Travel Experts: Long Leads, Value of Advisor Driving Business for 2023

Host agency Travel Experts is forecasting 2023 to be a banner year—even compared to 2022, which set records in several travel industry categories (including land bookings, air travel sales and for some destinations). Most of this predicted success, Travel Experts expects, will be due to the luxury and affluent markets, which began traveling again as COVID restrictions began to wane in 2022.

“Our affiliated travel advisors are telling us that more trips are being planned by their clients and at significantly more advanced booking times,” said Sharon Fake, executive director for Travel Experts. She added: “Pent-up demand continues to push the market and … we are [also] seeing a new-found appreciation of travel advisors by the public with many more coming to them to book their vacations and not flinching at paying fees to use their services.”

Long Leads, New Appreciation

Holly Lombardo from Lombardo Travel, said that she has never seen such lead times in her 33 years of selling travel. “Last year clients saw the ill effects of not planning in advance, and they have vowed to not go through that experience again,” she said. Lombardo added that the number of trips being planned for each client has also jumped up. “They are doing family getaways, romantic weekends, birthday celebrations with friends and multi-generational travel has really ticked up dramatically.”

Separately, she noted that her cruise bookings have also skyrocketed in the last six months.

Eileen Anderson of Journeys Afar has had 2023 bookings under deposit since June of this year. Once they returned from their extended 2022 trips, clients have turned around and immediately began planning future trips, she says.

Another trend ID’d by Anderson: “Raising my planning fees has not been a deterrent as clients consistently express appreciation for having a travel pro take charge of logistics, so they can better enjoy the anticipation and experience.”

Similarly, Teresa McCombs, TP McCombs Travel, said, “I think clients have a new appreciation for the role of a travel advisor. I have many new clients that have said they will never book a trip without my help again. They have learned that not only can I plan a much better trip than they can do on their own, but I can get them a much better value for their money.”

Noting that 2023 is shaping up to be the best year in her 35-year career, Maureen "Mo" Smith of Travel Smith, said, “Couples are planning their first safari or that long-awaited Australia/New Zealand trip. Older couples are revisiting the romance of their past in Paris or Tuscany—this time with a way bigger budget. Many clients, having lost two years, want to play ‘catch-up’ as they fear running out of time to do the active things while they still can.”

She noted, like Lombardo, that river cruises in Europe are strong for 2023 while older couples are taking their kids and grandkids on big-ship cruises or to all-inclusive resorts.

Smith added that there has been “virtually no client pushback” on her Engagement Agreement & Retainer Fee policy, which she created in 2021. Clients “realize the value we bring and are grateful to be accepted into the program. I am finding it easier to turn away business that is non-productive, leaving much more time for the clients I enjoy.”

Hot Destinations

As far as where clients are traveling, Europe continues to be the hot international spot, according to 96 percent of advisors responding. Italy remains the No. 1 request, while Hawaii tops domestic destinations, according to 94 percent of those responding.

Emily Webber of We Travel Luxe has perhaps found the reason why Italy and Hawaii are doing so well. “Sicily has been huge for me. Everyone wants to go to Taormina because they have seen ‘The White Lotus,’” she says. “It’s all Italy and Hawaii” (which were featured in Season 2 and Season 1 of the HBO show, respectively).

Said Lombardo: “Europe remains my hottest destination, in part due to having been held back due to COVID but also because the dollar remains strong and there is such a value. Last year, Italy was my top destination and I suspect it will be again next year.”

Similarly, Anderson says Europe continues to be strong, with rail vacations in Scotland, continental Europe and even Canada trending. The “hot spot,” though: “Italy, Italy, Italy.” She also noted she’s seeing “an uptick in expeditions, such as Egypt.”

Beyond Europe, Linda de Sosa of Bucketlist Travel Consulting said, clients are looking at South America. Her No. 1 international destination is South America, specifically Patagonia and Peru. Her top domestic spot is Hawaii. Japan, too, is generating a lot of interest since reopening, according to Carrie Mahoney, Carrie Mahoney Travel. A bit closer to home, she says Costa Rica and Belize are “blazing hot.”

“My requests for 2023 are all over the place: from Europe, to Thailand, to Australia/New Zealand to Africa,” said Becky Lukovic, Bella Travel Planning. “People are wanting to plan those epic trips they’ve been dreaming about. Domestically, Hawaii is still the top of everyone’s list, as is Napa.”

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