By Jake Steinman, founder and CEO of the NAJ Group; publisher of the INBOUND Report:
The USA Pavilion: Under Brand USA, this year’s American pavilion was a vast improvement from the early days when disparate destinations, hotels and suppliers had booths that screamed “pick me” in a visual cacophony that felt like a flea market. This year, even though everyone retained their own branding, it felt as though all exhibitors were part of a more cohesive entity each with their own distinct personality.
—Floor Traffic Mixed: Even though the show has been shortened to three days from four, the floor traffic was only brisk during the first day-and-a-half of the show. By the afternoon of Day 2, there were many exhibit booths that lacked buyers and by the afternoon of Day 3 it was a ghost town with many U.S. exhibitors heading closing up at 3:00 pm. Once again, it was the suppliers who had in-country reps arranging appointments who were most busy; those that did not were basically standing around waiting for someone to stop 60% of the time.
What a difference a Year Makes. Last year’s WTM coincided with the 2016 presidential elections and on the third day of the show when it was clear that Donald Trump had won, the US pavilion was completely empty as stunned exhibitors had no idea what to do. Fast forward one year later and exhibitors at the NYC & Company decided to boycott our President’s name. They wouldn’t even utter the name as they kept referring to him as “45” as one said it just made him feel better.
—It Takes a Village: States such as Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Louisiana and even upstate New York were kept consistently busy as appointments had been pre-arranged and booth occupants met with operators en masse during each appointment.
Trends evident at WTM:
“A complete Lack of Evolution”among the trade. That was how one supplier described World Travel Market. The way business is conducted hasn’t changed in five years, although the environment has changed dramatically. There are all manner of tools that didn’t exist before content marketing, short form videos, influencer marketing, hyper precise search marketing programs—but you’d be hard pressed to find operators talking about them. If a Russian can use Facebook’s targeting tools to pinpoint people to influence the outcome of U.S. elections, just imagine how savvy tourism marketers can penetrate niches of travelers predisposed to a destination’s key attractions.
Meanwhile, OTAs such as Booking.com, Expedia and, in its own way, Airbnb have had an effect on UK travelers interested in booking a single city break, but the industry has yet to embrace them as operators produce brochures websites that feature the same product as in previous years.
Long time RTOs with no succession plan Ripe for Acquisition. The tour operator industry both inbound receptive and domestic operators have reached a point where their founders are in their late sixties and 70’s but have no exit strategy or family members interested in taking over the business. These operators are ripe for acquisition by larger existing receptive operators. One such company was Event Travel Solutions.
As a M.I.C.E. specialist with experience in medical and pharmaceutical conventions, its founder merged with New World Travel, whose president is Peter Dorner. The official version from Event Travel Solutions:
“Event Travel Solutions has been in talks with New World Travel Inc., over the past few months with regards to a possible cooperation, and we are now pleased to announce the merger between ETS and New World Travel.
“Starting October 1st, 2017, Event Travel Solutions will officially continue its operations under the name of New World Travel. For 35 years New World Travel has been recognized as a well-established Receptive Tour Operator with offices located in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. This merger of two great companies will further strengthen our position in the market and will provide a tremendously exciting opportunity for you, our valued clients, and ourselves. Our existing personnel will seamlessly continue to interact with you regarding all of your needs, and our personal attention will not be affected in any way.”
Competition Heats Up as Four new Receptive Companies Break into the American Market
In addition to UK-based worldwide hotel bedbanks JAC Travel, which has 18,000 hotels and Miki Travel, four new European-based worldwide hotel banks are entering the U.S. as F.I.T. operators, perhaps they sense a window of opportunity to service tour operators who are basically wary of working with a monopoly. Here are four established companies
- Palma de Majorca-based World2Meet, a global wholesaler with 22,000 contracted hotels and another 345,000 through third party partnerships, has recruited Tresie Benoit, as contracting manager for the Americas. Since 2002, Ms. Benoit has held various positions at AmericanTours International, Meeting Point International, Travalco and most recently, Lowcostbeds.com.
