Out of Left Field Department: And Now, Word is that Booking.com is after Hotelbeds
Just days after it was strongly suggested by Tourico Holidays founder and CEO Uri Argov that different Chinese investors were interested in acquiring Hotelbeds—the B2B bedbank unit of TUI, it is Europe’s largest tour operator—sources in Mexico have said that Booking.com, one of the largest online travel agencies (OTAs) in the world, is interested in Hotelbeds. According to one of Mexico’s travel industry news sites, preferente.com, Booking.com “is the star finalist candidate” among potential buyers.
Ever since TUI announced late last year that the bedbank component of its business was up for sale, the guessing as to which investor has the inside track has involved names from throughout the world, with the European trade press suggesting that a leading candidate in the competition is EQT, the Swedish private equity firm that has acquired the remaining Kuoni brands, including the latter’s GTA bedbank.
Kuoni’s European tour operator brands were acquired last summer by DER Touristik and, shortly thereafter, its operations in India and Hong Kong were acquired by Thomas Cook India. Its remaining units included Kuoni’s headquarters office building in Zurich, along with GTA, its large B2B bedbank and group specialist, AlliedTPro, which is based in New York City. The speculation has been rampant in the European trade press that EQT has the inside track on Hotelbeds. Then, two weeks ago, during remarks about his company’s growing presence within China, Tourico’s Argov made mention of the competition to acquire Hotelbeds, saying he “would not be surprised if it were a combination of a Chinese company and investors from another company.”
Preferente.com also introduced a new name of those apparently in the bidding for Hotelbeds: Boston-based Bain Capital, the company founded in 1984 by Bill Bain and 2012 Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney. Bain Capital owns Apple Leisure Group, a travel and resort company focused on packaged travel and hotel management in Mexico and the Caribbean.
The possibility that Booking.com is interested in Hotelbeds introduces a whole new element into the speculation over the future of the company. Booking.com is part of the Priceline Group, which, besides Priceline, includes agoda.com, KAYAK, rentalcars.com and OpenTable. Collectively The Priceline Group operates in more than 200 countries and territories in Europe, North America, South America, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa in over 40 languages.
One fact seems certain midst all of the competition: as a unit, Hotelbeds is expected to warrant at least its market value—estimated at more than $1 billion by most accounts—when sold by TUI.
TripAdvisor Partners with NAJ for RTO Summit East’s “Digital Day”
Online travel giant TripAdvisor, through its educational arm, Destination Academy with TripAdvisor (DATA), is joining the NAJ Group in sponsoring Digital Day, the first of two days of NAJ’s NAJ’s RTO Summit East May 2-3 at New York City’s Wyndham New Yorker hotel. “
“As a part of the RTO Summit program, Digital Day will provide travel industry professionals, in particular sales and marketing professionals with digital tools, techniques and tactics,” said NAJ Founder and CEO Jake Steinman, “that they can use to better market and promote their product or destination to receptive tour operators and their international clients.”
The RTO East Summit will incorporate some of TripAdvisor’s Destination Academy by TripAdvisor, (DATA) content to shape Digital Day, Steinman added, noting that a featured program element will have Steven Paganelli, manager, destinations, for TripAdvisor, will discuss just how data-driven options help international inbound travel marketers isolate targeted source countries for tactical advertising programs that are surprisingly affordable.
For complete program information on Digital Day—it will be open to tour and travel professionals at an a la carte rate; NYC & Company members receive a $395 discount. visit: http://www.rtosummit.com/rto-summit-east/rto-summit-east-supplier-fees-registration-policy/
Kerplop! That’s the Sound of a 50% Drop in Spending by Brazilians Traveling Abroad
The first, real, hard numbers that the economic crisis that has gripped Brazil for the past year has had an impact on travel to the U.S. came last week in the annual report on tourism from Visit Florida. According the report, the number of Brazilians who visited Florida last year totaled 1.47 million—down 170,000 from 1.64 million in 2014. The year-over-year decline was a little more than 10 percent. Brazil is the number three long-haul source market for international tourists for Florida. The UK and Canada are number one and two, respectively. Florida is the top state destination for Brazilians traveling to the United States.
