Travel Agent and Bon Appetit
magazines recently hosted a Caribbean editorial roundtable in Bon Appetit's
dining room in
A broad range of
topics was covered—such issues as how travel agents can encourage clients who
may have once sampled the Caribbean on spring break to return as more upscale
travelers, and whether or not an island's culture has an impact on one's
decision to travel to a specific
Ruthanne Terrero, Travel Agent Media: A survey we
conducted recently showed that 83 percent of the agents responding felt that a
Kimberly Wilson Wetty, Valerie Wilson Travel: Culture
is not the primary factor for someone going to the
Rabia Shahenshah, Tzell Travel: A client from a major
Jack Bloch, JB's World Travel Consultants: In the Carib-bean, you go to a resort to veg out. When clients ask if there is something else to do, they don't mean culture. They want to know if there is a disco or nightlife.
Mark Cooper, Bon Appetit: But isn't that more
of a function of marketing of the
Bloch: People visualize the Caribbean as an island,
Elizabeth Crabill, Travel Impressions: I believe
there is an opportunity for destinations within the
Jaap Ellis, Aruba Tourism Authority: In
Susan Black, CheapCaribbean.com: This year we've seen different islands introduce indigenous or other types of cultural activities in the shoulder or soft seasons, such as music festivals. When it's hurricane season, they are trying to think of ways to distinguish themselves.
David Lyon, Cuisinart Hotel and Spa: Islands such as
Elaine Pesky, Protravel: People have different needs, and the main thing is you have to listen to what your client wants.
Terrero: What happens when a client calls and says, "I want to go somewhere, where do I go?" How do you handle that?
Shahenshah: You listen, but you also have a sixth sense. I would say within the first 30 seconds you get a sense of them, especially when they start to say where they have been in the past. A lot of these clients are very busy and they really go to unwind, so to them, cultural activities are less important.
Cooper: From an agent's standpoint, how often does someone come in with a very specific idea of where they want to go?
Wetty: Many times a client will say, "I've just spoken to a friend and this is where I have to go," or they've seen an ad or read an article, but then you start to talk to them and you're like, "This is so not the right place for you." But that is why they are going through a travel consultant for advice.
Terrero: Do you find that people are coming to you confused because they have so much information?
Pesky: They want us to sort it out. They have too much information.
Bloch: I see that in the future our services will become more valuable than they had in the past. In the old days, we were valuable because there was no information. Now we are valuable because there is too much information.
Cooper: People have often done their research and they are coming in with a lot of knowledge from the Internet.
Wetty: That's true, especially on the high end in the
luxury market. But we have to decide if we are talking about the ultra-luxury
market, the luxury market or more of the premium market, because a lot of the
Bloch: Fifteen years ago there wasn't anywhere near
the high-end product in the
Shahenshah: I have a client who is a Four Seasons
junkie, so when the Four Seasons,
Black: We have found that the luxury market wants to
get things for less. We did a survey a year ago of 3,000 of our customers and
found that their greatest fear of traveling to the
Shahenshah: What they want to know more is if I have a relationship with the hotel itself, with the GM, and if I can get them connecting rooms that face the ocean. Are my special requests being met? What is the relationship between me and the vendor that they can't get on their own?
Terrero: Let's throw it back to the demographics. Is
there a chance to take the spring breaker and bring them back to the
Bloch: They want to do short trips, they won't do long trips. That market is strictly a quick getaway to the beaches, but definitely high end.
Crabill: If you are talking about getting the spring breaker to jump to another level, there is a 10- to 20-year gap until they are able to go to a five-star property. But that creates a huge opportunity, especially with the changes that are taking place in all-inclusives, which are responding to the needs of repeat customers.
Pesky: That group also wants to know what they are paying for, so the all inclusives are ideal for them.
Terrero: Is the middle-tier traveler coming to you?
Pesky: I have a lot of generational groups, grandparents, parents and children. They are going to Paradisus.
Shahenshah: Some of my clients as a couple will do a Four Seasons, but they feel it's wasted on their children. So maybe they'll go to the Fairmont Mayakoba, which is the perfect four star; it's a chain, but it's right in the middle.
Terrero: What about Generation X, is there a change in how they are traveling?
Wetty: Absolutely. A lot of them grew up traveling and they went to four- and five-star properties, so they have really high expectations of what the service should be. Their kids are going to be the same way.
Black: In the premium market, especially the Spanish hoteliers, are really coming up with products for families. They have done their homework...traditional suppliers have to pay attention.
Terrero: In Aruba and
Bullock: Yes, for us the new properties are primarily
the Spanish hoteliers and the latest one, the
Bullock: It goes back to knowing who your client is.
Terrero: How do you capture the cruise passenger that visits a number of destinations? How do you get them to take a land-based vacation?
Bullock: The idea is to tell them that there is no
way to you can experience a destination by arriving there at 8 a.m. and leaving
at 5 p.m. If you've been on a cruise and gone to 15 different islands, you
haven't been to the
Wetty: When I have a client going on a
Terrero: We did some research that showed agents are
overwhelmingly aware that their clients will need a passport for
Shahenshah: It's a good thing. Who wants to stand
behind the person who whips out the birth certificate? It takes forever. [Also,
if a client] who has not been anywhere for X number of years because they
didn't have a passport gets one now they feel they can go to
Bloch: It's a situation that is a long time coming in
this country. Only five percent of the population has a passport. In
Bullock: We have launched some initiatives on our
own; we have direct linkage from our web site to the
Black: This is a situation in which adversity binds
Crabill: It is absolutely a concern. Eventually [people will get passports], but for now they won't need one for Mexico, so why not try Cancun or why not go to Disney World or somewhere domestic? The thing is that passports now are more expensive than if they had gotten one five years ago.
Terrero: Our research shows that agents were evenly
split on whether clients were interested in
Bullock: There are some very fine hotels there. It's going to be a huge destination.