On Mideast Travel, Open Skies and the Superbowl

Have you had enough of the presidential primaries, the constant chatter of a possible pending recession and just how bitter cold it was in Green Bay when the New York Giants played the Packers in their bid to determine who would go to the Superbowl?

I thought so, and so I've decided that I'd point out a few signs that point to optimism for the travel and tourism. Just-released research by the World Travel & Tourism Council indicates that inbound international tourism will be only moderately impacted by the global credit crunch. In fact, the WTTC says to look for continued growth rates for 2008, albeit at a reduced pace. International tourism arrivals increased in 2007 by nearly 6 percent, totaling nearly 900 million tourists and marking the fourth consecutive year that arrivals' growth exceeded its long-standing trend of 4 percent.

It's important to note here that part of that growth comes from rapidly growing tourism arrivals in the Middle East region. Who could deny the growth of travel to Dubai, which seems to grow larger and more ornate than even Las Vegas?

Other signs point toward growing travel to the Mideast; in fact, the Jordan Tourism Board North America in February will host the first Jordan Travel Mart (JTM) at the King Hussein Convention Center. The event will be comprised of two days of pre-scheduled business appointments between North and South American buyers and qualified suppliers, as well as a wealth of options for pre- and post tours. The JTM says that Jordan's number-one inbound market in 2007 was in fact the North American market, with 10.5% growth from the U.S.

Meanwhile, the cruise industry is bullish on its prospects for 2008. CLIA is forecasting that 12.8 million cruise passengers will sail its member lines this year; of the total, 10.5 million will originate from North America, the rest from international markets. This year's Wave Season appears to be going well, too, with 90 percent of agents polled expecting 2008 sales to be as good or better than last year.

Neither the WTTC nor CLIA, however, are ignoring the possibility of an economic downturn. CLIA insists that the value proposition of taking a cruise will win over a consumer's decision to purchase material goods instead.

Club Med, meanwhile, whose chairman Henri Giscard d'Estaing and president and CEO, Cedric Gobilliard, who were here in Travel Agent's Manhattan offices last week, is counting on the fact that the all-inclusive model will prove to be more appealing than ever, since clients will have already paid for their vacation up front.

I would have to agree with that concept; in fact, I am wondering if a softening in the economy will finally force EP resorts to stop gouging their customers when it comes to paying for food and wine. Over the past year, I've paid upwards of $17 for glasses of wine whose labels do not rate anything near such a price. Then there are those $25 cheeseburger by the pool. To make matters worse, these were at domestic resorts (not in Europe where the euro and the pound are just crushing U.S. travelers). There's a point at which one likes the buzz of spending for luxuries in an exclusive environment, but then there is also the point at which one begins to feel foolish for being forced to throw one's money away because they're trapped in a remote location.

This sentiment doesn't affect only those who aspire to be affluent, it impacts those whose wealth runs deep, too. The truly affluent tend to stay affluent by watching what they spend and not tossing it over to a resort that wants to see how far they can go in terms of bilking the customer.

Rather than end on that sour note, let's take another look at another  "good thing" that will  happen in travel this year. The Open Skies agreement, which takes effect at the end of March, could lead to stable or even lower fares between the U.S. and Europe, according to the airline analyst, Terry Trippler. At the very least, the Open Skies agreement will lead to more choice for the customer, since it will allow carriers to add direct flights to Heathrow from Atlanta, JFK, Houston, Newark, Philadelphia, Dallas and Los Angeles. In my book, more choice is always a good thing.

Watch this space for more good signs from the industry in the coming weeks.

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