TourOperatorLand and ABA Honor Bob Cline at Marketplace 2019
Bob ClineLong-time tour operator Bob Cline was honored at the American Bus Association (ABA) Marketplace opening operator breakfast earlier this week as the 2019 Innovative Operator of the Year. This year’s Marketplace was held in Louisville, Ky.
Cline founded U.S. Tours in 1996 and has grown and expanded the company to the point at which it is widely acknowledge as one of the most creative and innovative tour operators in the United States. Jake Steinman, founder and CEO of the NAJ Group—it owns and operates the online portal TourOperatorLand.com, which presented the honor to Cline in conjunction with ABA—delivered testimonial remarks in which he both praised, and kidded, the honoree in a presentation that was warmly received by Marketplace delegates who attended the breakfast. Following is the text of Steinman’s remarks.
“Let’s face it, designing tours for domestic travel can be daunting. First, you need a theme that’s fresh, unique, simple to understand and possible to contract and market. Then it has to sell. And if it doesn’t, you don’t know whether it’s because it was just a bad idea or the timing was off.
“This leads me to the old Mark Twain quote: “A cat that sits on a hot stove will never sit on a hot stove again … and he’ll also never sit on a cold one, either.” So many of us, including myself, tend to give up on something because it may have been too early.
“This year, TourOperatorLand in Conjunction With ABA, is proud to honor Bob Cline, founder of U.S. Tours. Bob’s profoundly curious nature has led him to an approach that not only works … but delights the ABA operators and group leaders who buy into his programs. By combining nostalgia with music from a certain era with a unique venue and title, he’s tapped into something dear to the hearts of the senior tour market: Their youth.
“For instance, here’s just a few of the events on he’s putting together for 2019 and 2020:
-Renting the West Virginia Penitentiary for a Johnny Cash Prison Concert
-Race Louisville’s Riverboats with 500 people onboard … on the morning of the Kentucky Derby
-Take over the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for Woodstock’s 50th Anniversary
-And every year he rents Graceland in December for “An Elvis Blue Christmas.”
-In 2020, he’s got The “Soaring 20’s” series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the flapper decade … accompanied by historic air shows, complete with wing walkers, at Aviation Museums across the country.
“While these are all alluring, there’s no guarantee that they will sell, but what make’s Bob’s business model successful is that he—and sometimes his destination partners—take all the risk. While the tours attract between 200 to twelve hundred people … he’s bombed big-time. A few years ago, after he staged a full day Bluegrass Concert at the West Virginia Lunatic Asylum and every bus cancelled and he ended up with about 75 locals and 10 bluegrass bands … he thought seriously about committing himself but he took away a valuable lesson: Crazy doesn’t sell.
“But he continues to commit himself to the industry, the destinations and the operators.
“Let’s hear it for Bob Cline, this year’s Innovative Tour Operator of the Year.”
To view a video of the remarks, click on https://vimeo.com/314072843.
A Deeper Dive into the Mind of Bob Cline: In conjunction with the ABA award presentation, Jake Steinman, founder and CEO of the NAJ Group, which publishes INBOUND—he is also its editor-in-chief—engaged in a conversation with Bob Cline in which the latter answer some questions about how he got started in the tour and travel industry, how it changed, and how he has adapted, and grown, over the years. Following is an excerpt from their conversation.
Q: How did you get started in the tour and travel industry?
Cline: I started in the late 70’s with Park Tours, a charter company in Parkersburg, West Viirginia. I was their tour program manager at a time we were learning how to build and sell tours. It was a new world for everyone, we were all doing things we had never done before. Then in 1996, I opened U.S. Tours selling the packages I created for one bus company to many bus companies. Once I separated the tour package from the bus, I had a national market instead of a small one.
Q: What is the concept behind US Tours programs?
Cline: U.S. Tours has grown ten-fold from those early years. In the process we have done many things including the branding of “Voyages” and “Select World Travel,” one is a cruise brand the other is International tour products. But we still sell to many of the same group tour planners we started with: bus companies, tour operators and now Bank Clubs.
