New National Park Shuttle Service Opens in Las Vegas
Through an agreement with Grand Canyon West, National Park Express, a tour and transportation company offering packaged shuttle services from Las Vegas to regional National Parks, began transporting visitors to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas on February 1, 2019. Rates start as low as $29.00 round trip from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon West. Visitors can pay for admission to the destination in advance, or upon arrival, starting from $47.00. This package makes an affordable way to visit Grand Canyon, with a travel time of just over 2 hours each way, about half the time it takes to reach Grand Canyon South Rim. Three shuttles depart daily from Las Vegas at 6:30AM, 9:30AM and 11:30AM, with returning options departing Grand Canyon West at 1:30PM, 3:30PM and 5:30PM. Visitors can also book a shuttle, stay overnight in a cabin at The Hualapai Ranch at Grand Canyon West (includes dinner and breakfast) enjoy a sunset, sunrise and the night sky, then return the following day to Las Vegas. For more information, visit www.grandcanyonwest.com or call 928.769.2636
A Review of the Top Ten Tour and Travel Industry Trends for 2019 and Beyond
Every year, Jake Steinman, founder and CEO of the NAJ Group, as well as publisher and editor-in-chief of the INBOUND report, conducts a year-end “Listening Tour,” in which he surveys leaders of the U.S. tour and travel industry, visiting and/or talking with receptive tour operators, travel suppliers and DMOs in order to take the pulse of the U.S. tour and travel industry and to pick up intelligence on where the industry is going and what trends are influencing the year ahead. Here, INBOUND shares a quick digest of what he told us what is trending as 2019 gets under way.
- Experiential travel—interacting with locals, experiencing a destination from a local’s standpoint. Tour operating innovation—From Walks’ Walk-on-Walk-off” tour pass and Savor Seattle’s “Tasting Passports” to tour companies creating new experiences or reinventing class ones, there are so interesting companies reimagining the tour.
- Group Tours for Independent Travelers. More and more, normal-sized groups are being treated as individual travelers, as they are given options or freedom to do as they please once they reach a destination. These are already being featured even by domestic operators. The tour operator provides air, hotel, transportation and free WiFi. They group meets together for breakfast each morning and decides what they want to do.
- Tours and Activities have become the latest area of automated product offered by small and mid-sized tour operators as paper vouchers and printed tickets are used only by customers who want them.
- India is the new China, with China having joined Western Europe and Latin America as “mature” source markets, which are temporarily slowing down until political and exchange rate issues are worked through. But India, with more English-speaking people than any country but the United States, and a growing middle class is the new “now” market.
- For tour operators the value proposition is evolving from bundling everything with one price to removing the hassle out of the basic logistics of tours: transportation plus hotel only, with everything else optional. The challenge will be that this is very labor intensive and requires retraining of tour managers.
- Operators are moving into Artificial Intelligence (AI). For example, The Travel Corporation, which operates globally with nearly 40 brands (including Contiki Tours) deploys AI across it brands. Agencies such as Virtuoso use to better personalize their offerings and services. Travel advisors have found its animated illustration capabilities a useful and essential sales tool; animated illustration what AI is about from a travel advisor perspective.
- Challenge: Retraining Tour Managers for the “They don’t want to see, they want to do” mindset of the new series or escorted tour travelers. Tour directors need to be retrained using a concierge approach in order to selling optional programs.
- New target for Chinese tourism: 10-year visa holders. With visa rejection rates running between 20-30 percent for groups based in cities where connections to the US have recently opened, the focus is on digital marketing and retargeting to those who have already visited with 10-year visas. Meanwhile, it has been determined that the one reason for the rejections is that applicants are intimidated and act frightened during the interview leading embassy officials to suspect they have something to hide. Better preparation by operators is needed.
- Dynamic pricing. The days of unchanging seasonal pricing are numbered. The future is variable, when suppliers’ operators change their prices by days of the week, or even times of day, charging more when demand is high, and discounting for less popular times.
