Werner Escher, “Global Ambassador of South Coast Plaza,” Dies at 85
In a loss that transcends the boundaries of the mere numbers in the tour and travel industry who know him and worked with him, Werner Escher, 85, and for two lifetimes, it seems, the person who directed the marketing and promotion of South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, California–one of America’s top shopping attractions,–died last Friday following a brief illness.
Escher, described by the Orange County Register as the “global ambassador of South Coast Plaza,” joined the attraction in 1968. He went on to promote what was then a small shopping facility into one of the most readily recognized luxury shopping complexes in both the United States and throughout the world.
David Grant, general manager of the complex, told Orange County Register that Escher “was instrumental in bringing the world to South Coast Plaza and bringing South Coast Plaza to a global audience. His efforts over the years helped make South Coast Plaza a renowned international destination.”
(Above) The last time the Inbound Report’s photographer captured Escher: at the South Coast Plaza booth during ipw—last June in New Orleans. With him is Brian Chuan, South Coast Plaza’s director of travel trade development.
Escher was a frequent world traveler, with a particular focus on China and Japan in recent years, said Grant, adding “”Werner is considered to be of celebrity status in China that few others can claim.”
Among his industry peers, Escher was regarded highly by everyone with whom he worked—competitors as well as partners—as social network posts illustrated in the past several days. Here is a sampler:
—“Up to his mid-eighties he was traveling internationally with his wife on sales trips—indefatigable, effusive and a wonderful friend to many of us. A sad day … ”—Jake Steinman, founder and CEO of the NAJ Group, publisher of the Inbound Report.
—“We are all so sad and in shock. Werner is truly a California legend and California sales missions will never be the same. RIP dear friend Werner.”—Marilyn K. Hannes, park president, Sea World & Aquatica, San Diego
—“I was in such awe of his energy and constant smile. Legend, legendary, unforgettable.”—Barbara Steinberg, long-time travel journalist.
—“I was blessed to travel with him around the world. Werner you will be missed but never forgotten, my friend.”—Dean Ruffing, director, Duderanches.com
—“Werner was a visionary, a tireless leader, a distinguished diplomat and a true friend to all. He will be missed by many.”—Rosemary McCormick, president, Shop America Alliance.
For one of the many articles that reported on Escher’s passing, click on:
Visit Florida has New President & CEO
By a unanimous vote, the board of directors of Visit Florida on Jan. 10 appointed Ken Lawson as the organization’s new president and CEO. He succeeds Will Seccombe who, along with two other senior Visit Florida officials, lost his job in the wake of revelations that the organization had a $1 million contract with a famous Florida rapper, Pitbull, to promote Florida, as well as criticism on the part of some state legislators of a promotional video, “Sexy Beaches.”
Because of the legal structure of the private-public Visit Florida, Gov. Rick Scott, while praising the work of Visit Florida during Seccomde’s more than four years with the organization, had to ask William Talbert, president and CEO of the Greater Miami CVB and chairman of the board to ask for Seccombe’s resignation. All of this action took place in the week before Christmas.
Talbert made the announcement of the selection on the afternoon of Jan. 10. Lawrence began his new job on Jan. 11.
Lawson, who has no background in the travel and tourism industry, is a native Floridian, Florida State University graduate and former U.S. Marine Corps Judge Advocate General, who has spent 12 years in public service in numerous regulatory positions, including his most recent work as Secretary of the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR). During his six-year tenure with DBPR, Lawson managed a team of 1,600 employees charged with licensing and regulating more than 1 million businesses and professionals throughout the state.
Previously, at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, he was responsible for the oversight of several federal law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service. Before taking over as DBPR secretary, he was vice president for compliance for nFinanSe Inc., a Tampa financial services company.
“Perfect Storm” Threatens Solvency of Many UK Tour & Travel Businesses
An Estimated 1,800 Travel Companies Deemed “At Risk”: Some 160 tour operators are at risk of failing, according to a chilling report that came out late last week. While most of London focused on the impact of a massive tube strike, the business newspaper City A.M. had stitched together information from several sources graphically illustrating just how fragile the overall travel industry in the UK is. Highlights from the publication’s report include the following:
-The industry is braced for thousands of insolvencies as the sector comes under increasing pressure from terrorism fears and rising costs driven by a weak British pound.
-According to data from insolvency firm Begbies Traynor, 2,679 businesses in the travel industry are currently experiencing significant distress, a 10 per cent increase compared to the previous quarter and a four per cent increase vs. the same period in 2016.
-Currently, there are just under 7,000 travel agents and tour operators in the UK, and 1,800, or 26 per cent, have attracted the “warning rating” of Company Watch, a database that measures a company’s risk of insolvency.