Q: Could you describe how you came up with the model (nostalgia + music+venue)?
Cline: The spark that started our growth spurt in recent has been events. We began producing great big musical events at popular tour destinations. These now operate under the brand “Spectacular American Events.” The first was in Virginia Beach 2012, we had 38 buses and 1200 people. Partnering with the Virginia Beach CVB and TAP, we had three evening events: a Frank Sinatra Show, Tribute to the Jersey Boys and a Bob Hope USO Show – The USO Show actually raised $20,000 for the troops.
Coincidentally, we have re-produced that USO Show a dozen times, including several shows in Palm Springs, California. These have been done both as a group tour events and as fundraisers for many Vietnam Veterans Associations.
Q: What are some of the most unusual programs you’ve developed (i.e. Johnny Cash prison tours, Soaring 20’s)?
Cline: In 2019 we will rent:
-The West Virginia Penitentiary for a Johnny Cash Prison Concert
-Race Louisville’s Riverboats with 500 people onboard the morning of the Kentucky Derby
-Lease the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for Woodstock’s 50th Anniversary
-The Bristol Speedway & Barter Theater are hosts for Legends on the Crooked Road
-We have the Biltmore Estate in Sept for a Candlelight Autumn (Butlers greet the buses)
-We’ve rent The Kentucky Derby Museum on Halloween for “The Headless Horseman’s Party”
-And every year we rent Graceland in Dec for “An Elvis Blue Christmas.”
In 2020 we have:
-Our own version of the Mayflower 400. Others market the history of the Pilgrims arrival, I supplement that history and local sights with evening shows. Our premise is that the Pilgrims landed at the beginning of the British Invasion, which didn’t really hit the high notes until Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles in 1964. Our Beatles tribute is night one, Elton John on night two, and we end with Tom Jones the last night.
-In 2020 we will also introduce a continuing series known as The Soaring 20’s. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of that decade we will begin producing Jazz Shows hosted by our iconic Zelda Fitzgerald (she was the first American Flapper) these will be accompanied by historic air shows at Aviation Museums across the country – by the way we are interviewing for wing walkers.
-Several of 2019’s Events will be repeated.
-And we will introduce two concepts based on new a pair of new Television Shows. NBC is scheduling a 10-episode series titled, “The Gilded Age,” written by Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey”) and based in New York, is about Robber Barons of the 1880’s. ABC has plans for a fall series titled “The Muscle Shoals Sound.” It is being produced by Johnny Depp and Richard Branson and is based on the studio experiences of musicians who recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals. We believe these shows will bring great interest to both destinations and we have itineraries on our website now.
Q: On average, how many people attend your events?
Cline: Audiences range from 200-1,200 people. The only event that has been a flop was a full day Bluegrass Concert at the West Virginia Lunatic Asylum. It was a crazy idea. Every bus cancelled and we ended up with about 75 local people and 10 bluegrass bands.
Q: How do you promote these events?
Cline: Our marketing is a mix between Trade Shows, Email and a small amount of print. We also get support from the destinations where these events occur.
Q: What’s New for 2019
Cline: We’ve created TourSmokies.com a satellite office in a Hotel Management Company. We are 50-50 partners with Smoky Mountain Resorts coordinating tours for 6 hotels, 13 restaurants, and 3 wineries. Plus, we have created a Marketing Consortia with Dollywood, World Choice Theaters, Ripley’s and the Titanic to jointly market the region. This is a first-of-its-kind co-op among a destination’s biggest players.
CEO is out in Major Shakeup at TUI France
In what one French travel trade journal described as “a shock,” TUI France last week announced a restructuring of the French unit in which Pascal de Izaguirre is no longer CEO of the company. In a press release, the TUI Group—it is the largest tour operator in Europe—announced his departure “in agreement with the TUI Group.” De Izaguirre retains his role as head of Corsair International, a TUI airline subsidiary.