- Everyone is a culinary tourist— whether they like it or not. Culinary – food and drink –experiences are the most important elements of a trip for travelers. This is the year operators of all types will start stepping it up in the culinary department.
Finally, Arrival Data for 2017 has Been Completed…Only One Year Late
Nearly three out of every four overseas visitors to the United States have made New York, Florida or California their USA state destination of choice. At the same time, the city of New York and its metropolitan area has remained about twice as popular as any other city destination. These two findings are just a few that stand out in the complete data for 2017 recently released by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO).
The data for 2017 were finally completed at the end of 2018, but their availability became problematic with the more than month-long partial shutdown of U.S. government agencies that did not end until January 25. The shutdown wreaked havoc on NTTO’s calendar for planned releases of monthly arrivals data; it will be some time before those numbers are released in timely fashion.
There don’t seem to be any surprises in the state and city data in the tables below. They do suggest, however, that overseas visitors have yet to make non-gateway destinations the lead city for their itineraries. The only exception in the Top 25 cities (and their metropolitan areas) below is Flagstaff, Arizona. But Flagstaff is generally considered as a “base camp” or point of entry for the hugely popular Grand Canyon National Park, which is about 75 miles away.
Looks Like Thomas Cook Could Shed its Airline Operations
It Was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year: In the wake of an anemic first quarter of the 2018-2019 financial year in which its losses increased by £14 million ($18.1 million) to £60 million ($77.6 million) year-on-year, Thomas Cook Group has launched a strategic review of its airline divisions in Great Britain, Germany (it operates under the Condor brand), Scandinavia and Spain.
In a prepared statement, the company, which is the oldest largest tour operator in the UK, said the airline review process “which will consider all options to enhance value to shareholders and intensify our strategic focus,” adding, “our strategy for the airline has been to profitably grow as a leading European leisure airline with a reliable, customer-focused service.”
While group revenue for the quarter was largely unchanged, gross margins fell, suggesting a continuation of the “highly competitive” market conditions in the UK at the end of the summer, and weaker demand for winter holidays in Nordic markets.
Weak Performance by Tour Operator Sector: Leading the company’s seasonal loss was its tour operator businesses, where a weaker performance in the UK and northern Europe was partially offset by a good performance in continental Europe.
For 2019, the group reported, its summer program is 30 percent sold, slightly ahead of last year with bookings described as being are consistent with capacity cuts “to closely manage our risk capacity throughout the year,” the company said, noting that, “as a result, tour operator bookings are down 12 percent, helping to support pricing, which is up in all key segments, and 4 percent higher overall.”
The group’s airlines, with a fleet of 103 aircraft, carried more than 20 million passengers in 2018 and generated £3.5 billion ($4.53 billion) in revenue, with underlying operating profits growing 37 percent year-on-year to £129 million ($167 million).
An item in the trade publication International Flight Network suggested this: “An indirect reason to sell the airline is the uncertainty around the Summer 2019 business as more and more people tend to book their holiday last minute, which makes it hard to plan ahead for the airlines. As a result, the carriers will reduce capacity slightly to ensure that they won’t be forced to operate mostly empty aircraft.”
How important are the carriers to Visit USA business? INBOUND checked the websites of both Thomas Cook and Condor and found that Thomas Cook says it serves 133 U.S. destinations and Condor indicates that it has service to 101 U.S. destinations.
Four Major Associations Partnering to Help Operators Connect to the Best Technology
Four major U.S. tour and travel industry associations—ABA, NTA, SYTA and US Travel—have partnered with the NAJ Group by supporting its upcoming RTO Summit East’s Tour Operator Technology Summit. Slated to take place April 24-25 at the Park Central hotel in New York, the Summit’s first day will focus on the Summit, which is designed to help international, receptive and domestic tour operators take advantage of some of the latest applications that will allow them to design, build, and customize tour packages as well as learn how to use new tools to manage their business more efficiently.
