ve seen great sales for places like Bali, Thailand and Florida and villa holidays are in demand. We’ve also seen increased demand for touring and adventure rather than fly and flop.
What to do now
"You’ve got to be visible to your customers and proud of who you are - your service and knowledge. Don’t withdraw until it’s time to travel because they need to know you are there. There are going to be lots of potential customers out there who might not book what they usually book so don’t be afraid to ask them what they want from you. I’d advise agents to build a VIP list of clients who are keen to book ASAP.
"For the last six weeks we have processed more new bookings than re-bookings. Our sales volumes are growing and we are positive about the future. More so than ever, I think customers will be gravitating towards agents because they want that reassurance."
Arvind Bunhun, Director of the Mauritius Tourism Authority, talks to Steve Hartridge about how Mauritius is preparing for a new wave of tourism with new hygiene regulations in place
Michael Mangeot, Commissioner of Tourism, Kentucky Tourism, explains the origins behind the state's 'Bluegrass State’ nickname and discusses how travellers can expect experiences that include horse country, quirky small towns, plenty of bourbon, classic cars, Bluegrass music, a boxing legend - and even the world’s largest underground cave system.
“Colorado is a four seasons state with over 300 days of sunshine that is built on a pioneering spirit and Western culture. But mostly it is about the people and the great welcome they offer travellers.
Andrea Blakenship, Director of International Tourism for Colorado Tourism, discusses Colorado highlights such as four national parks, mountains which are a ‘playground' in both winter and summer, fascinating ‘ghost towns’ that date from the Gold Rush of the 1800s, urban and artsy Denver….and much more.
“We are a travel agency but also a social enterprise. By sacrificing our commission we enable our customers to make a free donation to a cause they care about - simply by booking a holiday”
Melissa Tilling, CEO of Charitable Travel talks about her new travel agency and social enterprise, which turns holiday bookings into donations and aims to make all forms of travel a way of giving back
“ We're not an alternative to Dubai because you can’t compare the two. Come to Ajman for great value five-star hotels, natural beaches, authentic culture and nature”
Ian Scott from Ajman Tourism Development talks about how the smallest emirate is a quieter, cheaper alternative to neighbouring Dubai, with natural attractions and authentic Arabic culture
“We want agents to see Travel Uni as a central point they can always come back to for continuous learning and essential information”
Ian Dockreay, Managing Director of Travel Uni and Equator Learning & Engagement, talks to Laura Gelder about how the lockdown is the perfect time for online learning
"It’s an interesting time for online training. Agents are obviously not fully engaged in bookings at the moment but they want to keep up to date and increase their skills and productivity – which is a very positive thing.
“We saw a 38% year-on year increase in training this April and lots more completions and activity in general. Quite often agents start training but get busy so have to leave it and come back to it later, but at the moment people are going straight through – it’s the educational equivalent to binging on box sets!
Train & Gain
“We’ve recently launched a campaign called Train and Gain – #travelunitrainandgain – encouraging those registered on Travel Uni to take more courses, gain more valuable knowledge and progress through Travel Uni more quickly so that they can demonstrate their level of professionalism to clients at this challenging time with our downloadable certificates and email badges.
“For every Travel Uni course that agents complete successfully they will be awarded points. The more points they earn the more they progress through Travel Uni. You start as a Member, rising to Undergraduate, Graduate, Post Graduate and eventually Master.
“However, since the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve made it more streamlined and increased the number of points agents can earn so they can get to Graduate level after around four courses (it depends slightly on the courses as some are bigger than others). When you log in to Travel Uni you instantly see your personal dashboard which shows your training progress and career development activity.
“Of course, things like fam trips are not possible at the moment but the market is very active in terms of incentives and even agents that are furloughed are allowed to do training so I’d encourage agents to look at what we have on offer.
Trends in training
“Online training is always evolving and in recent years the trend has been towards more video content and webinars. We’ve just launched a webinar page so we can help our clients and agents by putting all the webinars in one place.
“At Travel Uni we are moving much more towards being an engagement platform. Our training has always been dynamic and interactive – with quiz questions at the end of each module and lots of visual aids – but we are now becoming an agent hub, not just for learning, but for news, details of events and fams and access to selling aids like brochures.
“We want agents to see Travel Uni as a central point they can come back to, not just when courses renew or expand, but as a platform for continuous learning, engagement and essential information."
“ It’s not just about unique destinations, it’s about finding things that are really unique and experiential within mainstream destinations”
We talk to Mark Allvey and Chris Brunning, the co-founders of a new tour operator focused on experiental travel - Untold Story
“It’s important to look forward. Learning about new and exciting destinations is keeping morale up in the office”
Theresa McDermott CEO at ECT Travel explains how the independent travel company is planning for future travel
"At the beginning of March I travelled to India to familiarise myself with one of our new tour programmes, it was a very exciting time for ECT. It wasn't until I returned to the UK that I realised the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.
"We’ve been doing everything we can to refund or transfer bookings. We’ve even been giving discounts on future tours, not as a way of getting out of our obligations, but as a way of recognising that people are probably going to be disappointed this year.
"We've found that the hotels have been happy to cancel and change dates but the one major headache has been the airlines. For example, I had a group of 60 who were due to go on a cruise which has since been cancelled. While the cruise line was happy to reschedule the booking, the airline told me that standard rules applied and in a year and a half I may be able to convert a credit note into a refund. I'm then told I have to pay the final payment of £14,500 or risk losing the £5,500 deposit! Surely the travel industry should be working together at such a time?
"Once the travel ban is lifted I think the next hurdle will be health and safety as people will be very cautious about being in close proximity with one another, whether that be in an airport or on a plane.
"I think people will find the UK an attractive alternative to a long-haul flight to begin with, so perhaps the inbound market will be the first to recover. People will look for reassurance that they are not at risk of catching the virus whilst flying.
Keeping in touch
"We’ve been sending postcards to our regular customers just to remind them that we look forward to helping them travel again soon. We see some of our regular customers as family and it's important to stay in touch and know that we're thinking of them.
"As an independent experiential travel business we’re looking to market ourselves in special interest publications and are using the time to upgrade our website and expand our social media.
"We've also been researching new programmes that we could potentially launch post-COVID-19. At the moment I’m really enjoying delving into the Caribbean and Asia. Learning about new and exciting destinations is keeping morale up in the office and people are feeling empowered the more they learn. It's important to keep looking forward."
