Travel Leaders Group is predicting a strong 2019 for the travel industry, and travel advisors in particular. Group CEO Ninan Chacko shared the organization’s 2019 Travel Industry Outlook at its new Broadway location, now the headquarters of its Tzell and Protravel brands.
“We’re at a Renaissance point in travel,” Chacko said. “We’re seeing a return to a new Golden Age.”
Chacko pointed to growing airlift to an ever-increasing variety of destinations, at prices that are more competitive compared to 20 or 30 years ago. That means an almost bewildering number of options for travelers, which spells opportunity for travel advisors. “Having somebody to hold your hand as you navigate these options is our business,” he said.
Travel agencies account for 30 percent of total gross bookings in the United States, according to data from Phocuswright. “We’re seeing that share of the industry that travel agencies service stay relatively constant,” Chacko said. “We’ve reached a new equilibrium.”
Overall, however, there is plenty of growth ahead for travel industries: according to that same Phocuswright survey, the U.S. travel agency market is set to grow from $112.8 billion in 2017 to $127 billion in 2021.
Addressing the ongoing partial government shutdown, Chacko said, “I think the industry continues to hold strong. We’ll see where we are a week from now.” Strong macroeconomic fundamentals, including continued forecast growth for GDP, mean that the industry should still continue to grow.
In a later panel discussion, John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Network and Leisure Group, said that the company had been seeing some impact, both from the shutdown and from recent stock market volatility.
“Over the past week and a half we have seen a slowdown,” Lovell said. While Wave Season – which can start as early as November in recent years – started well, stock declines in December have caused some travelers to pull back at the start of this year. “People are starting to see their 401k statements, and it’s having an impact,” he said. “But demand always comes back.”
Zooming in on 2019, Chacko reported that 91 percent of respondents to the company’s 2019 Consumer Travel Trends Survey plan to travel the same as or more than last year in 2019. “That’s an incredible endorsement of this Renaissance era of travel,” he said.
In terms of destinations, Chacko noted that new aircraft are allowing airlines to service more long-haul routes, opening up even more travel options for clients – for example, a new route between Chicago and Auckland means that clients beyond the West Coast will have easier access to New Zealand.
One key challenge the industry will face this year is “overtourism,” which has prompted destinations such as Venice and Amsterdam to propose new taxes and fees to handle the costs imposed by the growing crowds.
Chacko said that travel advisors can help to address this issue. “We’re looking at shifting travel into lower demand periods, or shifting it away to less obvious destinations,” he said. For example, advisors could look at suggesting clients book during off-peak periods, or, for a client interested in a Venice vacation, look to other destinations in the Vento region of Italy – cities that have their own historic canal networks, but with fewer crowds.