What is your key strategy for this year, and why?
We were very fortunate to be able to have had such a successful year in 2016, so shortly after the merger. Our strategy this year is one of strengthening the foundations of relationships with both our travel agency partners as well as our hotel / ground partners. We can keep the momentum going only by nurturing these relationships.
What are your newest destinations or products in the marketplace, and why have you decided to launch them now?
Decisions for new products are made as the airline expands its footprint to new destinations. Due to our extensive behind-the-scenes network, AAV can provide a package product in any American Airlines market. This year, of course, Cuba was a new destination that launched with great fanfare. Packages to Cuba are now available on AAV. We also launched daily air service to Bullhead City, AZ (IFP), which is the airport that serves Laughlin, Nevada, so now we offer packages to Laughlin.
Can you take us behind the scenes? How do you determine which new destinations to go into next?
Because we follow the airline’s lead and we already service anywhere American Airlines flies, the decision to add a destination is something that we do automatically when AA announces a new destination.
Once you decide to go into a new place, what do you do to create a product that’s ready for today’s consumer? How do you determine hotels and local operators?
Research is done through a variety of means, including discussion with the airline, local convention and visitors’ bureaus and colleagues, friends and family, who may have visited the destination. But our most important learning tool is to visit a destination in person. Gaining the understanding of how the tourism logistics work in a destination only comes from getting feet on the ground. During these visits, our very experienced staff meets with hoteliers / ground operators, airline employees and actually does things our customer will do. The checklist for new destination product is extensive. To make things slightly easier, our customer data is pretty robust, so we already know what types of accommodations and ground experiences we should concentrate on.
Are there any key challenges this year for your business?
Not really. As with everyone in our business, we hope for winters that bring just enough snow to drive people to warm locations, and summers that bring just enough rain to keep things lush and green.
Any unique opportunities in light of domestic or global happenings?
We actually have some unique opportunities that have presented themselves to us this year because of new demand for luxury. Demand for five-star hotel stays or ultra-upgraded hotel stays is stronger than what we have seen in the last few years. We are working to make sure that we include more of this product in our offerings. We are also excited to be able to service this particular client with the introduction of AA’s premium economy cabin later this year.
What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2017?
The travel community continues to be a very important outlet for us. We are happy to give them tools not available to direct consumers, such as the 24-hour hold and low deposits/installment payments. Pairing these tools with their product knowledge and firsthand travel expertise makes the travel agent a sure bet over consumers booking directly. AAV is constantly evaluating what enhancements we can make for the travel agency community and we hope to have some new announcements coming very soon.