Also, with U.S. dollar trading very high against the Brazilian real and other major global currencies, Brazilian spending on international travel fell 43.5 percent in February, compared with February 2015 according to numbers released by Brazil’s Central Bank. Spending reached $ 841 million for the month, compared with $ 1.49 billion during February 2014. The level is the lowest result in seven years, the Central Bank reported. If, on one hand the Brazilian expenses abroad fell, foreign revenues in Brazil increased by 14.97 percent in the same comparison period. The foreign revenue in the country totaled US $599 million last month, compared with $521 million in February and 2015. With these results, the deficit in the travel account was $242 million.
More Mug Shots and Selfies from Active America-China Summit, Part Two
More than 200 tour operators and travel suppliers recently got together at NAJ’s Active America-China Summit in Fort Worth for several days of discussion, networking and face-to-face business appointments. And sometimes, they came to face-to-face with the Inbound Report’s photographer. Here are samples of what he saw.
An entertaining South Dakota breakfast presentation came from these three delegates to the Active America-China Summit (left-to-right): Cole Irwin, international and domestic sales representative, South Dakota Department of Tourism; Julie Jones-Whitcher, director of tourism, Rapid City CVB; and Amanda Allcock, director of sales, Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.
Uri Argov, founder and CEO, surprised delegates with his suggestion that Chinese investors are likely to end up prevailing among those parties seeking to acquire Hotelbeds.com, which has been put up for sale by its owner, TUI.
Awaiting his turn to take the podium and explain to delegates the ins and outs of the luxury travel market is Charlie Gu, director of the Los Angeles-based China Luxury Advisors.
Just finished with his detailed presentation on the growth of the China UnionPay card is Bob Jing, the company’s head of East Coast Marketing in the U.S.
Jan Ie Low, part of the NAJ Group’s event team at the Active America Summit, at the launch of her high-octane “how-to” presentation during which she helped delegates join and better understand WeChat, the mobile communications platform used by 650 million Chinese subscribers.
Denny Xia, travel trade director, East West Marketing, helping Robin Hansen (left), marketing director for the Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas; and Beth Harwood, sales manager for the Crowne Plaza in Seattle, as they try to better understand how to use WeChat.
No, it’s not a testimonial session. Rather, it is an entire table of Active America delegates positioning their smartphones in order to join WeChat by scanning a huge QRC symbol on a large screen in the front of the meeting room.
Andrea Guzman (right), sales director, Napa Valley Wine Train, waits while Estelle Miller, director of tourism development for Hornblower Cruises and Events, begins her mastery of WeChat.
Completely oblivious to the presence of our photographer, Amanda Jang, tour and travel trade sales manager, Asia & Pacific, Hornblower Niagara Cruises; and Harvey Hamazaki, marketing and trade consultant-Asia, Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corp., work on messaging via WeChat.
Discussing the ways in which the expression “China Ready” have changed in the past five years are: Charlie Zhou, president, CPTrip Service; Christine Leader, marketing director, New Sun International Travel; and Denny Xia, travel trade director, East West Marketing.
Managing smiles even though they are having their luncheon interrupted, are: Xiaoquin Li (left), manager, Great Training & Tours Company; and Shaoying Zhang, manager of product II, Caissa Touristic, Shanghai Branch.
Irene Chase (center), tourism sales and marketing coordinator for the Fort Worth CVB, goes over last-minute instructions for the 23 Chinese students from the University of Texas at Arlington who will serve as translators during the business appointment sessions between Chinese tour operators and U.S. travel suppliers.
No matter what section of the meeting room one saw, every table was busy during the business sessions. Here is just one view during business appointment session No. 5. At bottom right is Mary Keegan, director of sales, Global Hospitality Marketing Link.
Showing everyone how to take the perfect selfie is Rolland Chang, sales manager, worldwide sales—Asia, North America leisure travel, Best Western International, prior to the early evening train ride excursion that Active America delegates took from the Stockyards Station.
Waiting to board the excursion train are Jordan Waddell (left), marketing manager at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Washington, D.C., and Vickie Evans, senior account representative, Global Tourism, The Henry Ford.
How many people can you fit into a selfie? Here we find (left-to-right): Rolland Chang, sales manager, worldwide sales—Asia, North America leisure travel, Best Western International; Marty Deng, general manager, Best Western Plus South Bay Hotel in Lawndale, Cailfornia; Marianna Khauv, owner of the Best Western Chelsea Inn & Suites, in Monticello, Minnesota; and Rossana Wang, sales, Best Western Plus South Bay Hotel in Lawndale, California.