“I leave in total agreement with the TUI Group, without any acrimony and return to Corsair with passion,” he told the French trade travel publication tourmag. “I have a lot of regrets to leave here the teams with whom we worked for eight years. years, with results that could have been better but are not dishonorable.”
“But, I resigned, I was not dismissed,” emphasized de Izaguirre. “But it is with great regret, and I have a lot of compassion towards the Transat teams in particular. But that’s the life of a big group. ”
TUI France used to be Transat France, the French unit of Montreal-based Transat. TUI announced its acquisition of the company in May 2016. The process resulted in a messy reorganization in which scores of employees were let go—a process made all the lengthier because of France’s strict worker protection laws.”
The first to go in that process was First to go was Patrice Cardec, president and CEO of the company—it also includes the popular brand, Look Voyages—who was terminated in November 2016 and replaced by Pascal de Izaguirre, who was brought to Transat from his position at Corsair.
The Transat acquisition made TUI the market leader in both Germany and France, the top two U.S. source markets from continental Europe and the Number 5 and 7 overseas source markets overall.
The restructuring announced last week follows last month’s financial reports by the company, in which earnings were disappointing, saying in a statement that TUI described 2018 as a “challenging year, in particular for tour operators”.
Good-bye Cash? Good-bye Credit Cards? Majority of Chinese now Depend on Mobile Pay
U.S. travel suppliers trying to accommodate the Chinese travel market who thought that they had addressed the challenge of handling payments from Chinese visitors by signing up and accepting the UnionPay bank card now have another challenge.
A just released Nielsen survey shows that the use of mobile pay among Chinese travelers has increased rapidly in the past two years and that, last year, more Chinese tourists used mobile pay more than they did cash while traveling abroad.
The finding is based on a survey whose results were issued by Nielsen and Alipay. The latter is part of the Alibaba-affiliate, Ant Financial. The report on the results come from a survey that covered 1,244 merchants and 2,806 Chinese residents surveyed in the fall of 2018.
Dominant among the mobile pay players are Alipay and WeChat Pay, which is tied to the messaging app of the same name and is part of Tencent.
Why the dominance of mobile? The relative strength of Alipay and WeChat pay was succinctly put in an article by Ian Fraser last Sept. 25 in the publication Raconteur. He wrote, “In many ways Alipay, which has around 700 million active monthly customers in China, and WeChat Pay, with over one billion, point to the future of payments for the rest of the world. By contrast, Apple Pay has only 127 million worldwide, even though it is installed into every iPhone.”
Added Fraser, “One thing that has driven their recent growth has been the inadequacy of China’s traditional banks. Bank customers have to contend with long queues in city branches, long journeys to branches in the countryside and horrendous bureaucracy to get a credit card. The low penetration of card payment point of sale terminals in China, partly down to the fact Visa and Mastercard are banned in the country, has been another factor, as has Chinese millennials’ open-mindedness to technological change and willingness to entrust large portions of their lives to companies such Alibaba and Tencent.”
New UK Surveys—Upbeat Numbers Belie Brexit Gloom, Longer Holidays Wanted, and More
In keeping with the tone and substance of other survey results released in the past several weeks, a new data set just made available from ABTA tells us a majority (65 percent) of Brits will either spend more (27 percent) or the same (38 percent) on their holidays this year—a rather convincing response to a steady dirge of speculation in the news and social media that Brexit would dampen the desire of UK consumer to travel. Of those who do plan holidays, only about a quarter plan to cut back and spend less on holidays in 2019, according to new figures from ABTA that were based on a YouGov survey of more than 2,000 people.
“Despite political and economic uncertainty, people are continuing to book their summer holiday,” asserted Victoria Bacon, director of brand and business development, adding, “Brits are firmly committed to their holidays and many people see taking a break, either abroad or at home, as an essential spending priority.”
- Other findings shared by Bacon include the following:
—Consumers are increasingly turning to travel agents, as they want advice from an expert and the confidence of booking with a person rather than just online.
