What is your key strategy for this year, and why?
Our key strategy is to strengthen even further our commitment to the travel agent community. We’re really upping the game in terms of our sales and BDM support for West Coast agents, supported by the return of Susan Creighton back into the fold. We plan to continue to focus on sun-and-sand destinations and high-end all-inclusive resorts. We are aggressively positioning ourselves on the forefront of filling rooms at the new properties rolling out, even before their grand openings.
What are your newest destinations or products?
We’ve launched Tibet in conjunction with Wendy Wu Tours, which is an exciting way to mark the five-year anniversary of our partnership.
The Costa Mujeres/Playa Mujeres region north of Cancun is developing very quickly, with hundreds of new hotel rooms. Several thousand more are coming online in the next few years as well, so you can expect us to emphasize this sub-destination. We’re also growing our footprint in Central and South America, and are always considering destinations our customers demand.
How do you determine which new destinations to go into next?
With our Asia product, we like to offer our agents the same broad range of destinations that our partners offer. The new [Wendy Wu] president, Leslie Peden, is as eager to reinforce our partnership moving forward as I am, and so we were proud to support and launch this destination right alongside them.
For Central America, we’ve always had business to Costa Rica, both for eco-tourism and beach vacations, and demand for the destination as well as Panama, Belize and Nicaragua are increasing exponentially. Central America has the potential to be the next Caribbean, so we’re laying the groundwork to help agents get a competitive edge before the region is on everyone’s “must-see” list. Cartagena, Colombia, is also on the U.S. customer’s radar and we’re working to launch this destination in the next few months.
When you go into a new place, what do you do to create product?
This is an extensive process which includes site inspections from TI staff to ensure facilities and operations are up to the standards [of the] TI portfolio. We continue to conduct periodic site inspections of properties that have already made the cut to ensure that service and experience levels remain high.
Are there any key challenges this year for your business?
A key challenge is the demographic shift as Millennials become a larger percentage of the market. These may be travelers who grew up in the Expedia age of online booking, but research has shown they are leaning more strongly toward using travel agents. They demand authenticity in their travel, value for their investment, bespoke opportunities … and everything has to be Instagram-worthy. Because of this, we need to help agents master social media ... and we continue to build our EducaTIon First resources to ensure they have insider tips on the types of vacations and all-inclusive resorts this group is looking for. Through training and programs like our new Travel Impressions University, we can help our travel partners make the right recommendations for this new sector.
Any unique opportunities in light of domestic or global happenings?
With more rooms coming online, hotels in markets such as South Florida, as well as Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean are facing stiff competition. This is an opportunity for travel agents as hotel groups become generous with incentives. With the value of the Euro, traveling abroad is increasingly accessible. Millennials are taking advantage of that, along with families who want to take culture-focused vacations.
What is your focus on the U.S. travel agent for 2017?
Our focus is helping travel agents reach their true earnings potential. [Our strategy] includes providing access to unique, exclusive promotions and incentives to increase sales and maximize revenue, as well as continually expanding upon our portfolio offerings.