With new flights from its parent airline, Hawaii is a big focus for Southwest Vacations this year, says Director of Marketing Andrew Hendricks. The tour operator is also reporting success with its Rapid Rewards offers. Hendricks shared more on the latest from the tour operator with Travel Agent.
What new destinations have you introduced this year? What was the reason?
Hawaii was the big news for Southwest Vacations this year and is a very big focus for us. While only a portion of the announced routes are up for sale, we are still seeing great results already. Hawaii will continue to be front and center in our sales and promotions as we continue to grow awareness that Southwest now flies to Hawaii.
What are some of the newest trends you are seeing with your customers?
We are continuing to see customers respond well to Rapid Rewards offers. Southwest Airlines has such a loyal following of customers and they have been motivated by earning more Rapid Reward points by booking with Southwest Vacations as well as other offers and promotions. This is really a big opportunity for travel agents with numerous client incentives to help close sales.
How have you modified your offerings to meet these trends?
For the last year, Southwest Vacations has been running month-long initiatives offering additional points per member in order to make already compelling offers even more difficult to resist. For example, we recently offered an additional 600 Rapid Rewards points per room for every qualifying stay at select MGM Resorts in Las Vegas, and just started a promotion featuring 2,000 more points for booking vacations of five nights or longer to AMResorts in Mexico.
Within the existing destinations that you offer, what new products are available?
Unlike other operators, we specialize only in destinations serviced by Southwest Airlines and are always expanding and refining our portfolio to offer our customers the best experiences. We’re particularly excited about the recent and upcoming launches of new AMResorts properties in Curacao, St. Martin, Cancun, Akumal, Los Cabos, Nuevo Vallarta and Tulum.
What are some of the challenges on the horizon for tourism in general?
Social media has had a transformative effect on travel marketing, but it’s also demonstrated its ability to impact tourism. Although social media provides a platform for consumers to share experience and opinions, it is often fueled by a saturation of fake news or mischaracterized story angles that can quickly escalate like social media wildfire. Travelers must rethink who they trust for information while planning their vacations. Instead of relying merely on social media research or comments on an online travel forum, travel agents have been proven time and time again to be travelers’ best resource as they have access to a more credible and up-to-date information.
What are some of the destinations you’d like to go into?
That, of course, depends on Southwest Airlines’ future expansion plan. For now we will take one step at a time. We have big plans for Hawaii and we want to focus on this amazing destination this year and throughout 2020.
Any unique opportunities in light of domestic or global happenings?
Travel products and destinations have become more sophisticated in the way they can collect data, which can be extremely helpful to savvy travel agents. It’s our top priority to ensure that our website is continuously improved to make it a seamless one-stop shop with user-friendly functionality, flexibility of personalization, and integration with Southwest Airlines and other suppliers. Because of our close ties with Southwest Airlines and its Rapid Rewards program, most of our agent partners’ clients are frequent Southwest vacationers whose travel information will be collected in our system. This helps travel agents gain a much better understanding of their customers’ travel trends and preferences.
What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2019/20?
We will be focused on continuing to enhance Southwest Vacations product offering for travel agents. This will encompass several areas, including how agents are able to utilize Rapid Rewards offers and travel protection to enhance their sales strategy. Hawaii will also continue to be a major focus for us, and we’re looking at enhanced commission offers to further incentivize our agent partners.