—Last year, 40 percent of travelers booked an overseas holiday through a travel agent.
—Bookings this year are currently tracking slightly above where they were this time last year, “although it’s worth recognizing that we are just halfway through the main booking period so it will be a few months yet before we understand the full picture … however, it is off to a promising start.”
—The number of homeworking agents across ABTA’s membership has risen by more than 10 percent each year over the past six years.
- According to Travelzoo’s new annual trends report, whose results were based on a survey of more than 1,600 people:
—British travelers are choosing longer packages, cheaper and less convenient flights and moving towards all-inclusive to make their holiday spending money go further.
—Almost 7 out of every 8 survey respondents said that they were actively trying to make their holiday budgets go further.
—One half of those surveyed said they were likely to book all-inclusive, especially those with children;
—One half said they would travel at inhospitable hours or skip in-flight meals to save cash.
—Nearly three quarters said they’d try to save money on their baggage allowance.
Noting that the survey results came at a time when the British pound is low in value against the euro and other currencies, and citing “the possible impact of Brexit,” Travelzoo noted that:
—Only one in five of the travelers surveyed said they expected the UK economy to do well this year
—45 percent said they expected their financial situation would be worse this year.
—However, one in two respondents said they would be likely to spend more in a destination if they got a god deal on the trip.
—More than half said they would not compromise on the quality of the restaurants they visit while on holiday and one in three said they would consider taking a specialist food or wine-tasting trip in the coming years.
—Younger generations of travelers showed an aspirational interest in Norway, Japan and Mexico.
—Millennial travelers aged between 25 and 34 wanted to explore new destinations and
—Nearly two-thirds of those under 45 said they didn’t plan to spend their 2019 holiday in the UK.
- The level of drinking at airports has risen drastically in the past three years, new research reveals.
Brits are drinking even more alcohol before flying off to their holiday destinations. According to the results of a new survey by Holiday Extras:
—The number of passengers choosing pre-flight drinks increased from 31% three years ago to 42 percent by the end of 2018.
—Those consuming between four and eight units of alcohol has also doubled in three years, rising from 5 percent to 10 percent.
—When asked about their personal experiences, more than a fifth (no pun intended), or 21 percent of respondents, said they felt that excessive drinking at airports is far too commonplace – almost double the amount of people that felt it was an issue in 2015.
The survey results follow by a few weeks the UK Government’s launch of a fact-finding consultation on changing the rules around the sale of alcohol at airports in England and Wales. As part of the consultation, the Home Office is exploring the impact of applying the 2003 Licensing Act to all airports, which means that it could the extended drinking hours available to airport passengers, particularly early in the morning. Some airlines have been waging a campaign against pre-flight drinking of alcohol amid rising incidents of air rage.
For more on the subject, see this recent INBOUND article:
“Disruptive Drunks a Daily Occurrence in UK Airports, Airlines”
Where Not to Book a Fly-Drive? From Worst to Best, the USA’s States Are Ranked for Driving
There is absolutely nothing funny about this. Car crashes are a leading cause of death in the U.S. and were expected to cause around 40,000 deaths by the end of 2018. To put it plainly, America’s roads are dangerous. Texting behind the wheel is a major reason for many traffic fatalities, and it’s only getting worse. In 2016, 3,450 people were killed by distracted driving. Plus, inexpensive gas and a strong economy means more drivers. And More people on the road leads to more accidents and citations.
QuoteWizard, a sort of online travel agency (only, for car insurance) that provides quotes for auto insurance, has done a pretty thorough job in developing a methodology* for rating the 50 states for safe (and not safe) drivers. Every state has their share of bad drivers, but some are worse than others. See how your state stacks up against the rest.
The Rankings: QuoteWizard ranked all states from worst to best based on the methodology outlined at the end of the article. The top states on the list have the worst drivers, whereas the last states on the list have the best. It has also used a color code on the ranking list and map. States with bad drivers are filled in as dark shades of blue, while states with good drivers are marked with light shades of green.
