- How to Sell To Indian Operators
- The World According to Emirates Air
- Receptives and Hoteliers—They Just Don’t Understand Each Other
- Did the NAJ Camera See You at the Summit?
How to Sell to the India Market: “Every tour operator has America on his mind.”
A willing and eager group of delegates seemed to lean on every sentence that came from Prabha “Pabs” Raghava, CEO of Tours Limited, an Atlanta-based receptive tour operator who brings thousands of Indians to the USA each year and whose remarks at NAJ’s recent RTO Summit in Orlando generated numerous queries during the question-and-answer period afterwards which ran about as half as long her prepared presentation itself, and, taken collectively, provided delegates with some important points on courting travelers from India, now the ninth largest overseas source market for inbound tourism to the USA. They included the following:
—Where do her itineraries take people? Both the familiar and the not-so-familiar. Most groups want to see attractions such as the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the monuments in Washington, D.C., and Niagara Falls, but the numbers who want to see second-tier destinations and attractions, such as Hershey Park and sites in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, are growing.
—Adventure travel? Indian travelers “are not into adventure,” eschewing, for the most part, activities such as high impact hiking, zip lining or rafting the rapids—“although NatIonal Parks are coming along …”
—Technical groups enjoy packages that include visits to the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, where she has them tour the facilities of Apple and Google, as well as the campuses of such universities as UCLA and the University of Southern California—both of which have a large number of students from India.
—“Indians are very proud of their travel accomplishments … and they are interested in certifications.” That is, they like a visit to a campus or technical facility that will recognize what they have experienced, learned or accomplished with a certificate.
—Food? ”They are very particular about what they eat” and when they eat. “Once a day, they must have an Indian meal. That makes a huge difference.” Most prefer an evening meal featuring Indian cuisine. “In the nighttime, they need Indian fuel. That energizes them for the next day.”
—Shopping? “They are big into shopping. They are very proud to buy a lot of things for a lot of people back home.”
—How they travel—with whom—is changing somewhat. “Van tours” are increasing. That is, groups of 7 or 8 people (families and/or extended families) like to have one of their own as driver and like to go around the country.
—Advice on how to get their business. “Give us the opportunity to come in and grow the market. Give us a favorable rate in the first visit … Once they get to know your product, they will pay more” on return trips. Also, “think about the food” and “think outside the box.”
—Key market segments for her company (in order): leisure, corporate, MICE, school and student groups, and then FIT.
—Key market segments, continued: “There has been a tremendous increase in MICE groups … we’re going to be huge on MICE in 2016 and beyond.”
—Good example of how to treat a MICE group. Earlier this year, she had a MICE group from Microsoft India. Upon their arrival at Universal Studios, members of the group were greeted by a look-alike President Barack Obama—complete with a security detail—who shook hands with each member of the group and posed for photos with them.
—Thoughts on the future. The key will be how to accommodate repeat travelers to the USA. What will we do, you do, to bring travelers to second-tier destinations? There is no doubt about the desire of Indians to visit the United States or tour operators to sell the destination: “America is the last place, the ultimate place, to visit. It is in the mind of every tour operator.”
The World According to Emirates
Eighty percent of the world’s population is within an eight-hour flight of Dubai, Bruce Beckman, senior sales executive for Emirates airlines who is based in Orlando, told delegates to NAJ’s recent RTO Summit in Orlando.
Beckman’s presentation reinforced the argument that the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—there are seven of them clustered near the southern tip of the Persian Gulf—have become an important center for East-West connections in both commerce and tourism. “The point of connection for international travel used to be Europe,” he observed, emphasizing the contention that, more and more, that place is the Middle East.
While Beckman did not make any particular case for the role of Emirates in this new reality, he did not have to. Emirates, now the world’s largest international carrier, has more wide-bodied aircraft than any other carrier, and has a number of the longest non-stop flights of any airline. Reinforcing the notion—the singular importance of the Middle East as a point of connection for long-haul travel—is the fact that, just 80 miles from Dubai International Airport, which is the home base of Emirates, is Abu Dhabi International Airport , which is the home base of the other major carrier located in the Middle East, Etihad Airways. (And bordering the UAE is Qatar, home base of another major international carrier from the Middle East—Qatar Airways.)
Abu Dhabi’s is just one of 13 international airports that has a U.S. Customs and Borders Protection (CBP) pre-clearance facility. Connecting passengers going to the U.S. use the facility and then land in the U.S. in the same fashion that a domestic passenger arrives at an American airport. Dubai, meanwhile, is one of a small number of international airports under consideration by CBP for a future pre-clearance facility, but such a designation is not likely to come any time soon. The problem is that Dubai’s international airport has open terminals with common space, whereas a CBP facility requires a closed, seamless connection from arrival (as it does at Abu Dhabi) to the U.S. gates.
What helps make Emirates such a major player internationally is its financial freedom. It was founded (in 1983) and is supported by Dubai’s royal family. It does not belong to any international airline alliance, so, explained Beckman, it has the flexibility to pursue routes and grow as it sees fit. (Etihad, established just 12 years ago by royal decree, also has no problems with financial backing.)
Some U.S. suppliers, particular those seeking to sell to Asian markets—especially India—have found that the three Middle East-based international carriers (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar) offer connecting routes and aircraft suited to long-haul travelers, including large groups, that are still at the core of the inbound tourism market.
Beckman, whose background includes tenures at United Airlines and China Airlines, and is accustomed to working in a multinational environment, pointed to this as a reason for the success of Emirates. Its staff, he said, represents “more countries than there are in the UN.”
