Travel Leaders’ Agents Optimistic Despite Slump in Bookings

“What we have witnessed with the U.S. economy is unlike anything we have seen in decades, and it is having a major impact on the traveling public and the travel industry,” stated Roger E. Block, president of Travel Leaders, at the release of the group's 2009 annual Travel Trends Survey. Travel Leaders received 547 responses to the survey conducted November 20 through December 15, 2008, and said that the U.S. recession is playing a significant factor in various trends.

“Despite the daily drumbeat of negative news on our economy and the general perception that everyone is staying home, it speaks volumes that when asked ‘What are the top ways leisure travelers are saving money?’ the five most frequent responses from our experts were (in order): being flexible with dates, staying at all-inclusives, using frequent flyer miles, taking a cruise, and booking only if there is a promotion or deal," Block said. “Our Travel Leaders experts are counseling clients on creative ways to squeeze every ounce of value out of each travel experience."

Nearly 41 percent of those surveyed  indicated leisure travelers are saving money by shortening their trips— 22.1 percent by driving instead of flying, and 21.6 percent by checking into different tier accommodations than before.

“The added benefits of (consumers) working with a credible travel expert means taking advantage of trusted, reputable supplier partners and finding available and affordable air tickets by using air consolidators— which were the top two strategies our experts are deploying to assist clients,” Block said. "Just like the housing industry and the stock market, it is now a buyers’ market when it comes to travel. Hopefully our survey results, particularly our Top Destinations, along with the incomparable incentives and promotions available will spur the public to travel.”

Travel Leaders agent members indicated a slide in comparable year-over-year bookings, with over 80 percent either optimistic or neutral about the year ahead. The survey includes responses from 547 Travel Leaders owners, managers and frontline travel experts throughout the U.S.—equivalent to more than one completed survey for every single location in the network.

Travel Leaders said, as anticipated, that a number of travel trends from the last several years have shifted including when clients are booking (early versus late). Timing, in turn, is having an effect on comparable bookings in 2008. Travel Leaders experts indicate that 47.9 percent of clients are booking “somewhat” to “much” later than the previous year. The economy and job security, along with promotions, discounts and last minute deals, all play a role.

Travel Leaders also noted a shift in the number of days clients are traveling. Only 52 percent of respondents indicated their clients are cutting back on the length of their trip(s) and, of those, a majority indicated their clients are cutting two days off their travel itineraries. That is particularly evident when looking at the average length of leisure trips and the decline in eight- to 10- and 10- to 14-day trips.

European River Cruises, Mexico and Las Vegas Top Trips

In the same survey, Las Vegas maintained a slight edge over Orlando, FL for the top spot domestically for U.S. travelers. The value of cruising, particularly in the Caribbean, continues to outpace other international “destinations” to retain the top spot as the most popular.

Chicago soared 10 spots from 2008’s annual survey to land at #10 in 2009. Being the hometown of President-elect Barack Obama may have stimulated renewed interest in the Windy City, Travel Leaders said. Visitors to Chicago in 2009 can experience “The Aztec World” exclusively at the Field Museum or the world premiere of “Harry Potter: The Exhibition” at the Science and Industry Museum, as well as festivities associated with the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.

When asked to select the top three best values for travel outside of the U.S., Mexico ranked #1, garnering 84.3 percent of votes, followed by cruising (61.1 percent) and the Caribbean (43.9 percent). This underscores why three out of the top five and five out of the top 10 international destinations are in Mexico: Cancun (#2), Riviera Maya (#3), Puerto Vallarta (#4), Cabo San Lucas/Los Cabos (#9) and cruising Mexico (#10).

Travel Leaders also reports a record-setting jump in European river cruises. Travel Leaders said their experts have touted for years that cruising in Europe is a tremendous value and exciting way to see a number of European destinations with minimal impact from currency fluctuations.

Clients are now clamoring for the more intimate river cruises in Europe as indicated by the astonishing 40 spot jump in this year’s survey from #66 to #17.  In addition, Mediterranean cruising continues to be extremely popular— holding steady at #5 on the list of top international destinations.

The growing interest and prominence of China on the world’s stage, showcased by the 2008 Olympics, is evident with the continuing upward trend of both Beijing and Shanghai. Beijing gained two more spots, moving up to #16, while Shanghai jumped 11 spots to land in 19th place.


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