“ Both Kansas and Oklahoma have a lot of Western heritage and Oklahoma has a very strong Native American culture”
Lisa Weigt, Program Director, Kansas and Oklahoma Travel and Tourism talks to Selling Travel’s Steve Hartridge about why the two states are ‘the Real America’
“ We like to say that God made the Grand Canyon but he lives in Sedona - a town surrounded by two-million acres of scenic beauty”
Jennifer Wesselhoff, President & CEO, Sedona Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau, talks to Jessica Pook about her small Arizona town with big natural attractions and sustainability at its heart
“ It may be brave to launch a travel business at this time, but that won’t stop us. Our remote team of Travel Designers are raring to go”
Abraham Bravo, Founder of newly-launched Travelisto tells Selling Travel of the challenges of opening amid the COVID-19 crisis and why his agency stands out from the rest.
“Let them know you are there... Expert opinion and booking security will be more valuable than ever”
Selling Travel gets some advice on marketing in a crisis from the team at Travel & Tourism Marketing (TTM)...
"It is important to prepare for a future where global travel is possible and borders are open.
"The travel industry has learnt how to deal with crisis and impossible-to-predict situations and we can harness that knowledge and experience as we all work together to make sure the UK travel industry bounces back and goes on to thrive. Worldwide, the British market is known to be the most resilient - the last out and the first back to travel and supporting the destinations that we love.
"We understand that the initial pressure for travel agents is on the repatriation and protection of people that are already abroad and those set to travel imminently. The FCO recommendations have given a level of certainty to timescales and planning for now. But from day one, when we get the OK to travel again, it will be essential that everyone is ready and prepared to make that happen.
"We all love to travel and in challenging times this is what we look forward to the most, making memories with loved ones.
Preparing for a come-back
"It is prudent to be staying in touch with your client base, but to be sensitive as many will have just found out they cannot take this year’s 'big holiday'. It’s good to let them know that you are there to help, inform and guide them towards their next holiday. Expert opinion and booking security will be more valuable than ever.
"For all of us, information is absolutely key and it will be important to make sure it comes from a verified source and is accurate to the best of your ability. As destinations, we offer this resource to the travel industry as our information comes straight from our in-market and on-the-ground colleagues.
"Finally, use the resources that are available to you. Stay up to date with what’s going on and sign up to as many tourism websites as you can, as each country, city, state, province, island and archipelago will have their own rules and restrictions."
“We’re noticing a trend in educational travel. Parents want their children to have a meaningful experience”
In Conversation with Staci Mellman SVP, Marketing, Visit Florida
Historically, Florida has always been a destination for families. But what’s unique is that it appeals as much to parents as it does to kids.
“The close proximity to attractions means that one day can be spent thrill seeking at the theme parks and the next bike riding in a state park, just 40 minutes away, or sunning yourself on one of the many soft sand beaches.
“The family-friendly appeal extends to Florida’s resorts too, with most offering an amazing kids club experience. Our research shows that UK visitors tend not to spend their entire holiday in the theme parks, so it’s important that hotels have the facilities to keep children stimulated whilst their parents can enjoy some well earned down-time.
“We're seeing a huge increase in educational travel. Nowadays parents want children to gain something from the holiday experience. There’s less focus on queuing for rides and more on learning about the environment around them or simply gaining a new skill.
“Children are much more aware of the world around them so for many parents, incorporating an element of sustainable tourism is important. Visit Florida has created a web page highlighting eco-friendly ideas, from attractions, activities, dining, transportation and lodging, to how to practice voluntourism while you’re here, available at visitflorida.com.
“Florida also offers a wealth of children’s programmes with an underlining focus on the natural environment and how to be more environmentally friendly. One initiative is Turtle Talks and Walks at MacArthur Beach, which offers a glimpse into the life of a nesting loggerhead sea turtle and teaches visitors about the conservation of marine life.
“There’s also a great marine programme at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, where kids can go out with marine scientists for the day on boats and see dolphins in their natural habitat.
"Kennedy Space Centre in Merritt Island is another popular attraction with families and is both engaging and informative, with space travel simulators and live rocket launches.
“Multi generational travel is also a top trend. We often find three generations of family members travelling together or grandparents taking the grandchildren away on what’s known as ‘skip gen’ holiday.
“Visit Florida is launching a new campaign aimed at the family market, with the theme of ‘togetherness’. We all lead busy lives and quality family time can be hard to come by. We want to remind people that above all, Florida is a place where families can reconnect and create memories that will last a lifetime.
While the family holiday may be Florida's mainstay, it's still developing new product to cater to this evolving market.”
Years in the industry: 9
Best holiday:A three-week trip along the western coast of Australia in a campervan.
Travel disaster: Being stuck on a dingy boat off an island in Fiji at the start of a category 4 cyclone.
“It’s a great job. The guests are wonderful, new people to meet every two days from all over the world”
In Conversation with Barry Crawford Train manager, Rocky Mountaineer
There are not many office windows with such a spectacular view as that enjoyed by Barry Crawford as he performs his duties as train manager aboard Canada’s iconic Rocky Mountaineer. Julie Baxter discovers more…
“Expectations are high when people join the train, we promise a great experience so we are very focused on delivering that. Some people have looked forward to this trip for 15-20 years, it’s on their must-do” travel list, it’s iconic, and my team and I, as their hosts, make sure to remember that every single departure. Of course we have done the journey many times but we deliberately take time to remind each other to treat the experience with the respect it deserves and recognize how special it is for our passengers. Honestly, this is not hard in fact as no matter how often you do the route you do still realize how extraordinary it is and you see something new and different every time.
“The main priority of my role is safety – it is a moving train of course and we really want people to be safe and secure at all times. But after that the priority is our guests’ comfort and enjoyment. We have services and systems to ensure best practice every departure, and work hard to execute those to the best of our abilities, but above this, and perhaps more important, is our determination to ensure every guest has a special experience. If we can do something above and beyond the planned service, to add to their experience, we certainly will and make a point of checking in with everyone individually to see how we can refine the offer and make it even better for them and their personal priorities.
“We have a great crew and they are very good at this. They are all in the hospitality business and are all very good natured and sociable, they spend all day interacting and socializing with the guests and I know that is genuine, because they do that all evening with each other too once off the train! They are passionate about their jobs and want to share their love of Canada with guests. They are all characters that love to talk and interact with others so they are a great group to work with.
“There are some challenges, but those are not about providing great onboard service but to do with operational issues. In North America, we share the track with huge freight trains some of which might be two miles long, and making way for them sometimes brings hold ups beyond our control. This is part of the interest and unique nature of rail travel, part of the charm, as is the average 35mph speed – it’s a great speed for just enjoying the ride and taking in the view. A trip on the Rocky Mountaineer really is all about enjoying the journey.
“It’s a great job. The guests are wonderful, new people to meet every two days from all over the world, and the diversity of the terrain we cover is unbelievable – from the coastal rainforests in Vancouver through the Fraser Valley to semi arid areas, sage brush and pine areas and then on to the lakes and mountains - what other journey covers so much? It’s incredible.”