The Bottom Line: Noting that international tourism marketing is still a business that requires person-to-person and face-to-face contact, Beckman urged delegates to the RTO Summit to take part in sales missions and trade shows in the Middle East. “If you don’t go over there in person, you’re missing out,” he said, adding, “it’s about relationships.” To those who might feel unease about travel to the region, he noted, “As uncomfortable as you are going there … it’s just as uncomfortable for them coming here.”
The potential is great, he stressed, reminding delegates that the travel budgets of travelers from the Middle East are not constrained by shifts in the value of the dollar or the size of a travel party. Because of the financial resources of the traveling population of the UAE and other Gulf nations, “the bottom line is that they fly wherever they want to fly.”
Receptives and Hoteliers—They Just Don’t Understand Each Other
To hear them talk about it in polite language and civil tones, there is really not any problem at all. They simply agree to disagree. “They” are receptive tour operators and nemesis-partner-collaborator—the hotelier. And at NAJ’s recent RTO Summit in Orlando, they tried addressing the subject—“What Prevents Hotels from Working with Receptives?”—in a panel discussion that included Shannon W. Derrick, senior director, global sales, Wyndham Hotel Group and Peter van Berkel, president of Travalco, a well-known receptive tour operator who is based in Hallandale, Fla. NAJ’s chief advisor, Jeff Hentz, moderated the discussion.
As Derrick put it, “We need to educate the operator so they can understand (our) business.” Receptives, he added, should learn “about the value, the length and the frequency of their business and what they (hotels) can gain from it.”
As van Berkel put it, “We have to educate the hotels.” He specifically pointed to dynamic pricing as a culprit that makes the relationship between receptive and hotelier difficult: “Keep in mind … that hotels that only work in the dynamic (pricing) way are limiting their ability to have their product included in our packages.”
Derrick, on the other hand, identified the practice of receptive tour operators dealing with individual hotels as a problem area. He suggested that receptives go through his company’s global sales team, which deals with international operators worldwide, thus enabling the corporate sales staff to identify individual market needs and better capture their business.
He also noted that Wyndham adds new hotels to its inventory at a rate of four or five a day, offloading a smaller number every day. Its global sales office has the capability of directing business to destinations that were not in a receptive operator’s posted inventory—matching properties to client needs.
The latter point seemed to bridge part of the difference between Derrick and van Berkel, with van Berkel indicating that receptive tour operators could probably do a better job at convincing hotels that their group business is not low-yield. “The U.S. can never sell itself as cheap … (it) is a long-haul destination, a luxury destination.”
A case in point, he related, has to do with the current value of the euro—currently at an all-time low against the U.S. dollar. The luxury market, van Berkel suggested, has kept coming to the United States.
Another way to tell you about what happened at NAJ’s recent RTO Summit held recently at the Wyndham Grand Orlando is to show you who took part in it. Here is a sampler in a dozen images:
Did the NAJ Camera See You at the Summit?
- Greeting delegates at the RTO Summer are Betsy Cooper, project manager for the NAJ Group (left); and Sofia Williamsson, the NAJ Group’s chief operating officer.
- Jesus Garcia, manager, international sales and marketing, Atlanta CVB, listens to a presentation on current travel market conditions in Brazil.
- Taking in an update on the potential of the inbound market from India are: Shannon Derrick, senior director, global sales, Wyndham Hotel Group; and Nancy Jepson, director, global sales, Wyndham Hotel Group.
- Eduardo Bittencourt, managing director, CH Travel, an Orlando-based receptive tour operator, explains why delegates should not give up on the market from Brazil.
- A portion of the more than 125 delegates—both buyers and suppliers—who showed up for the RTO Summit in Orlando.
- Malcolm Smith, senior vice president of business development and general manager of IPW for US Travel, is among those following a discussion on the relationship between hoteliers and receptive tour operators.
- Walking delegates through the NAJ website, TheTourOperator.com (soon to be re-branded as TourOperatorLand.com) during the RTO Summit luncheon on Monday is Betsy Cooper, the NAJ Group’s project director.
- Uri Argov, founder and CEO of Tourico Holidays, responds to a question from the audience on the impact of the strong U.S. dollar (vs. the Euro) on inbound tourism to the USA from Europe.
- Multimedia notes: Adrienne Chiron (left) CEO of Travel Trackers, a Miami-based receptive tour operator, takes notes and checks messages on her smartphone, while Renee Ambos, sales manager for Fun Spot America, a popular Kissimmee-Orlando theme park collection, uses a college-ruled notebook for backup.
- A familiar presence at the RTO Summit series of conferences, Sally Davis Berry, tourism sales and marketing manager at the Corning Museum of Glass, follows the program as she awaits a segment in which she will make a presentation on her company’s product.
- Waiting to respond to a question during a discussion of working the MICE and leisure markets at US Travel’s IPW trade show are this group of panelists (left-right): Tara Hippensteel, national sales director, tour and travel, North America, for Hard Rock International; Janice Bennett, director of travel industry & group sales, Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, World Yacht & North River Lobster Company; Nancy Hahn Bono, senior global development director, Visit Orlando; and Estelle Miller, director of tourism development, Hornblower Cruises and Events.
- Jay Santos, vice president of travel industry sales and marketing, Visit Orlando, explained to delegates that, in promoting to the Brazilian travel market, his organization made a decision to focus on class “A” and “B” upscale consumers who, unlike middle-class “C” consumers, have been able to travel despite a weakened national economy and a declining Brazilian Real vs. the U.S. dollar.
(More coverage of the RTO Summit in Orlando to come in the next issue of the Inbound Report.)