-Out of the 1,800 travel companies deemed at risk by Company Watch, about 450 are at “real risk” of going insolvent, said Nick Hood, business risk adviser for Opus Restructuring. Around 160 of these are tour operators.
-“Clearly, the travel industry is under severe stress from all sorts of different adverse factors,” Hood said. He added that the fortunes of travel companies depend very heavily on where they’re based around the world and their scale, with smaller companies facing higher risks.
-As if to illustrate the immediacy of the threat of insolvency for so many travel businesses, All Leisure Holidays, a specialist cruise holiday operator, stop trading last Wednesday, leaving hundreds of travelers stranded worldwide and leading to the cancellation of more than 13,000 booked holidays.
-According to travel industry expert Simon Calder, a “perfect storm” led to All Leisure Group’s downfall. Some of the company’s main cruise destinations were to North Africa, including Tunisia and Libya, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, including Crimea.
-A weak pound sterling added to the cruise company’s troubles. Malcolm Ginsberg, an industry veteran who works for BTNews, said rising fuel costs and transactions done in dollars are likely to have also hurt the company.
Japanese Trade Sees Visit USA Traffic Holding Steady
Released just before the New Year, the latest Survey of Travel Market Trends—December 2016, 3rd quarter—from the Japan Association of Travel Agents (JATA) tells us that the travel trade community in Japan has a level of confidence in outbound travel to the USA that is exactly the same as it was one year ago (December 2015). As well, the trade’s confidence continues at the same level through the first half of 2017, according to survey results.
A closer reading of the survey report contains few surprises in its reading of international markets, but it does give some indication that the numbers look well for some specific market segments insofar as overseas travel is concerned: i.e., travel agents are feeling confident in their outlook for the honeymoon, family, female office worker, student and senior markets.
We’ve included the two most important tables from the survey below. It’s relatively easy to translate the value of the numbers in the tables; just refer to “A Note on Methodology” following the tables.
A Note on Methodology: The Japan Association of Travel Agents (JATA) asks all member companies to register as survey monitors. JATA conducts the quarterly Survey of Travel Market Trends involving 548 registered companies and publishes the results. The Survey of Travel Market Trends is designed to grasp trends in the travel market based on responses to questions on current conditions and those anticipated over the next three months. The survey asks participating companies to rate their sales results for each destination and customer segment by choosing from three categories: “good,” “average,” and “poor.” For items outside their business scope, respondents select “do not handle.” Each share of “good,” “average,” and “poor” is then divided respectively by the denominator, which is equal to the total number of responses minus the “do not handle” (including “no reply”) responses. Finally, each share is processed into the Diffusion Index (DI) by subtracting the percentage of “poor” from the percentage of “good.” The highest possible index figure is +100, and the lowest is -100.
This was an Internet survey, conducted from Nov. 4 to Nov. 22, 2016. The number of registered companies surveyed was 573; the number of responding companies responding was 318. Response rate: 55.5 percent.
Following is a breakdown of the companies included in the JATA survey.
Home Rental Capital of World Scores—Brazil’s Trend Group Buys 500 Homes for Its Florida Inventory
Kissimmee’s Inventory of Rooms in Large Homes Expands Operator’s Reach in Favored USA Destination: It was about eight months ago, when Brazil was in the trough of its worst economic recession in a hundred years that the, São Paulo-based tour operator Trend Group (Grupo Trend), which also has offices in Orlando, started what seems, at first, to be a counter-intuitive business direction. No matter. The move ratifies what comes across as another out-of-the-park move made a decade ago by Osceola County, Florida (location of Kissimmee), which is adjacent to the southern border of Orlando/Orange County, Florida, to differentiate its lodging product from other jurisdictions in the Greater Orlando Area and to make the land generate tax revenue.
As reported by the Brazilian trade publication Panrotas, Luis Paulo Luppa, Trend’s president, saw the strength of the home rental market for Brazilian families in the Orlando area, especially in Kissimmee. By the end of 2016, he decided to invest in the segment, and the company purchased 70 percent of the Vacation Home Collection (VHC), which has some 500 homes in its portfolio in the Orlando and Miami areas. All of the Orlando/Kissimmee properties are near the Disney complex of attractions. VHC was created by Fábio Cardoso—a long-time veteran of the tour and travel industry, he has held senior sales positions for both Stella Barros Marketing and Walt Disney Parks & Resorts–who will continue as CEO of the company.
“We researched a lot, with the help of the CVB of Kissimmee—a city that today already receives 48 percent of its occupancy from renting houses of all kinds, from $150 to $800 a day,” Luppa told Panrotas, noting that he counted on the help of DT Minich, president and CEO of the Kissimmee CVB, in researching the move. “We did not want to buy invoicing but rather expertise and we found the company and Fábio the best in the industry in Orlando. Fábio has a DNA very similar to Trend’s and we wanted him in the group.”
