In 2010, visitors will flock to the Bavarian village of Oberammergau to see the renowned Passion Play, held once every 10 years
While most tour operators haven’t finalized their Europe programs for 2010 yet, recent booking trends are changing the way people will travel across the pond next year.
On the Rise?
The biggest emerging trend, operators agree, is waiting till the last minute to book trips. “People used to book six months in advance, then four months…Now they book three weeks in advance,” says Ady Gelber, president and CEO of IsramWorld. “It’s a very impressive booking trend, but it drives me crazy because the figures look different from month to month.”
“Even as we see more last-minute bookings to Europe for 2009, we are also seeing an upswing in 2010 bookings,” says Trafalgar Tours President Paul Wiseman, adding that the company is currently up almost 10 percent for future bookings compared with last year. “Many travelers who chose not to travel in 2008 or 2009 will be traveling in 2010 as the overall economic situation improves globally.” Wiseman believes that the company will see growth from 10 to 20 percent next year—“if not more.”
Gelber agrees, adding, “The first half of the year will be same, and we’ll see some improvement of 10 or 15 percent in the second half of the year.” Steve Born, vice president of marketing, Globus, sees an even brighter future. “Early indicators are already showing a gain of over 25 percent in year-over-year advance sales and deposits. Great pricing, good offers and—best of all—a resurgence in use of a travel agent to guide the way will put Europe back on the upswing in 2010,” he says.
Oberammergau’s Passion Play
For almost 400 years, the Bavarian village of Oberammergau has presented a medieval-style Passion Play once every decade. Every 10 years, from mid-May to early October, pilgrims arrive to witness the performance (about 2,000 townspeople take part in the play)—but with the recent trend of last-minute bookings, many tour operators still have space available on tours that include Oberammergau. Acknowledging that sales are slower than they were in 2000, the official Passion Play Office has extended tour operators’ payment-in-full deadline from September 30 to January 31 and relaxed cancellation charges.
“The market for Oberammergau has been severely affected by the global financial crisis and the subsequent crisis of consumer confidence,” acknowledges Trafalgar’s Wiseman. “As with the main European market, late bookings are the norm; so what we will see with Oberammergau is a very late booking pattern, which, for a product normally with an 18-month window, now means six to 10 months. So, sales will be hot in the months to come.” Trafalgar has 14 tours featuring one- or two-night stays in the village and tickets to the Passion Play.
Tauck CEO Dan Mahar has a different perspective. Even though he calls the early bookings for Oberammergau trips “very strong,” he says it’s “not surprising” that they still have space available, especially since the company’s 2010 Europe programs haven’t been formally announced. In addition, he believes that selling out their packages far in advance would not help interested travelers. “If we hadn’t [made] adequate Oberammergau reservations [i.e., if we were already sold-out], we’d be doing a serious disservice to our agents and our guests, and to our own business.”
Packages and Deals
To deal with new consumer patterns, Trafalgar has created a program of new “last-minute deals”: Ten tours published every two weeks with a limited-time 10 percent discount. Clients who book and pay in advance can save up to 10 percent. Returning guests or bookings for five or more get a
5 percent discount. To encourage families to travel, children aged five to 17 get a 10 percent discount. Trafalgar’s 2010 specials include a $99 Companion Air Promotion for fall, winter and spring European tours (from November to April 2010), as well as a 10 percent Early Payment Discount on summer Europe tours when guests book and pay in full by September 30. “Value-driven destinations such as Spain and Greece have proven to be even more popular with both new and returning passengers,” says Wiseman.
Kathy Stewart, co-president of luxury operator Butterfield & Robinson, felt it was important to keep prices down wherever possible. The company capped 75 percent of its 2009 prices for 2010, including walking and biking tours of Burgundy, Puglia and Piemonte. As “[we] saw a rise in interest for trips with a wine theme,” in 2009, says Stewart, the operator floated a Wine Grand Journey to Bordeaux, Burgundy and Piemonte for 2010. There is also a revamped Provence trip that leaves busy San Remy behind and heads east onto quieter roads. “The bookings for 2010 are looking strong,” she says, “so we anticipate higher numbers than 2009.”