It’s always time to check your e-mail or your Facebook or WeChat account. This is what we find Jennifer Oshiro, sales manager, Blue Man Group, doing as she waits for the early evening train ride to start.
Two Floridians who enjoyed each other’s company as the train ride is about to get under way are: (left) Sabine Chilton, international sales manager, Florida Keys and Key West; and Nancy Hahn Bono, senior global development director, Visit Orlando.
Two delegates about to enjoy the evening are: Alina Xiang, general manager, East West Marketing Corporation, Beijing; and Hongyu Ji, vice general manager of Beijing-based Fancy Tours.
Taking in the train ride experience are: (right) Sofia Williamsson, chief operating officer of the NAJ Group; and Estelle Miller, director, tourism development, Hornblower Cruises & Events.
Clearly enjoying the train ride are (left-to-right): Vicki Evans, senior account representative, global tourism, The Henry Ford; Elizabeth Davis, director of sales, Niagara USA; and Irene Chase, tourism sales and marketing coordinator for the Fort Worth CVB.
The train reflects itself in one of its windows as it goes around a bend somewhere in the wilds of Grapevine, Texas.
Harolyn Falgoust, convention and tourism sales, Monroe-West Monroe (La.) CVB, explains why she’s one of the first delegates appearing for breakfast on Friday morning.
Taking care of business before breakfast begins on Friday is a contingent from Houston (left-to-right): Yuting Chien, Asia-Pacific representative, Greater Houston CVB; Jorge Franz, senior vice president of tourism, Greater Houston CVB; and Leo Yao, Asia-Pacific representative, Greater Houston CVB.
Ever wonder who does this? Kiko Chen, from East West Marketing and a member of the NAJ Active America event team, holds the microphone as Sofia Williamsson, NAJ’s chief operating officer, sounds the chime for the first business appointment session on Friday morning.
AA #56: And they’re off! Just seconds after the chimes have sounded for the first business appointment session on Friday morning, U.S. suppliers and Chinese tour operators are already involved in intense conversations. In the rear-center of the photo, one operator is raising her hand to signal one of the volunteer interpreters from the University of Texas at Arlington that she needs assistance.
What’s New International Air Service and Hotels This Month
In International Air Service This Month
|Shanghai Pu Dong, China
|San Jose, CA
|Awaiting government approval; A330-200; 3x weekly
|Hong Kong International
|Los Angeles, CA
|Subject to government approval; Boeing 777-300ER, once daily
|Delta Air Lines
|Beijing Capital, China
|Los Angeles, CA
|Pending U.S./Chinese government approval; Boeing 777-200ER; daily non-stop
|Las Vegas, NV
|Boeing 787-8; once weekly non-stop
|Hangzhous Xiaoshan, China
|San Francisco, CA
|Subject to government approval; Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner; 3x weekly non-stop
|Airbus A320; 2x weekly
In Domestic Air Service This Month
|Served by Horizon Air; Q400 aircraft; once daily non-stop
|Orange Co., CA
|Sonoma Co., CA; Reno/Tahoe, NV
|Ft. Lauderdale, FL
|New Orleans, LA
|Long Beach, CA
|San Francisco, CA
|A320; 3x daily
In Hotels And Resorts
|Halifax, NS, Canada
|Holiday Inn Express & Suites Halifax-Bedford
|Near BMO Centre, Canada Games Centre, Bayers Lake Park
|Regina, SK, Canada
|Four Points Regina
|New build; near attractions, convention center, airport
|Hilton Garden Inn Montgomery - EastChase
|Convenient to Rosa Parks Museum, zoo, riverfront district
|Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Napa
|Minutes from downtown Napa; in new Century City entertain-
|ment area; near wine train
|San Francisco, CA
|Hotel Zeppelin San Francisco
|Two blocks from Union Square; walking distance to Financial District
|Courtyard by Marriott Marathon Florida Keys
|New build; convenient to attractions
|Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Rome
|Close to museum, golf, limestone caves
|Hilton Garden Inn Jackson/Flowood
|New hotel; near Dogwood Festival Plaza, baseball complex
|Courtyard by Marriott Elmira Horseheads
|Minutes to Corning Museum of Glass, Seneca Lake Wine Trail and Watkins Glen
|Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott
|Close to military museums, Pope AFB, Ft. Bragg
|Courtyard by Marriott Akron Downtown
|Convenient to Akron Civic Theatre, university and zoo
|Hilton Garden Inn Nashville/Brentwood
|Located in CityPark, minutes from downtown Nashville
|Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott
|Close to railroad museum, Pipestem Resort State Park