Years in the industry: 20
Best moment: Wildlife viewing along the journey
Favourite foods: AAA Albertan beef, sockeye salmon and seasonal local produce
Top tip: Don't rush it, build in time to explore
“There's a lot of talk about tech trending in travel but we aren't seeing it. For us, customer service is still king”
Laura Gelder talks to Steve Williams, Managing Director, Fred. Olsen Travel
“River cruising is still growing exponentially and while many agents get enquiries about it they might not know how to answer them. At Fred. River Cruise, we're aiming to be a one-stop shop for agents selling it and we’re nearly there!
"We offer cruises on most of the world’s navigable rivers, including lesser-visited ones like the Volga in Russia and the Ganges and Brahmaputra in India.
"Destination is key now - lots of travellers have ticked off the classics and they are looking for the next ones. That word experiential is always popping up too.
"After huge interest in Myanmar's Irrawaddy River, the Mekong seems to be back. There’s also lots of interest in America's Mississippi, thanks in part to Jane McDonald.
"Even in Europe there are ‘new’ places to discover and the lower Danube River is getting more interest. Mostly between Budapest and the Black Sea, it accesses cities like Belgrade and Bucharest and is steeped in history and culture, with the chance to extend onto Istanbul.
"The French waterways are also on the up, in particular the Seine. Customers are waking up to its accessibility through Paris and selling points like food and wine and attractions like the Monet gardens.
"Escorted touring is a natural extension of river cruising and since becoming the UK general sales agent for Collette, Fred. Olsen Travel has put that to the test.
"Collette has always been a great product but lost traction with the trade. We’ve now got some great sales staff back on the road meeting agents – James Howlett, who has worked for Universal and Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, and Bryony Smith, formerly of Super Break.
"For the long haul escorted touring market which Collette represents, big trending destinations include Japan, the Canadian Rockies and Iceland.
"Our agencies, based in the east and south of England, say that people are tending to book one less holiday, which we put down to Brexit uncertainty. We've not been adversely affected by Brexit though. The market is certainly tougher and we’ve had to work hard in terms of marketing, but sales are four to five per cent up.
"There’s a lot of talk about technology trending in travel but we aren’t seeing it. People want to know they can call in and see the same person and if you provide good customer service, customers keep coming back.
"Our client demographic is largely older and we have a £4,500 average booking cost, but one thing is clear, even the mature market is changing and has clear aspirations. We’ve launched cooking holidays, because people want to take something away from their break.
"Sustainability is a buzz word but it remains to be seen how it affects us. Our customers don’t tend to ask about it at the booking stage, but if they arrive in a hotel and it’s full of plastic, then they care.
For us, customer service is still king.
Years in the industry: 18
Favourite holiday destination: Love cruising with the family but my personal retreat is the Lake district
Worst travel disaster: Reaching the airport on the day I was made MD, without my passport.
“TV is a big influence. Celebs give others the confidence to be adventurous, whatever age they are”
Jessica Pook talks to Ben Davis, Head of Product at Titan
“A decade ago there was a stigma that over-50s travel was limited to coach trips to Europe, but since then we’ve opened the door to so many far-flung destinations around the world that weren’t previously easily accessible.
“At Titan we exclusively cater for the over-50s market so we know just how diverse this sector is. It’s important to remember that, regardless of age, everyone is an individual and they all want different things from their holiday.
“Small group tours continue to be popular for us. A great example is our recently-added Wild Collection, which includes Wild Costa Rica and Wild Borneo. These itineraries can be slightly more adventurous.
“On the flip side we’re also seeing demand for relaxing week-long river cruises through Europe, so it’s all about catering to different needs.
“India’s Golden Triangle goes from strength to strength, especially when it comes to trade bookings. I think it’s one of those bucket list destinations that people are a bit hesitant about booking for fear of the unknown. That’s why they choose to go with a reputable operator such as Titan, which has been travelling there for decades. Guests feel safe in the knowledge that they will be transfered door-to-door with our VIP service and looked after by experts.
“We’ve also noticed how TV has had a huge influence on bookings to long-haul destinations. For example, The Real Marrigold Hotel TV series built up a huge demand for India and we’re capitalising on that with new itineraries. There’s been an increase in travel to Armenia, Georgia and Uzbekistan thanks to Joanna Lumely’s Silk Road Adventure; Borneo is doing really well following the Wild Borneo Adventure documentary with Judy Dench, and anything that Jane McDonald touches seems to turns to gold! I think these celebrities give others the confidence to be more adventurous, whatever age they are.
Here’s what you didn’t know
“Agents are surprised about how diverse Titan's product is and we want to remind them about our more relaxed Stay and Explore option – a one or two-centre trip with three or four nights in each place.
“We’re also the only company that operate these tours in the UK. Clients are picked up from their front door and driven to and from their hotel, with the option of daily excursions.
“In other news, we’re excited to have Zimbabwe back in our portfolio, since it has been off the travel map for about 25 years. Our 14-day escorted tour to Zimbabwe is a small group journey, with a cruise on Lake Kariba, a visit to Victoria Falls and a game drive in Hwange National Park. In comparison to South Africa, Zimbabwe is very much unspoilt and the game has been left mostly untouched.”
Years in the industry: 24
Favourite holiday destination: Italy (helps that my wife speaks Italian too!)
Worst travel disaster: Leaving my passport at LHR when flying to Edinburgh with my family.
“Don’t define your customers by their age, it’s all about mindset and their personal passions and interests”
Laura Gelder talks to Jane Atkins, Managing Director at Shearings Holidays, about trends in touring
“Touring is in vogue! People lead busy lives so they’re looking for a holiday that’s easy and touring makes sure they can get the best value, money-wise but also in terms of time, because they can more easily pack in all the must-see sights.
“There’s a misconception about coach tours because people remember what they travelled in for school. Our coaches are up-to-date Mercedes Benz; the seat pitch is larger than an airline’s and seats have lateral movement. We also offer wifi and an entertainment system, Roadshow, which lets travellers access films, TV, podcasts and more through their own devices.
“Today it’s all about personalisation, so we offer Tour and Explore packages which travel from place to place; or Stay and Discover itineraries based in one hotel with tours going out every day. There are pre- or post-tour stays available too.
“The perception of coach touring is that you’re herded around in a big crowd and that’s the myth that agents need to dispell. The only thing that’s prescriptive about a coach tour is the travel itself. Once you reach the destination you have freedom – some people might do a walking tour, some will explore independently and others may have pre-booked an extra excursion. If they wish, travellers can just use the coach as a way to get from A to B.
“Our Grand Tourer brochure is all about authenticity. It has all the traditional stops like the Vatican in Rome or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but we’ve added curated elements that give a touch of local authenticity, such as wine tasting in a chateau.
