New York RTO Summit Panel Talks Business: If the consensus of a panel of long-time tour and travel industry veterans is any sign, 2018 should treat well both U.S. travel suppliers and the U.S.-based receptive tour operators they work with.
“We’ve had the best first quarter in five years,” Juan Sepulveda, director of international sales for The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, told delegates at NAJ’s recently convened, day-long symposium that took place at the RTO Summit East in New York. “The airline business is coming back into cities because of the amount of new inventory,” added Sepulveda, who has been part of the hotel sales segment of the industry in New York for decades. “They want to be here.”
Sepulveda was part of a three-person panel of suppliers which also included Sheelagh Wylie, vice president, business development and head of sales, Midways Attractions, Merlin Entertainments; and Stefan Merkl, president of Explore Marketing, which represents a number of suppliers in international source markets. They discussed the state of the marketplace and other points of interest. Following is a synopsis of some of the points made by the three panelists.
—On working effectively through the receptive tour operator (RTO) channel: On the U.S. East Coast, she told an audience comprised heavily of supplier professionals from the U.S. Northeast, one will find their strength in two areas. RTOs in the Orlando are strong in Latin American markets, especially Brazil. RTOs based in the New York area are strong with European markets.
—In the past, “it used to be all about the airlines and all about hotels … now that the focus is more on the travel experience, and RTOs are selling more attractions.”
—Attractions have become anchors in regional promotions. A case in point: Travel South USA has a promotion that features the Merlin’s Madame Tussauds attraction in Nashville.
—The UK and China are Merlin USA’s top two overseas markets now. Increased non-stop lift capacity, including a new Delta Air Lines flight from China to Atlanta, is helping, as Merlin attractions are being included in itineraries that feature the South.
—San Francisco “has had a huge uptick in business which is due to increased traffic from China.”
—More than any other factor, the U.S. dollar and its strength vs. other currencies affects business. And the talk of a “trade war” with China might affect the New York and Los Angeles markets.
—Key country markets for his business are: Europe, with traffic from Spain, Portugal and France increasing; the UK, Germany and Brazil, with these markets generating more FIT traffic; and Mexico, which is “really starting” to increase.
—A problem of late, on that causes some friction with RTOs and their customers, are the additional fees now being tacked onto the cost of a hotel room. Taking a cue from Las Vegas and resort destinations, hotels are now beginning to charge a deposit or a facility fee. Others call it an “urban destination fee.”
—For his clientele, which are located in different parts of the country, the top markets are: Canada, Mexico, the UK, France, Germany, the Benelux countries, and Scandinavia. And, currently, “China is hot,” while India and South Korea, which is moving to FIT travel, are strong. Brazil and Japan are also performing well.
— While trade shows are a necessity, it is important to boutique operators to see them in their offices. “Ours is a relationship business … The tour operator gets to know you and you become the go-to person. It’s about maintaining the contact; it’s not good enough to go to a trade show once a year.”