With the action, the Trend Group—at a time when most tour and travel industry players in Brazil were re-trenching or scaling back their operations—completed an aggressive development program in 2016. In May, the company hired Jay Santos, who had recently left the Orlando CVB and whose career has been focused on the Brazil market (he is a native of Brazil) as vice president, global business development. Trend also expanded its reach at trade shows: its table at the NAJ Group’s RTO Summit Orlando last November was the busiest in room.
The Kissimmee Model—how it Works: The Trend Group acquisition is another step or variation in the vacation home rental model developed in Kissimmee. A decade ago, at the time the vacation rental market had just begun to grow, Kissimmee officials reasoned that subdivisions with a residential character—but zoned for the purpose of attracting guests and visitors—wouldn’t clash with the residential character of the Kissimmee area that is not already part of the tourism industry.
They also reasoned, correctly, that such properties would attract investors who wanted a reliable investment. They were right. Wealthy investors have financed the growth and development of the areas of Kissimmee zoned for home rentals, whose operations are handled by separate management organizations.
Reunion Resort was the first community. It is the location of homes that range from what one might consider a traditional four-bedroom residence with added amenities for those who rent it to a 14,500-square-foot house with nine bedrooms, a two-lane bowling alley, fully stocked arcade, spa, racquetball court and a 12-seat in-home movie theater.
The Reunion Resort and subsequent communities have found that the residences are ideal venues for small business groups that wanted to conduct team building exercises, but have entertainment options nearby. The accommodations work well, too, for large, multigenerational and extended families who want to stay at the same place but were unable to do so when booked at hotels. Incentive groups are also a natural for the large rental homes.
Those receptive tour operators that sell the product like it because there is no rate parity to deal with. The units are owned by private investors who care about keeping their properties rented and keeping the revenue stream going. Receptives like the flexibility and packaging possibilities offered by rental homes. For instance, they don’t have to work around the price parity demands of major hotel chains.
In an October 2015 interview with the Inbound Report, Minich said that the number of available rooms through the vacation home rental segment was about 20,000 and that the top two country markets for the product were the UK and Brazil, with the Middle East growing quickly.
And, because the Kissimmee model hasn’t really been replicated elsewhere, no destination seems to be a position to challenge its officially registered designation and de facto status as “Vacation Home Capital of the World.”
ABTA’s Outlook for 2017 Points to U.S. South as Hot Destination
“Whilst there are encouraging signs in the market pointing to a positive outlook for the travel industry in 2017,” the ABTA Trends Report 2017 tells us, “many uncertainties remain, including around the government’s Brexit negotiations,” adding, “Destination and capacity challenges are expected to continue.”
Released just prior to the end-of-year holiday period, the report’s section on overseas travel touches upon some expectation for the coming year:
- Almost a quarter of the population (24 percent) plans to spend more on holidays next year, with just 16 percent indicating that they will spent less. A year ago, 23 percent planned to spend more and 15 percent planned to spend less.
- Current industry figures show bookings for summer 207 tracking 11 percent above last year. (This could reflect a growing trend for early booking and may also be a consumer reaction to the capacity issues of 2016, with people determined to secure their preferred resort or destination.)
- A shift in capacity to the western Mediterranean and towards long haul destinations means that new destinations are emerging for 2017.
- More than a quarter (26 percent) of all holidaymakers say they are very likely to visit a country they’ve never been to before, compared to 19 percent who said this last year.
- Just less than a third (29 percent) of UK travelers say they will go on a holiday to a new resort or city (even if they’re visited the country before). This is up from 23 percent last year.
- Spain is expected to be the year’s top performing destination, with Portugal and Cyprus seeing strong early bookings for 2017.
- City breaks and beach holidays remain the top holiday choices for 2017m as more than half (52 percent) of all travelers planning to take a city break, and 44 percent planning a beach holiday.
- All-inclusive holidays are expected to perform particularly well, which may signal that more people want to manager their budgets and hedge against volatile British pound.
- All-inclusives are particularly appealing to young families, 35 percent of whom hope to take an all-inclusive holiday in 2017.
- Among its “12 Destinations to Watch” in 2017, ABTA points to the U.S. South. Below is a portion of the page the ABTA report dedicates to the U.S. South.
Nude Video Selfies—Not the Best Way to Promote Your Destination
-The good news: During the past couple of weeks, the Webster Parish (Louisiana) CVB and its tourism promotion program has received more attention than it has ever received—ever.