“America is our most popular touring destination but in Europe Italy comes top and in the UK, Scotland. Borneo, launched a year ago, is growing in popularity and has been boosted by Judi Dench’s documentary. TV is a big influencer and agents should pay close attention to what their customers may be watching.
The future of touring
“We have lots of ideas on how to make tours more individual and by 2020 agents will see more ways to de-package, meaning they can mix and match elements for a bespoke holiday. We’ll also be utilising technology in our tours.
“The goal is to broaden our appeal, although our core market remains the over 55s. But don't define your customers by their age, it’s all about mindset and their personal passions and interests and our brochure signposting aims to highlight each tours' focus.
“An escorted tour is an end-to-end experience and agents can get commission on all of it. We offer great trade concessions because there’s nothing like experiencing the product and if agents can offer first-hand feedback that’s much more compelling than a website. It’s all about adding value and understanding what’s included.”
“We believe travel agents are an extention of L.A. Tourism and assist them through our educational programme”
Jessica Pook talks to Ernest Woode, CEO at Los Angeles Tourism, at the IPW trade show in Anaheim
"We know that markets such as Great Britain rely on the insurance and integrity that only a travel agent can provide when booking a long-haul trip. We believe that travel agents are an extention of L.A. tourism and that is why we continue to assist the trade in selling with our robust online educational programmes, of which we now have over 5,000 graduates. Agents can access this training at insider.discoverlosangeles.com.
What's new in town?
"Los Angeles has established itself as a culinary capital - as evidenced by the city dominating the 2019 Michelin Guide California. We accounted for 18 out of 27 new restaurants with a one-star distinction, while six were awarded two-star status.We know that dining is a huge draw for the UK market and we plan on using these credentials to stimulate food tours and culinary experiences going forward.
We also have a big sports focus, with some major events coming up in the next few years. The new Rams stadium, due to open in 2020, will host the 2022 Super Bowl, which we predict will draw thousands of international visitors. We are also hosting the opening ceremony for the 2026 World Cup and will welcome the Olympics for the third time in 2028.
UK market key
L.A. is experiencing its eighth consecutive year of growth. This year we've seen a 3% increase in UK visitors, with 382,000 arrivals in the last year, and are expecting a subsequent increase in global visitation when L.A hosts the 2024 IPW conference. Brand USA is working hard to ensure that America is a must-see destination and I do believe that the U.S. as a whole will experience visitor growth, despite recent (poor) figures.
“Agents should be shouting about our incredible geographical diversity, which is contained in such a small area”
Lisa Young talks to Stephen England-Hall, Chief Executive at Tourism New Zealand, at the annual travel trade show TRENZ in Rotorua.
More than 75% of arrivals into New Zealand booked through an agent. From a targeting and investment point of view, we try to understand what agents tend to sell to different types of consumers. Are those consumers matched up against those that deliver the most value in New Zealand? When we talk about driving high value, we are not just talking about dollars, we are actually talking about the ability for a consumer to contribute to New Zealand. That contribution could be spending, or visitor behaviour, or their tendency to advocate, because all those things add value to us, it’s not just about how much money they spend.
Agents should be shouting about our incredible geographical diversity, which is contained in such a small area. In our travel training for trade, we talk about the close proximity of the many diverse things to do, wherever you are. One of the key drivers for consumers is the vast amount they can achieve in a relatively short day.
Visiting friends and relatives (VFR), or long duration stays of up to 12 weeks is a big UK market for us. Part of what drives long duration stays is the desire to tour the country. There’s huge diversity in activities, from the landscapes and natural environment, to the warm New Zealand welcoming, or ‘Manaakitanga’ (a Māori word that means the process of showing respect, support, hospitality, and generosity and care for others).
Our landscapes, and the aspirational idea of New Zealand is a driver of engagement, but when visitors leave, they tend to talk about the people and the experiences they’ve had, more than the landscapes.
Changing travel styles
The cultural experience has always been part of the proposition, but we are finding it’s not a separate activity anymore, it’s a much more integrated part of the New Zealand Tourism story. Style of travel is always changing, and we are seeing a move towards greater FIT as people want to explore more.
Visitors don’t want to be seen as a tourist, but a visitor to a community. There’s also also more desire to positively impact the environment in which they are operating and New Zealand is embracing that trend because it aligns really well with our core values.
Sample itineraries and must-see lists used to be generated largely by destination marketing organisations but now they are generated by consumers for other consumers, and that’s had a big impact on the behaviour of visitors. I can see a future, not too far away, where the weather patterns, the current situation you are in, or what you like to do, dynamically generate personalised itineraries. But in spite of all the available technology and services available to help discover things, it’s not yet hitting the mark. One of the things we are carefully considering is how to ensure that visitors travelling around our country are actually aware of what is around them.
Although we are seeing travel technology rapidly evolve, face-to-face content like the drop in i-SITE network (New Zealand’s official visitor information network with over 80 sites nationwide) has had more visitors in the last year than it has ever had.
We’ve introduced a new International Visitor Levy, which does two things: increase funding for bio-diversity and conservation, and increase funding available for mixed use infrastructure.
New Zealand is the best country in the world - we have beautiful people, doing beautiful things, in beautiful places!
“I'm always surprised by the diversity of experiences when I visit home and now I have the perfect platform to share them with the travel trade”
Jessica Pook speaks to Sherwin Arends, the new Trade Training Relations Officer for South African Tourism
“Whilst agents are aware of the better-known regions and tourism experiences in South Africa, such as Cape Town, the Cape Winelands, the Garden Route and Kruger National Park, many do not know about the country's incredible but lesser-known hidden gems. I am really looking forward to informing agents on the huge array of tourism experiences that are on offer in South Africa.
"As Trade Training Relations Officer my main focus will be to support the wider trade team and strengthen SAT’s current relationships, whilst also establishing new relationships with key trade and stakeholders.
South African passion
“One of the tourist board's core values is to contribute meaningfully to the growth of the South African economy through empowerment and enabling local businesses to create authentic experiences which are inclusive for all. Being proudly South African these are especially important to me.
"I am always surprised by the diversity of experiences when I visit home and now I have the perfect platform to share them with the UK travel trade.
"For example, South Africa is a fantastic outdoors destination and walking tours are a great way to meet locals and find out more about the culture. Often tours are led by local guides, which means they have a great relationship with the community and know all the hotspots too.”
Trade on the brain
“As it’s the beginning of the financial year, we are full-steam-ahead planning our campaigns, trade shows and events for the coming year in our continued efforts to engage with the UK trade.
"We will run our annual SAT School again in 2019, a one-stop-shop training platform aimed at equipping agents with all the information they need to sell South Africa, from the unique selling points to the latest news, and how to answer customer questions.