|Red Lion Inn & Suites
|Reflagged from Spokane House after complete renovation; near universities
|Radisson Hotel Cheyenne
|Near capitol building and F.E. Warren AFB
Terrorism Fears Have German Operators Hoping for Late Bookings for Outbound Travelers
The headlines said it all. Coming off the 2016 edition of ITB at the beginning of March, the vibe among German travel agents and tour operators seemed to be all right. Then, from the leading German travel trade publication, FVW, came a post-ITB edition with this—“TUI Group: Low growth as destination switching continues” and this—“THOMAS COOK: Hoping for late bookings”
As if the terrorist bombings that killed German tourists in January in Turkey weren’t enough, March 22nd came and so did the suicide bombings of ISIS supported terrorists that killed more than 30 people in Brussels—some at the city’s airport and others inside and about a major subway stop. The Brussels attacks, taking place not too far from Germany’s northwestern border with Belgium, seemed to dash whatever optimistic tone had been sounded in the tour and travel industry’s consensus notion that German travelers would shift their holidays to other European destinations, including Germany itself and avoid Turkey and the Middle East.
At TUI, Europe’s largest tour operator, CEO Fritz Joussen came across as fruit vendor trying to polish an apple before putting it in a fruit stand, explaining to FVW that his company is experienced a 2 percent, year-year-increase across all source markets and a three percent increase in revenues, due to a one percent improvement in average selling prices. And while he cited an increase in long-haul demand, he quoted no figures to attest to such demand.
For Thomas Cook Germany, the company’s latest trading update was not encouraging. The company is hoping for a wave of late bookings to boost summer sales, which are currently 5 percent behind last year, with declines in both Germany and the UK. At the time of the update, TUI had sold 40 percent of its overall summer 2016 program, which was 2 percent lower than at the same time last year.
“Thomas Cook continues to operate in a volatile market environment,” CEO Peter Fankhauser told FVW, adding, “We know that customers want a summer holiday but we can see that some are leaving it later to book this year as they consider their options.”
What this Means for the USA: There are no readily available data—and there won’t be for some time—that can tell us if the expected destination switching in Germany will have an impact on travel to the United States. However, the feedback picked up by the Inbound Report following ITB indicated that the United States could expect an increase in business from Germany, mostly because the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the euro had leveled off during the past two quarters and some segments of the market were ready to switch to long-haul product that includes the U.S.
The last official forecast for travel to the United States from abroad issued by the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) had projected a slight, two percent increase in Visit USA traffic from Germany to the United States from 2015 through 2016. Measuring the accuracy of this projection is problematic since NTTO has been unable to get the raw data it uses to make its forecasts from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which processes the information. Delivery of the data is more than a half-year behind and it will likely be late summer of this year before NTTO gets its full-year data for 2015 from Homeland Security.
Kuoni Enters Wellness Market
The company has moved into a new market segment by engaging in a partnership with Wellbeing Escapes. “It just seems to be the perfect moment; it’s on trend,” said Mark Duguid, Kuoni’s vice-president, commercial and product management. Wellbeing Escapes founder and managing director Stella Photi added: “I feel like Kuoni is our contact to the mainstream. I really think there’s a brand fit.” A small group of Kuoni Personal Travel Experts have been trained in the new product. This follows Kuoni’s recent move to train six PTEs in becoming LGBT holiday experts, and Duguid said a new approach was to look beyond destinations, to include product and customer types in training. More niches will follow, though no other launch is imminent, he added: “I’ve got a head full of ideas… it’s just tapping into the resource.” Duguid said Kuoni did not intend for third-party agents to sell its Wellbeing Escapes packages; they will be sold solely through Kuoni’s own shops and partner stores.
