While overall bookings are down year-over-year, a higher number of Travel Leaders member agents—59.5 percent versus 51.1 percent in 2008— are expressing greater optimism on their business outlook than one year ago, a new survey of 452 Travel Leaders agents shows. The survey also revealed preferences in U.S. domestic and international destinations and how leisure and business travelers are saving travel dollars.
“It could be that we’re seeing the light at the end of this long dark economic tunnel as more Travel Leaders are expressing optimism on their business outlook than just one year ago,” noted Roger E. Block, president of Travel Leaders Franchise Group, on the year over year increase to 59.5 percent from 51.1 percent.
“While overall bookings are down year-over-year, recent analyses by Piper Jaffray and Citibank suggest the travel industry as a whole may have bottomed out,” Block said. The in-depth survey compares agents views in July 28-August 19, 2008 to August 4-28, 2009.
Other noteworthy results from Travel Leaders seventh annual Fall Travel Trends Survey show a tightening of booking windows. For domestic travel, 61.6 percent of travelers are making U.S. travel reservations four weeks or less from date of departure. For travel outside of the U.S., 45.8 percent of international travelers are making reservations eight or more weeks prior to their date of departure.
Travel cutbacks are also apparent, as 87.4 percent of those polled indicated that clients were cutting back on some aspect of their travel while 57.2 percent indicated clients are shortening the length of their trip(s) with a majority citing “two days” as the average number being cut. When asked the percentage of clients trading down (whether on accommodations, class of airline seat, status of ground transportation, etc), 18.7 percent indicated that their clients would rather shorten the length of travel than trade down.
Business Travelers Seek Economies
For agents with business travelers making up 50 percent or more of their clients, the top strategies business travel clients are incorporating to contain costs and maintain budgets are varied, as seen below.
* 70.1 percent are enforcing corporate travel policies
* 66.9 percent are taking fewer trips
* 56.1 percent are flying coach class rather than business or first class
* 47.1 percent are driving instead of flying, when possible
* 45.9 percent are enforcing negotiated programs
* 38.9 percent are making advanced bookings of at least 14 days
* 38.9 percent are routing for lower airfare
* 35.7 percent are shortening trips
* 31.9 percent are trading down on accommodations
* 30.6 percent are combining trips
Leisure Agents Save For Leisure
For those indicating leisure travelers make up 50 percent or more of their clients, Travel Leaders experts indicated they’ve been using a variety of tactics to help their clients continue to travel and save money in the process, as seen below.
* 79.4 percent are using bundled packages (including any all of the following: air, car, hotel, tour, cruise)
* 78.5 percent are finding alternative travel dates/times
* 73.2 percent use known and trusted suppliers
* 61.7 percent are going on cruise vacations
* 61.1 percent are using air consolidators
* 19.1 percent are using "lay-away progrmas"
Travel Leaders also indicate their leisure clients are saving money by staying at all-inclusives (69.9 percent), using frequent flyer miles (64.1 percent); being flexible with dates (62 percent); booking only if there is a promotion/deal (54.9 percent); and shortening trips or vacations (51.5 percent).
Travel Leaders owners’, managers’ and agents’ personal outlook on their business for the remainder of 2009 remains varied compared to 2008.
* 12.2 percent are very optimistic
* 38.6 percent are fairly optimistic
* 29,9 percent are neither optimistic nor pessimistic
* 16.1 percent are very pessimistic
When asked to compare overall 2009 travel bookings so far to 2008 bookings at this time last year, 9.4 percent said they’re higher, 11.1 percent said they’re about even, and 79.4 percent said they’re lower.
Travel Leaders' survey of the top-booked destinations, as well as key business and leisure travel trends, reveals that Las Vegas and Caribbean cruising have maintained the top spots and that New York City landed in top three while London came back to the top 10.
The survey also reveals that it is hard, if not nearly impossible, to de-throne the wildly popular domestic and international travel options offered by Las Vegas and Caribbean cruising even in a tough economic year. With the exchange rate more favorable than at this time in 2008, London has seen a resurgence in its popularity among international destinations while Chicago and Washington D.C. continue to move up in the rankings domestically.
Spurred in part by more attractive hotel rates, New York City supplanted two popular Hawaiian destinations to grab the third spot in the fall survey. Also, an upward trend continues in the popularity of both Chicago and Washington D.C. In the past two years, Chicago has moved up seven spots to sixth and Washington D.C. gained eight spots to land at seventh. Other notables in the domestic category included Atlanta as the 14th ranked domestic destination (a jump of 10 spots) and the debut of New England cruises at 13.
While the top five in the international destinations category held steady, the biggest surprise comes from London. A year after less favorable exchange rates played a role in its drop from the top 10, London rebounds significantly and regains its footing at six. On the European continent, Florence and the Tuscany region of Italy gained eight spots in ranking 13. Amsterdam jumped up 10 spots to eight. One of the fastest climbers this year was Hong Kong which raced from 37 in 2008 up to 22 this year.
The following lists display the top 10 domestic and international destinations for the remainder of 2009 based on actual bookings (agents were asked to name up to five top destinations they were already booking):
Domestic Destination — Percentage of Agents — 2008 Ranking
1. Las Vegas — 53.5 percent — N/A
2. Orlando — 46.5 percent — 2
3. New York — 30.3 percent — 5
4. Honolulu — 27.9 percent — 3
5. Kahului (Maui) — 21.7 percent — 4
6. Chicago — 19.7 percent — 10
7. Washington, DC — 15.3 percent — 10
8. San Francisco — 13.9 percent — 6
9. Los Angeles — 13.1 percent — 13
10. Miami/Miami Beach — 11.5 percent — 8
International Destination — Percentage of Agents — 2008 Ranking
1. Caribbean Cruise — 56.6 percent — 1
2. Cancun — 44.9 percent — 2
3. Riviera Maya, Mexico — 26.1 percent — 3
4. Mediterranean Cruise — 23.9 percent — 4
5. Rome — 20.1 percent — 5
6. London — 19.7 percent — 12
8. Montego Bay, Jamaica — 14.6 percent — 7
9. Mexico Cruise — 14.4 percent — 6
10. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic — 12.2 percent — 10