"Our 2019 focus will also include establishing an increased presence within the UK and Ireland, running further training events, roadshows, workshops and hosted agent fam trips.
"At the beginning of this year we launched ‘Meet Your South Africa’, a tourism campaign which puts 12 of South Africa’s most passionate tour guides at the forefront, to showcase the wealth of travel experiences across the country. It's a fantastic tool for us to showcase the breadth of tourism experiences and passionate people working in tourism across the country.”
“We want to be the trade's best friend. We can react quickly to requests – whether it's special fares, training, agency visits or fam trips”
Steve Hartridge speaks to Adrian Keating, Air Transat’s new Commercial Director for UK and Ireland
“We are not that well known in the UK but Air Transat has been flying between the UK and Canada for over 30 years.
“My aim is to address this and the priority is to engage with agents across the UK and Ireland and provide them with all the tools they need to be confident in selling us. That trade expertise will then filter down to consumers.”
“We want to be the trade’s best friend, and we can be a good friend as we’re unencumbered by the due processes and layers of bureaucracy that some of our rival airlines on the UK-Canada route labour under. We can react quickly to trade requests – whether for special fares, training collateral, agency visits or fam trip requests.
“Our trade team is fun, friendly and very helpful and determined to offer levels of service to our trade partners that are on a par or better than any of our competitors.
“Air Transat’s recently launched training platform articulates to agents why we were named the world’s best leisure airline by Skytrax in 2019.
“That accolade was achieved on the back of both the choice and quality of products onboard. For example, Economy passengers fly in ergonomic Italian-leather seats and for families we operate a Kids Club with features like a member’s kit filled with cool travel goodies and some onboard surprises.
“We offer different levels of service – in Economy you can go basic, with hand luggage only, or pay for extra luggage. It is the same with the food onboard. There are our standard meals or customers can upgrade. For example, for £15, Economy passengers can purchase a Chef’s Menu, designed by Daniel Daniel Vezina, a top-rated Montreal-based chef who provides the meals to Club Class passengers.
"Club Class offers agents the chance to upsell. This is a great product and one that is on a par that is on a par with World Traveller Plus or a Premium Economy experience. It’s a small private cabin, with just 12 seats, but pitch and width is larger than those of other airlines, and Club customers also benefit from a checked baggage allowance, dedicated check-in counters and Fast Track Security – plus those meals by Daniel Vezina, a welcome cocktail, and a selection of wines.
Incentives all round
"We’re investing in ongoing agent incentives and have built a website to host our new Star Rewards programme. Agents booking Economy class tickets receive a £10 shopping voucher while those booking Club get a £20 shopping voucher. And we will have other incentives in place year round (AirTransatGiveaway.com), depending on what routes require support.
“Our trade team was recently reinforced by the appointment of Clare Hodge, ex Philippine Airlines and Continental Airlines, in the role of Sales Manager.
“Our whole strategy is to create a confidence in our brand across the entire trade and appointing people with impressive airline experience is one facet of this.
“If any agent wants to know more about Air Transat my message is that we want to engage with them.”
“Expedition travel is booming and Hurtigruten is at the forefront. I want the trade to be part of this exciting journey”
Jessica Pook speaks to Mark Walter the new Head of UK Sales for Hurtigruten
"Hurtigruten is an exploration company, our mission is to bring adventurers to some of the most spectacular places on Earth. We are world leaders in sustainable explorer travels in Polar Regions and many places between the Poles. We offer unique experiences and impart knowledge in a way that leaves the smallest environmental footprint possible."
"Right now, Expedition travel is booming and Hurtigruten is at the forefront with our cutting edge hybrid technology, premium comfort and bucket list destinations. I want the trade to be part of this exciting journey.
"We need to ensure that our partners have all the knowledge, information and tools to enable them to confidently recommend us to their customers. Our intention is to develop our agents website platform as the place to go when they have questions or answers. Through this agents can easily access our B2B booking platform, online training & webinar programmes, image/video library and much more.
"We also want to expand the number of trade partners we work with and through a series of road shows will encourage new agents (cruise and non) to come along, learn more and meet us in Hurtigurten style."
"Our 2020/21 Explorer programme went on sale in early December 2018 and early sales have been excellent. However, prices now include beverages (ship beer and wine, sodas and mineral water) with all meals, which is a new and a wonderful benefit!
"Encourage clients to be prepared to try something different. The world is a big place and yet, we flock to the same places! Get remote and get active."
“Independent agencies aren’t influenced by directional selling and operate with no boundaries”
Jessica Pook speaks to Andy Stark Managing Director of The Global Travel Group
“The Global Travel Group is a consortium made up of over 200 members, we provide independent agencies with vital support and help start-up businesses by providing the tools and training needed to put them in good stead before they go live.
"Starting up an independent agency can be daunting, especially if you are entering a new industry, and there is often significant investment in time and money. Initially, The Global Travel Group will meet with the potential member and coach them through the process, help comb through the business plan and ensure that we are the right fit for them and their business.
We have over 25 years of experience and all staff members come from a travel background. Members will benefit from initial support, from learning about the administration side and regulations to actually training on how to sell a holiday.
"We provide ongoing training for members and our team is on the road visiting new agents around the country. We also provide marketing materials for major campaigns and work with the tour operators to continuously offer our agents good rates and high commission.
"It is now easy enough to book flights to Asia or Australia direct, but the average person will spend a month researching their holiday before booking, and add to that the complexity of connecting flights, transfers, time difference, currency, accommodation, and that's when a travel agent becomes invaluable.
"Independent agencies are able to operate with no boundaries which is great from a consumer point. They often have commercial relationships with all the big tour operators but aren’t influenced by directional selling. They have the flexibility to be niche in their particular market and can offer a wide variety of product.
“Small business should really utilise social media. It's a quick and easy way to build up a following and spread word of mouth. The way that you communicate your message is key, you need to be disciplined about taking photos and putting two posts a day so that you have a presence online.
"Cruising is becoming more accessible and we’re finding members who would never normally class themselves as cruise specialists delving into the cruise sector.
"We’re finding more millenials returning to the high street agency and thanks to Instagram they often know exactly what they want. They’re happy to choose holidays based on images that they’ve seen, but when it comes the ‘boring’ bits like researching hotels or booking transfers that’s when they revert to a travel agent. Instagram is such a powerful tool for the travel industry, something as simple as a hashtag can give an agent something solid to work with.”
“Like agents, we understand personalisation and the importance of tailoring on- and off-property experiences when booking luxury travel”
Laura Gelder chats to Brenda Collin Managing Director UK, Ireland, Nordics & Netherlands, Preferred Hotels & Resorts
“Preferred Hotels & Resorts is the world’s largest independent hotel brand with more than 700 independent luxury properties in 85 countries. For more than 50 years, we’ve supported independent hotels and unique regional hotel groups around the world.
