|From left to right, Greg Bernd, co-president of Classic Vacations; Dan Mahar, CEO of Tauck; Ian Swain, president and owner of Swain Tours; Scott Wiseman, president of Abercrombie and Kent USA and Stephen McGillivray, chief marketing officer for the Travel Leaders Group|
During our exclusive coverage of the 13th annual Luxury Travel Expo at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Travel Agent sat in on a panel discussion of tour operators, who shared the latest trends, challenges and opportunities for 2011, 2012 and beyond.
The panelists for the session, titled "Handling Challenge and Change: Tour Executives Outline Tends and Opportunities for 2012 and Beyond," included Greg Bernd, co-president of Classic Vacations; Dan Mahar, CEO of Tauck; Ian Swain, president and owner of Swain Tours and Scott Wiseman, president of Abercrombie and Kent USA. It was moderated by Stephen McGillivray, chief marketing officer for the Travel Leaders Group.
"When we look around the world, whether it be geopolitical or natural disaster, the question is how do we remain relevant," Wiseman says. "When there is one incident in a small part of the country, we all know that is doesn't affect the entire destination. Do you ignore that destination? Having offices on the ground is very important in dealing with these challenges. For example, in Egypt, we have over a 430-person office. We rely on them. We call them and ask if what we are seeing on CNN is the same as what they are seeing. Communication is key."
Bernd says rising airplane fuel costs was his company's biggest challenge in 2011 and offering air credit is the best way to combat that obstacle.
"Fuel costs, especially to Hawaii, was the biggest challenge we were dealing with this year," he says. "We were dealing with air fairest Hawaii that were over $1,000 from the west coast. We came up with a promotion that had air credit for $500 a room. So, we added some added values into the equation."
Bernd also went on to discucss the challenges facing Mexico and why he thought the country may have weathered the storm and could be bouncing back very soon.
"Mexico has been a real challenge for us with all the negative press," he says. "It's bounced back for the last three months, but that's really because there hasn't been any real negative press for the last three months. However, I personally feel that Mexico is back. It will still have challenges to face moving forward, but its back. I really feel like the infrastructure there and service level there are better than they've ever been before. I encourage all of you to pitch this destination to your clients."
Swain pointed to cheaper cruise as both a challenge and a positive. People are taking more and more cruises for cheaper than they have in previous years, but they are also getting a quick taste of of these destinations, inspiring them to come back and stay longer at these places.
"It's very inexpensive to send someone on a cruise lately," Swain says. "Basically when people go on a cruise, whether its to New Zealand or Australia, they are going to see a city for perhaps a half hour. The good thing is they get a little interest and then they may come to us when they want to take a full vacation to one of these destinations. So, it's become a positive as well as a negative."
"The biggest tip I can give you is making sure you have several products to offer, so when one product takes a hit, you have another to fall back on," says Mahar. "They may not go to this country, but they may want go to another destination you have to offer. Innovation is key. Whatever we can do to simplify things for people, do it. There is so much beyond what you can control and so many things that you can control."
And as far as trends for 2011 and beyond?
"Fortunately, Australia is becoming a very hot destination," says Swain. "Over the last couple of years, luxury opportunities in Australia have really developed. More people are spending more money on experiences. Multigenerational families are also very hot. They are traveling in groups of 20-30 people."
Mahar pointed to a customer's need for exceptional experiences and more values.
"People are looking for two things: high quality and value," says Mahar. "You should be pushing both of those."
"One destination that is hot for us is our is our Europe product, which is up 25 percent," says Bernd. "We are getting a lot more groups requests and destination weddings are at a rate like we've never sense before. When I was in Mexico, every day there was two to three weddings on the beach."
Wiseman pointed to solo travel as an increasing trend for the immediate future.
"A major trend is solo travel," says Wiseman. "They are also shopping online. They will book with you, but they still get their content online. We launched 'The World of Abercrombie and Kent" for the iPad to accommodate these type of clients. They are shopping on iPads and mobile phones."