- Maine: A drastic rise in traffic citations and fatalities are to blame for Maine’s jump from seventh worst last year to the absolute bottom of the bunch this year. But don’t just take our word for it. According to Maine.gov, there was an increase of more than 1,500 car crashes from 2016 to 2017.
- South Carolina: South Carolinians love the simple things in life, like cracking a cold one at the beach. The problem? It seems they’re too quick to get behind the wheel after having a few too many. Nearly half of all fatal crashes in SC result from drunk driving. Drivers can blame an increase in DUIs for the jump from last year’s rank as the fourth worst drivers to the second worst drivers this year.
- Nebraska: This Midwestern state climbed from sixth worst in 2017 to third worst this year. That jump is thanks to a rise in speeding and traffic citations. Nebraskans may be used to driving infamy, as the QuoteWizard study of the best and worst drivers by city found that Omaha has the worst drivers in the country. But it appears that the rest of the state isn’t much better on the road. Statewide traffic fatalities rose an average of five percent from 2016 to 2017.
- Michigan: If you want a stress-free road trip, pack your bags and head to the Great Lakes State. Drivers earn the gold medal thanks to less citations, speeding, and fatalities than last year. There’s one catch – our study only accounts for insured drivers, and this state has plenty of rule breakers. Although Michigan’s insured drivers are the best in the country, one in five don’t have car insurance.
- Mississippi: It has America’s second-best drivers! That title was earned thanks to low speeding, DUI, citation, and fatal crash rates. The state jumped from third best last year to second best this year. But Mississippi still has a problem with buckling up, as half of the state’s fatal car crashes involve unbuckled seatbelts.
- Oklahoma: It has some of the safest drivers in the country. The Sooner State made a big leap, going from 11th best in 2017 to third best in 2018. That’s because of a decrease in speeding, citations, and fatalities. We’re not that surprised, though, Tulsa rang in at seventh best in QuoteWizard’s study of the best and worst drivers by city.
* Methodology: QuoteWizard sampled incident data (with more than two million data points) from the users of its website and juxtaposed it to Federal Highway Administration fatality data. To quantify overall driver standards for comparison, it weighted various incident totals for each state with its occurrence percentage. The rankings are a sum of weighted means calculated from these incidents:
New Air Service
—First, a cancellation: Avianca Brazil, which is trying to crawl out of bankruptcy by, in part, trimming the size of its fleet while keeping its most efficient and high-yield routes, will stop flying on March 31 to Miami and New York, which are its only two U.S. destinations. It is not clear if—but it definitely seems unlikely—that, after the carrier finalizes a restructuring program, the airline will ever have service to the U.S. again. Since the restructuring plan is still work in progress, it is unclear if another airline will attempt to replace the Avianca Brazil service. The discontinued routes to New York and Miami (in addition to another route to Santiago, Chile), represented about 40,000 seats a year.
—TAP Air Portugal will triple its flights between Newark and Porto, Portugal starting June 1, flying six weekly nonstop round-trips. Also, the airline is adding new service from Porto to Brussels, Lyon and Munich which means U.S. travelers can now enjoy a stopover of up to five days in Porto, en route to 14 European destinations from Newark. The others include: Belgium; Paris and Lyon, France; Munich, Germany; Milan, Italy; Luxembourg; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Barcelona and Madrid, Spain; Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland; and London, United Kingdom. TAP introduced the Portugal Stopover program in 2016 for travelers flying throughout Europe and Africa. Now they can break the trip and enjoy two destinations for the price of one, for no extra airfare.
—Also, TAP is adding service to Lisbon from Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco, and Washington-Dulles, starting June 1, 10 and 16, respectively.
—On December 19, American Airlines began flights between Dallas/Fort Worth and Oaxaca, Mexico. Service on the nearly 1,100-mile route will operate daily.
—Viva Air Colombia launched flights on December 18 between Santa Marta, Colombia and Miami. The low-cost carrier will operate the 1,087-mile route three times weekly, offering departures on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. No other airline presently links the two airports.