“We only work with luxury hotels that deliver authentic, one-of-a-kind experiences, from business-orientated city hotels, to mountain resorts and private island retreats. What sets us apart is that our relationships with hoteliers are equal partnerships, and that our hotels are independently-owned, locally relevant, and act as destination guides to our guests.
“Today’s clients, particularly millennials, select accommodation depending on why they are travelling, who with, and how long for. We have one master brand with five distinct hotel collections, each representing different styles of luxury and experience, and helping agents to effortlessly book the perfect stay.
The personal touch
"Like agents, we understand personalisation and the importance of tailoring on- and off-property experiences when booking luxury travel. Agents can book us with confidence knowing that, while no property resembles another, they are all unified by their commitment to delivering exceptional service and experiences that reflect local culture.
"Plus, each property is regularly inspected using our own Integrated Quality Assurance (IQA), which uses two tools to measure product and service standards: professional on-site evaluations, and a customised social media assessment tool for real-time quality assurance scores, customer feedback and performance analysis.
"Our new, more intuitive website launched this month with more relevant property information, enhanced photography, destination guides and filters that search via destination, travel theme, type of property, and level of luxury, as well as access to our points-based loyalty programme, I Prefer Hotel Rewards (IPrefer.com/TA). It gives agents benefits in the form of cash-value Reward Certificates and treats like space-available upgrades and early check-in/late check-out at more than 650 properties worldwide. "
There’s also Preferred Platinum, an invitation-only programme to recognise and support our top selling agencies. Participating hotels include some of the world’s most iconic independent properties and agents can contact Isabella Moroni, Vice President of Leisure Sales for Europe, for more information.
“Wendie Esposito, Vice President of Global Sales for Europe, and her team regularly host sales roadshows, events and fam trips and visit agents to strengthen relationships and share the latest brand news. We are committed to keeping agents informed, inspired, and engaged. ”
The future of hospitality
“Aside from the ever-increasing popularity of the sharing economy and multi-generational travel, I think sustainability is trending. Certainly within our portfolio hotels are taking tangible actions to reduce their impact, ranging from day-to-day practices to community projects.
“Pet-friendly travel is on the up, with many hotels opening up guestrooms and creating packages for guests and their pets that also positively affects the growing solo travel segment.
“We are investing significantly in the Preferred Residences collection which has doubled in size in less than two years to more than 80 properties offering transient holiday experiences that combine the space, privacy, and flexibility of a home with the luxuries and convenience of a hotel stay.
“We continue to strategically add inventory in gap destinations. Focuses currently include cities like Berlin, Edinburgh and Johannesburg and countries like Croatia, Iceland, and Scotland. We are working to increase the number of properties we represent here in the UK due to the increasing demand from both domestic and international clients.
“Hotels we’ve added to the portfolio recently include the historic Villa del Quar in Valpolicella, Italy; The Sanchaya on Bintan Island, Indonesia; Amerikalinjen in Oslo, Norway; and CitySuites in Manchester, England. For 2019, we are excited to be working on 23 hotel openings including Can Bordoy in Mallorca; Hotel Bennett in Charleston; Hotel EQ in Kuala Lumpur; and The First Roma Dolce in Rome.
“Looking ahead, we see an opportunity to continue to build on our legacy, leveraging the shift in consumer trends towards authentic, independent travel.”
“We kicked off our ‘No Filter Needed’ campaign this autumn, featuring photos taken by visitors and locals and with lots of off-season offers.”
Steve Hartridge chats to Keith Beecham CEO of Jersey Tourism Board
“We have had a pretty positive year in 2018 and had a particularly great summer, as did many UK destinations because of the fabulous weather, but our on-going challenge remains the early spring, autumn and some of the winter months. But these ‘shoulder periods’ also represent an opportunity, and one the island’s tourism players are upping their efforts to exploit.
“The fact is, Jersey is a beautiful island year-round, and offers something different depending on the season. That is what we are highlighting. We kicked off our ‘No Filter Needed’ campaign this autumn, featuring photos taken by visitors and locals and with lots of off-season offers.
“We have an opportunity for significant growth in these shoulder months and to this end we have been working hard with our airline partners and our tour operator friends and we are beginning to see numbers increase in these periods.
"Hotels across the island are also doing their bit to entice off-season visitors by adding wellness treatments, spas and more family rooms to appeal to what is It is a different demographic to the summer visitor.
“Summer is all about coming for a week or so to enjoy our beaches and our countryside, but out of the summer shorter breaks dominate, often taken by younger couples or families with children looking for a two- or three-day break. Jersey in the off-season is definitely more about wellness, outdoorsy things and experiences that see you stopping more often to breath in our refreshing air!
The perception that most hotels on the island roll up their shutters and shut their doors in the off-season also needs addressing.
“Whilst it is true that several of our smaller accommodations, that is mainly those in the guest house sector, do close in the off season, we still have round 8,000 hotel beds available in winter (in summer this tops out at around 11,000), so we have a pretty good selection available year round.
Most of Jersey’s restaurants are now also staying open year round and there has been an acceleration of new restaurant openings this year, both at the café and restaurant level. For example, a completely reburbished Jersey Crab Shack, which opened in the summer, and The Sinful Vegan, the island’s first vegan café offering ‘a 100% cruelty free’ menu, are already poplar dining spots in in St Helier.
“Things are changing on the island, but we know have to work really hard. It is a very competitive market out there and we have to try to keep refreshing our product, where we can, to help those tour operators that have worked very hard for several years to make our island a success for their business.
New reasons for suggesting Jersey
"The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, which has long had links with the island and is involved in a range of conservation projects, will celebrate its 60th anniversary and will celebrate by launching a Go Wild Gorillas sculpture trail around the island.
"Visitors will be able to spot brightly coloured, artist imagined life-size gorilla sculptures which will lead them to discover not just the gorillas but also the natural settings on the island in which they are placed.
"Also new will be a butterfly and tortoise house at Jersey Zoo. Visitors will be able to walk through swathes of tropical butterflies sharing their habitat with several Galapagos tortoises."
For Jersey, like elsewhere, the impact of Brexit remains an unknown but Beecham believes the island is well placed to maintain or increase arrivals from the UK, which account for 75% of all of Jersey’s visitors.
“Whatever Brexit brings, the sun will still be shining in Jersey … we will still be trading in sterling, our fabulous Jersey Royal potatoes will still be harvested and our wonderful shellfish will still be abundant! Moreover, our visitors will still feel they have arrived in one of the safest destinations anywhere…. and they will still be able to use their UK three-pin plugs!”
