Absent any real-time data on overseas travel by Britons, operators, analysts and survey researchers are trying to get a handle on the performance of the UK, which is the number one overseas source market for inbound travel to the United States. The British trade journal, Travel Weekly UK, has given buyers and suppliers some idea with a sampling of what some industry leaders are saying about the outlook for the rest of the peak 2018 travel season. Here’s a recap of what TW recently reported:
—Tour operators claim there is “virtually no ‘lates’ (last-minute bookers)” market for the U.S. this year as families book further in advance for value. There seems to be an upturn in the forward bookings of U.S. as the pound sterling hovers at $1.32 following a sharp fall from $1.48 just before the June 23, 2016 Brexit vote.
—Guy Novik, chief executive of USAirtours, said that families were booking further in advance for 2019 to lock in better deals. He said: “There has been virtually no lates [this year],” adding that winter deals were offering savings of “at least 20 percent”.
—Sales to Florida were up 16 percent; up 5 percent to Las Vegas and up 4 percent to California versus last year, added Novik, with self-drives increasingly popular, but New York was “flat”.
—Gold Medal marketing manager Kerry Gallagher reported that 2019 Florida sales are up 49 percent. Travel agents were seeking more “added-value” for customers, he said, such as inclusive theme park dining plans. California, New York, Massachusetts and Chicago have all seen growth this year, Gallagher added, explaining that multi-destination bookings are 12 percent up.
—Gordon McCreadie, sales and marketing director for luxury tour operator If Only, said demand multi-destination itineraries make up 60 percent of the company’s U.S. bookings and account for all bookings to its top-selling new destination, California. Sales were “massively surpassing” expectations, McCreadie said, boosted by interest in themed itineraries, such as to Nashville and Memphis in Tennessee.
—Funway Holidays reported that U.S. bookings had been “flat” due to a “volatile” exchange rate but higher in value. Malcolm Davies, product destination manager, attributed a rise in advance bookings to families “not wanting surprises.” He noted a trend in Orlando towards on-site theme park hotels with early park access and a shift away from villas.
—Davies also said multi-destination itineraries had increased in popularity and that agents were adding ancillaries on “every second booking.” Funway printed 10,000 extra copies of its US brochure to meet demand, he added.
—Trek America’s managing director, Richard Hanson, said bookings for the company’s price-driven brand had seen “negative growth” with younger, less-affluent UK customers affected by the weak pound against the dollar, but that its more up-market brand, Grand American Adventures, has recorded double-digit growth as its typical demographic were less affected by currency fluctuations.
What the Numbers Are Telling Us:
—Market analyst GfK reported summer 2018 US bookings 6 percent behind 2017, but winter 2018-19 bookings 16 percent ahead of last year. Family bookings were 11 percent behind for summer but 3 percent up for winter.
—ForwardKeys, which monitors 17 million flight bookings a day, found US bookings for the first half of 2018 were 2.9 percent down on 2017 but only 0.3 percent behind for departures from July to September.
—Virgin Atlantic said July and August departures to the U.S. were 7 percent up on last year and it had seen a 21 percent increase in December departures to New York.
Meanwhile, travel markets in both the USA and the UK are hampered by a lack of data from official government sources. Last March, the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office temporarily suspended publication of overseas arrivals data due to data anomalies in records received from U.S. Customers and Borders protection. There are no firm or final data available from either 2018 or 2017 readily available.
At the same time, the UK’s Office for National Statistics has not issued a monthly bulletin on overseas travel by UK residents since this past March. The most recent month for which data are available is December 2017.