—American Airlines began service earlier this month, on January 6, from Charlotte Douglas Airport in Charlotte, N.C., to Guadalajara. It will be competing for passengers with low-cost Mexican carrier Volaris, which operates flights on the same route.
HODGE PODGE: Shifts, Shakeups and Occasional Shaftings in the Tour and Travel Industry
Paula Twidale, the former executive vice president of Collette, has been named vice president of AAA travel, effective Feb. 4, 2019. Twidale replaces Bill Sutherland, who retired in December after more than 21 years with the organization. During her 27-year tenure with Collette, Twidale most recently served as executive vice president, leading a team across the United States, Canada and the UK. She also serves as board chair of United States Tour Operators Association.
Sister brands Just You and Travelsphere have announced that John Docherty will be joining the company Feb. 11 as key account manager for Scotland and Northern Ireland. He joins from Princess Cruises, where he served for more than four-and-a-half years. Escorted touring specialist Travelsphere and its sister solo brand Just You said the brands—both offer tours worldwide—had bolstered their joint sales team because of growing demand for touring holidays.
Fabio Monteiro has joined Hornblower Cruises as the company’s new director of market development- East Coast, working in several markets and oversees the growth of its tourism and sightseeing efforts. Monteiro joins Hornblower from Blue Man Group New York City, where he was manager of tourism and group sales. He had been with Blue Man Group for more than 10 years.
Brazilian operator E-HTL has announced the appointment of Daniel Thompson to the position of commercial manager, where he is responsible for the international products. An experienced tour and travel industry professional, Thompson has worked for companies and agencies such as Tam, Embratur, São Paulo State Tourism Office and Vasp.
Katie Skitterall has been promoted to director of UK sales and operations travel and events management business, the ATPI Group (Advanced Travel Partners UK Ltd, a global corporate travel management & events company operating several different brands.) In her role, Skitterall will take on management of the UK sales team, across its specialist brands and sectors and development of go-to-market and sales strategies. Skitterall has been a part of ATPI’s UK operations, having held multiple senior positions within the business since 2001, as well as a place on the UK executive team for over five years.
Hatsuko Tsujimura, a lawyer with over 12 years of experience in the travel industry, will lead a new dedicated office in Japan for Abercrombie & Kent as the region’s country manager. Tsujimura steps into her new position with a strong background in designing itineraries, negotiating with suppliers and coordinating logistics. Explaining why the Abercrombie & Kent decided to build the new office, China Managing Director Kath Fok pointed to the extreme growth the company has seen in the country, especially pertaining to luxury small group travel and tailor-made private travel. By building its own office, said the director, the company said it will be better positioned to manage logistics and provide insider access and personalized service.
Amauri Barbosa has left his post as coordinator of national products for the Brazilian tour operator Flytour MMT, and is looking for new opportunities in the market. Barbosa had been with the operator since its inception when it was Flytour Viagens. Said Barbosa. “I would like to thank the whole team, especially the Director of National Products, Daniel Firmino, for all this period, in which I learn a lot.”
Bruno Delhomme has been appointed sales manager for LEVEL airlines, based at the company’s French headquarters near Orly airport. LEVEL flies to a number of major U.S. destinations. Delhomme is in charge of sales development and distribution for the IAG (International Airlines Group) long-haul low-cost brand. With nearly twenty years of experience in the tourism industry, he served as sales and marketing director for various airlines prior to his appointment.
Richard Bangs for 46 years at Mountain Travel Sobek
Dennis Quinn for 21 years at Universal Orlando/Universal Studios Hollywood
Etty Scaglia for 19 years at Accent on Dining
Lezlie Harper for 15 years for Niagara Bound Tours
Paul Greenberg for 12 years at New York City & Company
Davinder Khanna for 9 years at America’s Parks Online
Peter Claesson for 7 years at Indigo Travel & Events
Brian Ososky for 3 years at The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel
Carlos Machado for 1 year at OTS Globe