“LA is known for encouraging individuality, something which is reflected in our ‘Everyone is Welcome’ campaign.”
Jessica Pook chats to Ernest Wooden Jr. Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board President & CEO and Don Skeoch Chief Marketing Officer
“This is the second year of our ‘Everyone is Welcome’ campaign, an idea born in protest to the travel ban last year. We speak 224 different languages in LA and we felt it was important to respond with a message of humanity, to show that this is not a concept that represents us, " said Don Skeoch, Chief Marketing Officer at Los Angeles Tourism.
“To further encourage diversity, the tourism board launched its 'Endless Summer' promotion earlier this year, specific to the LGBTQ+ community. As part of the promotion a collection of boutique hotels are offering ‘buy three nights and get the fourth night free’. All of the participating hotels have provided a promotional code so that the travel trade can book this offer. Bookings can be made at discoverlosangeles.com.
"New for 2019, contemporary art fair Frieze will launch at LA’s Paramount Pictures Studeos. Over 80 galleries will exhibit work from international artists from February 14 – 17, 2019 reflecting LA’s position as a global arts capital. Described as a 'fushion of art and culinary', it will join Frieze New York, Frieze London and Frieze Masters on the art calendar and makes for a great day out for art enthusiasts.
“Everything is changing so rapidly in LA, it’s one of the most dynamic cities," said Ernest Wooden Jr., Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board President. "So to keep the trade up to date we have launched a new training programme for agents to become an LA Insider. It’s a visual, fun way of learning and separates LA into manageable neighbourhoods. Once you become an LA Insider you can create your own itineraries, receive updates, and unlock incentives and promotional offers. It’s an ongoing relationship between us and the travel trade to help better sell LA.
“This will be our eighth consecutive year of increase in UK arrivals. The UK has 76 weekly flights to LA, plus a new flight from Manchester due in May with Virgin Atlantic. This year we also celebrate LAX airport's 90th anniversary and as a result have invested $14 billion into building a people mover system, which will connect to five subway lines. The renovations are due to be completed by 2023.
"Lastly, Universal studios has currently closed down the Jurassic Park attraction but will relaunch with new technology, new dinosaurs and CGI annimation due to open June, 2019."
“A quarter of all UK visitors will return to us within five years, so for agents it’s well worth learning how to sell New Zealand”
Jessica Pook chats to Stephen England-Hall, CEO of Tourism New Zealand
“Being a long haul destination and typically a big-spend holiday, New Zealand can be a complex buy for the UK market. We find potential visitors want that extra reassurance that they are booking the right holiday and this is reflected in the fact that 80% of bookings are made through the trade.
"It’s so important agents feel comfortable connecting the consumer to the right product, especially as a quarter of all UK visitors will return within five years. For agents, it’s well worth investing the time to learn about New Zealand because the chances are you will have repeat clients wanting to experience lesser-known areas."
“We do extensive research into consumers and look to identify key variable motivators to ensure we provide agents with the right marketing materials. A direct example is our range of short videos that we’ve just launched. Each video focuses on a key area of New Zealand travel, such as wildlife or landscape or a self-drive holiday, so that we can provide the answer to some of the more obscure itinerary enquiries.
"There's been a great response to the videos, with 8,800 viewers, and we feel that giving agents bite-size four-minute tutorials makes the information more digestible. We follow these with our webinars, which we have been updating over the last 12 months. We've found that creating the small chunks of training has lead to an increase in views for the more in-depth webinars.
"We run fam trips all the time and we have our agent training roadshow in March 2019 in London and Manchester, with regional tourism organisations attending and a range of training exercises on offer."
“There’s a huge variant in itineraries compared to five years ago, mainly driven by FIT and the accessibility of self-drive in New Zealand. We’re seeing people who are interested in winter itinerates, food and beverage-themed trips or cycling, so there's a shift away from the traditional routes.
"The average stay for a British person in New Zealand is 28 days, so when they come they really want to see the whole country and they visit most of our regions. British visitors love to get off the beaten track, especially with a campervan.
"We are focusing on New Zealand as a health, recovery and relaxation destination. There is also a big push on conservation tourism and we are seeing an increase in visitors who want to contribute to the enrichment of New Zealand’s environment.
"As a small nation we have such strong values and this can be seen in the ban on single-use plastic bags which will be implemented next year.
"Agents can access all the videos along with a new animated 'Middle-earth’ map showing multiple options for travel to New Zealand at the click of the button – you can see this map and all the trade training tools here"
“If you want to see what real America is all about I pitch you Kentucky. We’re the front porch to the south and the gateway to the Midwest”
Laura Gelder meets Kristen R Branscum, Commissioner at the Kentucky Department of Tourism as she's in town to meet UK trade and press
“We ask people what they know about Kentucky and the most common replies are the derby, increasingly bourbon and, of course, KFC! So there’s a long way to go in terms of education.
“If you could only visit one state and you wanted to see what real America is all about I would pitch you Kentucky. We have such varied topography and different visitor experiences throughout the state.
“Kentucky is the front porch to the south and the gateway to the Midwest – the northernmost southern state. We see traffic coming up from the south, including people who started in New Orleans, as well as from Chicago (4.5 hours from Louisville) Washington D.C and Philadelphia – 75% of the US population is within a day’s drive.
“We want agents to know you can have a composite itinerary in Kentucky. Central Kentucky is the rolling bluegrass, white fences and horse farms we’re famous for, but in the west we have the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers and our two largest lakes and in south Kentucky there are even more lakes and waterways – more shoreline than Florida in fact! Head east and you hit the Appalachian Mountains or North and you’ll find our biggest city Louisville.
“There’s so much of Kentucky which people don’t know about, like the old river town of Paducah at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Thanks to an innovative artist relocation incentive it’s now a UNESCO Creative City and the reinvigorated downtown is hopping, with coffee shops, trendy restaurants, studios and galleries.
“Owensboro in the northwest is a centre for barbeque and bluegrass and its downtown has been refreshed with new river walks, parks and hotels. After a 15 million dollar upgrade, the new Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum opens this October with rotating exhibits, theatres and an interactive ‘pickin’ room where you can play instruments. There’s a real resurgence in bluegrass now – or newgrass – and a greater international appreciation which we’re capitalising on.
“Brits will love renting a houseboat in the Southern Shorelines region. Visitors can self drive or get a captain and some boats are pure luxury, with five bedrooms, a hot tub and a chef’s kitchen! You can enjoy watersports like jet skiing or find your own island and build a camp fire.
“Horse farm tours are getting better and better. You can learn about the breeding process and what they get for a 350,000 dollar stud fee. Seeing a race at Churchill Downs or Keeneland is a must and it’s on year-round, excepting winter, with night racing in June. In November you can experience the horse sales, watching the world’s best horses sold for millions of dollars.