New and Interesting Product
Madame Tussauds to Open Music-Themed Nashville Location
Popular worldwide tourist attraction Madame Tussauds plans to debut a wax museum next year at Nashville’s Opry Mills shopping mall. The 22nd Madame Tussauds location worldwide, the new attraction will be themed “Soundtrack of America” and will celebrate famous musicians from the past and present. Carrie Underwood, Stevie Wonder and Johnny Cash will be among the wax figures in Nashville—which bills itself as Music City USA—along with more than 45 other figures. Part of UK-based Merlin Entertainments, which is the number two operator of theme parks and attractions worldwide (behind only Disney), is slated to open in spring 2017. Madame Tussauds already has U.S. locations in Hollywood, Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco, Washington and Orlando, Fla. Opry Mills is owned by Simon Property Group, the largest shopping mall operator in the U.S. For more information, visit www2.madametussauds.com.
Newer, Larger Wheel to Locate at Chicago’s Navy Pier
The city’s Navy Pier, already Chicago’s most visited attraction, will open a new and larger Ferris Wheel on the 3,300-foot long structure that juts out into Lake Michigan and offers some spectacular views of the city’s skyline. Beginning May 27, the Navy Pier—it is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year—will be the site of a new wheel that stands 196 feet high and has 42 gondolas. The old wheel, which is 147 feet high and has 40 gondolas has been moved to Branson, Mo. To heighten the ride experience on the wheel, the new gondolas will feature interactive touch screens that will enable riders to interact online and post shots of the views afforded by the ride as it is taking place. For more information, visit https://navypier.com/
HODGE PODGE—Shifts, Shakeups and Occasional Shaftings in the Tour and Travel Industry
Cooler + Warmer = Fired … Rhode Island’s CMO is out. On March 28, the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation rolled out its new destination marketing slogan, “Rhode Island: Cooler & Warmer,” along with a video that confused more than enough people, contained enough mistakes (the Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik, Iceland was portrayed as a Rhode Island backdrop) and cost more than it should have, according to some, that the state’s governor asked Betsy Wall, the Commerce Corporation’s chief marketing officer, for her resignation. Wall, who came to her new job only last December, had previously served for eight years as executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.
In a very sad turn of events, Jim Ricketts, who served as director of the Virginia Beach CVB for 28 years (he had worked at the bureau for more than 40 years) and announced his retirement late last year, passed away following a brief illness on March 24, just a week before his planned retirement date of April 1. He was 75.
Brad Van Dommelen, who had earlier been named to succeed Jim Ricketts, is taking over the post following the death of Ricketts. Van Dommelen, who was selected for the position following a nationwide search, had been the president of the Traverse City (Mich.) CVB since 2005. Van Dommelen officially begins his new job effective April 7.
Jeff Homad has been named vice president of convention sales and services at the Memphis CVB. He joins the bureau with nearly two decades experience in luxury and upscale destination resorts, hotels and vacation rental properties. Most recently, he served as executive director of sales at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Fla.
Kuoni UK has promoted Helen Roberts to the position of sales director even as it announced proposals to cut jobs in its head office trade sales team following a shake-up of how it deals with agents. Roberts has worked for Kuoni for 12 years and spent several years working in trade sales before her most recent role as head of direct sales, leading the development and implementation of the company’s own network of stores.
Chris Compton, who made a decision several years ago to move to a small Oklahoma community (Woodward) to run a CVB, has reversed course and joined the operations team at City Sightseeing Tours in San Francisco. Compton had served in various destinations in leadership positions for Big Bus Tours for six-and-a-half years before moving to Woodland in a conscious effort to seek a different pace of life.
In France, Jean-Marc Dandurand became deputy general manager of Sprice Travel after serving for 12 years at American Express. Sprice Travel is part of the Uvet group. He will have commercial responsibility and operation of the Uvet activities, including the development of sales and customer operations, marketing, operations and communication. Dandurand began his career with General Electric Capital Fleet Services in 1995.
After a little more than a year in the post, Cássio Oliveira, has left his job as the first executive director of Air Tkt, an association in Brazil that includes 11 of the largest airline consolidators in the country, including Anchorage, Eseratur, Flytour Gapnet and Rextur Advance. “It was a great learning, my mission is partly fulfilled, and the way open for who will replace me,” Oliveira told the Brazilian trade journal Panrotas. Meanwhile, Air Tkt released a statement that said simply: “The Board of Directors of Air Tkt informs that for personal reasons Cassio Salles Oliveira will no longer hold the position of executive director of the entity from 31.03.2016.”