-The bad news: All the attention is because the CVB’s executive director sent a live-streaming video containing nudity on the bureau’s Instagram account.
Lynn Dorsey, the Webster Parish CVB’s executive director for the past 13 years, has been placed on paid administrative after a recent episode in which she mistakenly live streaming an adult content video containing nudity on the bureau’s Instagram account.
The nude video was live-streamed for about a half-hour on the evening of Dec. 19th to the bureau’s Instagram followers. Dorsey told the Minden Press-Herald (Minden is the Parish seat) it was intended as a private message for her husband, but she mistakenly posted the video to the bureau’s account.
She streamed the video to followers in a hotel room using a new bureau issued iPhone 7. She intended to send the video to her husband. “I am a new Instagram user and, unfortunately, I pressed the wrong button,” she told the Press-Herald. “It was a horrible, honest mistake … I am mortified. I would never send that type of content out intentionally.”
It’s uncertain how many people saw the live video. Followers of the bureau’s Instagram account — including dozens of Minden residents attending a Christmas party — received a notification of the live feed. The footage is no longer visible once the feed ends.
Dorsey posted the video from a hotel room in Baton Rouge, the state capital. She was there conducting tourism business. Webster Parish (est. pop. 41,000) is in the northern part of the state, straddling Interstate Route 20—just east of Shreveport and bordering Arkansas to the north.
There doesn’t seem to be that much blowback over the episode, and the board that oversees the CVB seems to be taking on the issue with a matter-of-fact attitude. “At this time we are reviewing facts,” Jerry Madden, board president said. “We have requested she get her own phone and separate her business contacts from her personal contacts. That’s the proper thing to do.”
Madden noted that the paid administrative leave is not a disciplinary action. “She has done a great job for many years,” he said. “We want to do what is right for tourism, Webster Parish, the state and for her.”
The personnel committee will review findings during the next regularly scheduled board meeting, which is slated for the end of this month and possibly take action.
IN MEMORIAM: Kenneth Schwartz
Kenneth Schwartz, a highly respected and warmly regarded tour and travel industry figure for some 40 years, passed away on Dec. 26, 2016 in Los Angeles at the age of 67 following a lengthy battle with cancer. A Pennsylvania native and a 1971 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, Schwartz moved to Boston where he began his pursuit of a career in the travel industry. His most recent position, of 16 years, was with Meeting Point North America. He retired in June of 2016. An enthusiastic traveler himself, he was also passionate about history and politics; read widely, and was an exceptionally gifted conversationalist. He is survived by his husband of 39 years, Thomas Camacho; his dog, Scout; mother, Claire Schwartz; brother Phillip Schwartz and sisters Robin Friedman and Betsy Silverman. A private memorial service is being planned in Los Angeles in late January. Contributions in Ken’s name can be made to the Los Angeles LGBT Center: https://lalgbtcenter.org/kenschwartz
HODGE PODGE: Shifts, Shakeups and Occasional Shaftings in the Tour and Travel Industry
Chelsea Ruby has been tapped to become the next tourism commissioner of West Virginia. The transition team of Governor-elect Jim Justice, a Democrat who takes office Jan. 16th, has announced Ruby’s nomination for tourism commissioner. She will be replacing Amy Shuler Goodwin, who was appointed in 2014 by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, also a Democrat. Ruby currently serves as the primary spokesperson for the Department of Commerce and runs the state department’s advertising agency.
Jan Dimova is among the group of professionals whose positions were eliminated when Meeting Point North America, the USA-based receptive tour operator of FTI—it is located in Orlando—put a company restructuring into place at the beginning of this year. Dimova, who had served with Meeting Point for 13 years, was product manager for a 17-state region across North America. She can be reached via [email protected].
TravelNevada, the state’s tourism promotion office has established the Larry J. Friedman “Industry Partner of the Year Award” in celebration of long-time Nevada tourism industry leader Larry Friedman, who worked in sales and marketing for various Nevada tourism entities during his career, and spent more than 26 years at the Nevada Commission on Tourism, now called TravelNevada. Friedman retired from state service on Dec. 28, 2016.
Luis A. Alvarado has been promoted to the position of associate director of sales and marketing for Entertainment Cruises in New York City. He had served for nearly five years as team manager for corporate and travel industry sales for the company. Well-known in the New York City area, Alvarado’s resume includes tenures in senior sales positon at several New York hotel properties as well as a previous stint (2002-2007) at Entertainment Cruises.
Scott Fortner has been named executive director of Idaho’s Visit Sun Valley. A veteran of more than 25 years in the tour and travel industry, Fortner comes to his new position from Breckenridge, Colorado, were he served for nearly a decade as director of marketing.