by Peter J. Bates

Friday, May 27, 2011

Yes, Consumers Are Traveling Again To All Corners Of The Globe

Spring and summertime bring renewal, and with that an enhanced optimism from valued travel advisors eyeing the state of the luxury industry. In talking with my trusted friends in the travel advisor community, I am pleased to report there is good news, which many of you already know since your phones have resumed ringing – people are indeed traveling again! But, where are they going and why? And, with a rich global tapestry of cultures out there, what motivates advisors to sell certain destinations to clients? I queried a group of 50 well-known travel advisors (at the owner/manager level) around the country and am privileged to share their insight with you.

South America Sizzles
When asked about global destinations to where consumers are traveling, South America was the one part of the world where all the travel advisors agreed business from the U.S. was increasing.

Why the growing appeal? Consumers are realizing that South America is easy accessible and English is widely spoken. The “terrific hotels,” savory cuisine, majestic landscape, “array of activities” (including hiking and those with a nature focus), European flair and vibrant culture are major draws. “Value perception of travel to South America” is also huge.

Consumers spend 10 – 14 days on average traveling through South America, and the most popular destinations according to the advisors we asked are Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Peru and the Galapagos Islands.

Intriguing & Inspiring India
Sixty-one percent of respondents said leisure travel to India is increasing, largely due to the growth of high-quality hotels, the country’s exoticism and affordability, enhanced media coverage, and recent marketing outreach programs in luxury magazines.

First-timers look to discover the Golden Triangle in Rajasthan of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur while repeat visitors head to Goa, Kochin, Kerala, Varanasi and Mumbai. U.S. travelers typically spend up to two weeks on the ground in India.

Reflective of the growing interest in India tiger camps, one respondent said “wildlife experiences are drawing travelers into national parks where world-class safari camps and lodges are now available.” Having been on a tiger safari in India myself when I saw 11 tigers at close range during three game drives, I can attest to the magnificence of the experience!

Best-Selling Asia Destinations
China, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia – they top the list according to our respondents.

Regarding China, “It is so hot right now. Everyone wants to see and feel the energy and the changes being made in the great cities.” China’s world-class tourism infrastructure and airlift from the U.S., coupled with a high degree of cultural curiosity from Americans continues to put China toward the top of the travel list for U.S. consumers.

Beyond China, there is much more to Asia said our advisors. Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia are heralded for a mix of strikingly beautiful scenery, authentic cultural experiences, exotic sites, and great value offers.

South Africa – Sophisticated & Stylish
Leisure travel to South Africa is increasing (according to 74 percent of our advisors) thanks to excellent accommodations, amazing wildlife, picturesque wine lands, a sophisticated culture, and great safari camps. There is also “plenty of adventure,” and South Africa is proving to be a “great family destination.” Further, “people are interested in stretching their boundaries in regards to travel enrichment” and South Africa is an ideal country for fulfilling this dream.

South Africa is also “heavily covered in magazines,” which helps fuel consumer interest in the destination.

East Africa – A Mix of Safaris & Safety Concerns
Results on the state of leisure travel to East Africa were mixed. Forty-six percent said it is increasing, 36 percent said it’s static, and 18 percent indicated ‘decreasing.’

As to why East Africa is increasing, travel advisors noted a fantastic product that is a “favorite for safari seekers,” great guides, Kenya being “an awesome family destination,” and that “an African safari is on almost everyone’s bucket list.”

Unfortunately, political unrest and safety concerns have seemingly impacted business to this part of the continent with advisors stating that “East African business is lackluster” and “even though Tanzania is calm, the perception that all East Africa is unstable has spilled over.”

Beyond South and East Africa, there is emerging interest in other parts of Africa including Rwanda, known as “major for gorilla trekking,” Ethiopia, which is “attracting new visitors for its cultural beauty,” Uganda, Mozambique, Namibia, Morocco and Zambia. Mauritius and Seychelles are “perceived dream locations” for their glorious beaches and sense of mystery.

Middle East – Maybe?
Thirty-nine percent said interest in the Middle East is increasing, noting that travelers visit for cultural enrichment and religious reasons. Appeal remains for travel to Israel, Jordan, Oman, Abu Dhabi, Syria, and Dubai, and, U.S. travelers typically take a leisure vacation in the Middle East for seven – 10 days.

But, 43 percent said interest is decreasing, 13% static, and 1% no interest. As expected, interest in Egypt, which was “hot,” has waned since the unrest, and people are concerned about visiting Morocco (in North Africa) due to recent bombings. Unfortunately, consumers tend to suffer from a lack of geographical knowledge, so when there is unrest in one corner of the world, the adverse impacts stretch beyond the immediately affected region.

‘Selling What I Know’
In reviewing responses, there was one point made repeatedly by the travel advisors that resonated with me as a travel marketer – that an advisor’s personal selling preferences to clients were related to what that advisor “knows well” and/or “has just visited.” Inspiration and enthusiasm generated by an exciting, authentic, high-quality travel experience are tremendous motivators for advisors when selling to their clients. Talk about persuasion and the power of personal relationships!

This sentiment of “selling what you know” reflects the fortitude of the advisor – client relationship. Plus, this emotional sales driver should encourage hoteliers and tour operators to re-evaluate the value and importance of their own relationships with travel advisors. Do they connect with them enough to ensure quality product knowledge? Do they invite them on FAMs – and ensure these FAMs deliver a remarkable and memorable experience? Is their relationship with the advisor as solid and influential as between the advisor and client? Keep in mind how critical relationships are, and that agents prefer doing business with people they know.

These are worthwhile questions to consider as we all look to improve business and enjoy sales success – as well as provide consumers with the opportunity to discover the rich cultures and engaging experiences to be found in all corners of the world. I welcome your feedback.

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