- Gen Travel Solutions: John Dedenghy, formerly director of leisure global sales at IHG, has teamed up his Gabriel Nunez, to form a “bed-bank that offers personalized service.” Nunez has strong contacts in Latin America with senor level executives in the financial services industry, and Dedenghy will be contracting in the USA.
- OTS Globe, another Worldwide bed bank based out of Switzerland, has hired Neil Emerson –a former executive of both Tourico Holidays and Hotelbeds—as its president of the Americas. OTS Globe is a large bed bank with operations and operations in 15 countries and Emerson, who was hired by Tourico five years ago to run business development when he resigned from Hotelbeds, where he spent 20 years, to be director of business development.
- The Group Company, a UK receptive operator that specializes in—what else?—groups, has hired Natalie Kaftan, as its business development director. The company currently serves as a group receptive for U.S. student and adult groups inbound into the UK and plans to be sending UK groups to the U.S. Kaftan’s CV includes more than six years with WorldStrides, a Washington, D.C.-based receptive that specialized in bringing student groups to the U.S.
Other operator news:
America and Beyond, a relatively new receptive operator based out of New Windsor, N.Y. It was founded by Yves Fore and Roger Montgomery, who used the occasion of WTM to introduce Barbara Perry as their new director of international sales, focusing on expanding their European presence.
- AlliedTPro, brought back Karin Omojola, who will be based out of Las Vegas, to develop their its FIT division. Mark Morello, president, reacted effusively as though the Kuoni shackles had come off once the company was sold earlier this year, freeing it up expand into the FIT market. Asked why they would get into the FIT hotel contracting field at this time, Sanya Hamilton, head of sales, told INBOUND that they would offer a layer of service not currently available by the bigger bed banks.
—In other news, it seemed unsettling to see Tourico’s stand in the Global Village area, featuring Hotelbeds, GTA and Tourico in one booth. The Tourico Academy has been discontinued and Asi Ginio, who has served with Tourico for nearly 15 years, lastly as COO, is now CEO of the company. Eventually, probably beginning in 2018, both GTA and Tourico brands will likely disappear.
—Koichi Anju, sales strategy advisor, H.I.S., was instrumental in the Japanese tour giant’s recent merger with Jonview, Canada’s largest receptive operator. Anju, who was formerly in charge of sales for Tourico in Japan, had been using Jonview as one of the company’s Canadian partners for the past several years.
Big Payday for Tourico: According to several sources at the show, Hotelbeds paid $450 million to acquire Tourico Holidays, a major payday for the five partners that started the company. Other RTOs expressed concerned that they would be using the efficiencies of scale (Hotelbeds also acquired GTA earlier this year)—reduced fixed overhead and expenses of three companies to one—to reduce their commissions so low as to drive others completely out of the hotel business. However, a more plausible scenario now that they are owned by a London-based private equity firm, Cinven Capital Management, and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and it may be that Hotelbeds will use their reduced overhead to increase their market value for their investors by maximizing profitability.
—Staff Purge in Ft. Lauderdale CVB: Just prior to the recent RTO Summit in Florida, the Ft. Lauderdale CVB announced several involuntary departures including: Kim Butler, chief marketing officer; Carlos Molinet, senior vice president, sales and marketing; and Stacey Copeland, regional director of group sales based on the West Coast.
—Joyce Lingenfelder used WTM to say her goodbyes as she announced her retirement as international travel trade manager for the Flagstaff CVB. Her new replacement is Sherri Lamont, who comes from Visit Mesa.
—Mark Everton, CEO, Visit Oakland, announced that the destination is beginning to benefit from the limited runway capacity at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) with 8 new direct international service from UK, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Italy and Mexico. The Oakland International Airport is 21 miles from downtown San Francisco, vs. 13 miles for SGO.
—Katie Conaway is the new domestic and international sales manager for Visit Pittsburgh, which has announced new direct air service from Chengdu, China next year.