|Europe don’t want to miss out on the “must-see” sights like Paris’ Notre Dame.|
From volcanoes to terror alerts, it’s been an eventful year for European travel. With tourism back on the rise after a troubling 2009, Travel Agent asked several tour operators how travel to Europe has changed in the last two years, and how the recession has affected transatlantic travel.
By and large, most operators agreed, the first half of 2010 was much better than the whole of 2009. David Costabile, associate director of international product for Collette Vacations, credited the upturn to regions lowering their prices to increase business. “The euro and pound have also come down considerably to allow more competitive pricing vs. other global destinations,” he notes. The gambit worked, and while people are definitely more sensitive to pricing, “they are not necessarily looking for the lowest price, but rather the most value,” Costabile says. “Bookings have come closer-in and clients are continuing to travel with companies they trust.”
Company spokersman Tom Armstrong said Tauck has been seeing “double-digit increases in every region across Europe,” and that some bookings have exceeded 2008 levels. As for the recession’s long-term impact on travel, he wasn’t sure if anything really has changed—apart from the delay. “A lot of people who might otherwise have traveled to Europe last year either didn’t travel at all, or they stayed closer to home,” he said. “That resulted in a huge pent-up demand for Europe that was unleashed this year when the economy began showing signs of recovery.”
Jennifer Halboth, marketing director for the Globus family of brands—Globus, Cosmos, Monograms and Avalon Waterways—says Europe has made a “tremendous comeback” in 2010. She has noticed some lingering changes, however: “Bookings are closer in, as people either look for deals or just want to be more sure they can afford to go.” On the other hand, she noted the pent-up demand, “which we see playing out now, and anticipate it continuing into the 2011 selling season.”
River cruises have become one of the hottest ways of exploring numerous European cities in one trip, but even this blooming new niche felt the pinch. Guy Young, president of Uniworld, says his company’s European river cruise sales were well ahead of both 2008 and 2009. “This is a sign of not only greater confidence in the economy, but travelers’ desire for unique experiences and enrichment, and greater appreciation for river cruising…The currently favorable dollar/euro exchange rate also contributes to the value component.”
Like Costabile, Young has noticed an increased demand for value-for-money in European travel. “Consumers have started paying more attention to value, convenience and how satisfied they will return from their vacation,” he says. “While many travelers decided to simplify as a result of the recession, they sent a message confirming the growing importance of vacation as a time to relax, unwind and get together with friends and family. Greater attention is now given to the experiences one gets from travel—such as culinary, art and social wellness.”
|A station of the London Underground.|
What Do Clients Want?
Collette’s Costabile said clients are looking for more unique experiences. “They [are not] satisfied with just a city tour and then leisure time,” he says. “They want to delve into the culture of the region and truly experience the flavor.” Tauck’s Armstrong agrees, adding that clients are looking for “authenticity and insider access.”
Steve Tracas, president and CEO of Vacation.com, says the current market is very deal-driven. “Travelers are waiting for a good promotion or airfare to push them into traveling,” he said. “In terms of experiences, travelers crave authenticity more than ever. ”
Marc Kazlauskas, president of Insight Vacations, says tours help clients relax. “We are hearing from agents that escorted touring is seeing the best demand in years in 2010,” he says. “I think people are realizing that the best way to experience a destination is on an escorted tour with a tour director or traveling concierge who knows the locale, can speak the language and knows where the hidden gems are.”
Uniworld’s Young found a similar trend in river cruising. “Travelers are showing greater interest in purchasing travel products from trusted brands that deliver consistent quality and exclusive travel experiences,” he says. “Travelers expect Internet access on ships [staying in touch with family or business while on vacation], comfortable staterooms with luxury amenities, wellness [spa, massage, socializing], new dining experiences and cuisines, enriching onboard and onshore activities and [the] option to explore a port either as part of a group or on their own.”
Globus’ s Halboth sees a hybrid of different styles. “People are taking a real mix-and-match approach to personalizing their European experience,” she said. “It opens up lots of revenue potential for agents. They can cross-sell from vacation to vacation—cruise this year, tour next year—or within the same vacation.”
In early October, the State Department issued an alert to U.S. citizens about the possibility of terrorist attacks in Europe. Most tour operators, though, didn’t let the warning slow business down.
Richard Launder, president of The Travel Corporation—comprising Trafalgar, Brendan, Insight, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and more—says the advisory was not an official warning and that TravCorp will “will be vigilant and will continue to be guided by the State Department.”
Globus’ vice president, marketing Steve Born said his team is well-versed in dealing with potentially unsafe situations. “We were in Madrid in 2004; we were in Mumbai when hotels were under fire in 2008...the list goes on,” he said. “We have experienced teams on site with our travelers: travel experts who are on alert, and well-trained to execute the best plans to ensure the safety of those traveling with us.”
Kerstin Sowden, Kensington Tours’ Europe region manager, said the company has not received any calls from concerned clients. “We have local offices around the world giving us a better sense of the situation on the ground. Their sentiment about any threat seems unchanged,” she said.
Stephen McGillivray, vice president, marketing and public relations for Vacation.com, notes that while the firm did alert its members about the advisory, “the majority of European tour operators we have spoken to have told agents their tours and cruises are operating normally and as scheduled.”
“Our clients are frequent international travelers, well aware of current political concerns and the need to be vigilant no matter where in the world they may be,” says Pamela Lassers of Abercrombie & Kent. “The calls we had were from travel agents checking on their clients traveling at that time. All those currently in Europe have expressed confidence in their arrangements and are continuing with their itineraries.”
Perhaps the most confidence- inspiring response came from Judith Davis Baer, president and founder of JDB Fine Hotels & Resorts, who returned from Italy just as the alert was announced. “I saw tons of Americans who were enjoying their vacations without fear of terrorist activities,” she says. “Italian security is very vigilant these days.”