“Visitors can have a bourbon experience all over the state, from rural towns to the urban bourbon experience in Louisville. Head to Whiskey Row, a revitalized part of downtown home to lots of distilleries, both historic bourbon brands and start-ups.
“I never liked bourbon straight until I was taught how to taste it but now I can appreciate all the complex flavours and I know what I like. That warm sensation you get after taking a sip - they call it a Kentucky hug!”
“We’re here to educate agents on the most diverse product in the Caribbean, but for us it’s not about adding volume, it’s about finding quality”
Laura Gelder meets Glen Beache, CEO of the St Vincent & the Grenadines Authority, on the eve of its first UK trade roadshow
“In the past we were marketed as a very high-end destination which was a mistake. We do have famous high-end properties, especially in Mustique, Bequia and Canouan, but we have much more – boutique hotels, three private island resorts, the Caribbean’s first Mandarin Oriental in Canouan and many more hotels in-between. We’re currently in talks to add an all-inclusive resort to St. Vincent too.
We have arguably the most diverse product in the Caribbean – 32 islands and cays and a mix of mountainous volcanic and low-lying coral islands with both black and white sand beaches. We court four niche markets: sailing, for novices and experts; diving, with everthing from small critters to big sharks; romance, including weddings and honeymoons; and adventure, incorporating eco tourism.
In February 2017 we opened our international airport and we now have direct flights from Toronto, New York and, from December 15, Miami. Most Brits get to us via Barbados, Antigua or Trinidad but the new Miami flight connects perfectly with a British Airways flight.
Compared to our neighbours we are relatively new and this means we can make sure we don’t make the same mistakes as some of them. We need to move forward, but sustainably, so that when people visit they really feel where they are and have a truly great experience, enjoy our culture, people, festivities and food. We don’t want mass tourism – Ideally I want there to be a waiting list for people to fly into St. Vincent and the Grenadines!
Our tagline is ‘the Caribbean you were looking for’. We are developing but not over developed. Our tallest building is just five storeys high! Driving along you still have that natural feel which is what the Caribbean is about.
You can climb our volcano La Soufrière, hike our nature trails, or visit Fort Charlotte - the only fort in the Caribbean with its cannons facing inland. We’re also setting up new farm product so that visitors can see how we grow out fruit and vegetables.
Social media has changed how destinations market themselves. These days just having a wonderful beach isn’t enough. It’s all about the experience and the bragging rights that go with it.
Action for agents
We have a lot of islands – I always say you pay for one island and you get 31 free! This poses a challenge for marketing but that’s what doing roadshows is all about. We’re also planning to introduce online training in the UK again, reward agents who sell us and host a lot more fam trips so they can really experience our product. It’s about them drinking the strongest white rum in the world, visiting the oldest botanical garden in the western hemisphere and swimming the clear waters of the Tobago Cays.
We’re a former British colony so the UK market is a very important market for us. The priority is to get a direct flight from the UK and we have government backing to make that happen so watch out for an announcement soon! But for St Vincent and the Grenadines it’s not about volume, it’s about quality."
“The trade constitutes 20% of our business but we’d like to grow this. Once considered too expensive, we're now surprising agents with our lower pricing, but still delivering five-star service”
Jessica Pook chats to Simon Lynch, Head of Sales at Abercrombie & Kent
“Abercrombie & Kent has been specialising in luxury travel for over 50 years and now has 70 offices around the world. With a profile of over 100 destinations divided into programmes including tailor-made, escorted touring, villa holidays, plus beach and ski programmes, we work closely with the trade to provide competitive pricing without compromising on the luxury experience.
“We have a really strong team on the ground (a 99-person team in China and a 1000-strong team in Africa), so when you book a holiday with us it’s the team in that destination booking your holiday with that specialist knowledge.
We’ve also expanded our Agency Sales team with new Sales Managers: Mark Harris (formerly at Wendy Wu Tours) covering the South of the UK including London, and Diogo Castanheira (previously at Hainan Airlines) covering Northern England, Scotland and Ireland. Both have a strong escorted touring background.
Revamping escorted tours
“We’ve always sold escorted tours but we are re-launching our immersive tours to better suit the British traveller. It’s a slower pace of holiday with an emphasis on free time and a ‘Design Your Own Day’ offering which gives clients the freedom to customise their excursions rather than being on a fixed itinerary. Whether that is culinary, art, adventure or culture, that flexibility is at the forefront of the experience.
“The trade constitutes 20% of our business but we’d like to grow this figure. Where we were perhaps considered too expensive in the past, we’re now surprising agents with our pricing. We’ve seen it come down in the last five years without cutting back on any of the five-star A&K elements and we are very proud of the price point that we are able to deliver for the trade. We seem to be winning agents over with our Europe tours, which deliver on service, knowledge and price.
"Agents can access preferential commissions, educational trips and more on our Preferred agency programme: abercrombiekent.com"
“We work with some amazing agents who really know their product and we work tirelessly to nurture their business – 99% of our holidays are sold through the trade”
Laura Gelder chats to Vishal Patel, Sales & Marketing Director at tailormade specialist Travelpack
“Travelpack's roots are in flight sales but now we are tailor-made long haul specialists. India is our star destination as our team have an immense wealth of knowledge on it. They’ve lived there or been multiple times and know it very well. Our sister company is an India-based supplier, meaning we have access to a huge range of value products and an ability to be creative and add value. We can request special extras like Champagne in your client’s room or book a local restaurant, quickly and at a reasonable price.
“Our team work tirelessly to help agents. If an agent rings saying their client has a better quote from a direct sell operator we will do our absolute best to try and match or beat it and help the agent keep their business – even if it means cutting our margins. If things go wrong we are always on hand to help: my sales guys can access me 24/7. And if we make an error we’ll honour it. We also have lots of initiatives to help agents drum up business. We provide promotional materials and Facebook banners and support agents with their events like wedding showcases. We value the business we have and we nurture it – 99% of our holidays are sold through the trade.
“Travelpack still leads in selling holidays to North America, India, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand, but one of our fastest-growing areas is Europe, where our passenger numbers have gone from nothing to almost 1,000 this year. We also offer packages through partner tour operators like Intrepid and G Adventures. We excel at events and have packaged holidays around sporting events from the World Cup, cricket and boxing to more unusual ones like the World Figure Skating Championships and niche music festivals in the USA. We’ve managed the impossible – including tickets to sold-out events across the world, from Ed Sheeran gigs to NFL finals!
“We're planning for growth but it will be controlled. We’re investing in staff and technology and strengthening agent relationships will continue to be key. We’re extremely grateful for agent support – agents are our bread and butter! It’s not an easy industry and direct sell competition will only increase. But if we can continue to add value and service we will be ok!”