“The reason we’ve created this event is that while hotels, attractions and OTAs have become ever more sophisticated with connectivity, receptive and domestic tour operators have fallen behind and, with the help of our partners—US Travel (U.S. Travel Association, ABA (American Bus Association), NTA (formerly the National Tour Association) and SYTA (Student & Youth Travel Association), we hope that this industry-wide effort will help operators stay competitive.” explained Jake Steinman, CEO of the NAJ Group, which hosts the RTO Summit Series. “Most tour operators I know don’t have time to attend webinars or schedule Go-to-Meeting demos with vendors, so we’re inviting representatives from the 12 companies that we’ve identified to have product suitable for small and mid-size operators to present so they can see and demo the product in one place.”
In recognition of the role that US Travel, ABA, NTA and SYTA are playing in the Tour Operator Technology Summit, Steinman said that NAJ will be contributing $1,000 each to the foundation programs of the three associations.
The following companies have been invited to present at the Tour Operator Technology Summit, based on recommendations from at least three operators who currently use them.
- Cangooroo by Juniper
- Tailor Made Tour by eMinds
- Breakaway Travel
- Lumen 5
- Eat With
Tri-Valley Ice Cream Trail: About 33 miles east of San Francisco is California’s Tri-Valley, which includes the cities of Pleasanton Livermore, Dublin and Danville. (The Tri-Valley itself is a triangle-shaped region that takes its name from Amador Valley, Livermore Valley and San Ramon Valley. Visit Tri-Valley, the DMO that markets the area as a tourism destination, has a different kind of trail that does involve history or some product or activity peculiar to a region: The Tri-Valley Ice Cream Trail. More than a dozen ice cream and gelato businesses make up the trail and includes incentives for visitors to the area to stop at the shops along the trail. (For instance, there’s a passport that rewards a frequent user with a free ice cream scooper.) For more on the ice cream trail, visit https://visittrivalley.com/activities-and-things-to-do/ice-cream/
New Statue of Liberty Museum in NYC: Scheduled to open in May 2019 is The Statue of Liberty Museum, a 26,000-square foot attraction that shows Lady Liberty from a different view. One reason for the new facility is security. While approximately 4 million people visit Liberty Island and the symbolic statue every year, only about 20 percent get the chance to see the inside of the statue and the museum underneath, as limited tickets are available each day. “Security into the Statue of Liberty has cut the number of people that can get in,” said Stephen Briganti, CEO, Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. “So, in the 80s we built a very nice little museum inside the statue, but most people weren’t seeing it.” The new museum tells stories about the influence of liberty in the world. It will have three gallery spaces meant to inspire visitors and teach them the history of the statue. Her original torch will also be housed in the gallery. On top of the museum, a view of the statue, Ellis Island, and New York City is visible. Access to the museum is free with the purchase of a ferry ticket to visit Liberty Island and Ellis Island.
For more information, visit www.libertyellisfoundation.org/statueoflibertymuseum/, or call 212.561.4588.
Supermodel Launching “Modelland”: World renowned supermodel Tyra Banks is the force behind a new attraction scheduled to open later this year at Santa Monica Place in Santa Monica: Modelland—a multi-level 21,000 square foot that will include retail and dining options, and will be open to the public, who can buy tickets. Modelland—it is also the name of a book written by Banks and published in 2001—will carry on Banks’ mission of bringing modeling to the masses, while expanding the definition of beauty. “I’ve always been insanely inspired by attractions like Disneyland and Universal Studios and have wanted to bring that spirit of adventure and storytelling to the world of modeling,” Banks told Variety magazine. “But not the exclusive modeling industry. I’m talking about modeling for the masses.” Modelland is designed to be a permanent attraction, and the location at Macerich’s Santa Monica Place will serve as the flagship attraction in a plan to expand globally. E-mail inquiries to [email protected], or call 310.260.8300.
Ten Years after ADS status, China declared “Mature” Source Market by NTTO
In analyzing the state of the Chinese market, industry analysts and observers seem to agree that it has become a “mature” market—notwithstanding the fact that it was only a little more than 11 years ago that the Chinese government bestowed Approved Destination Status (ADS) on the United States, a move that allowed tour operators and suppliers from the U.S. to promote their products in what has become the world’s largest source market of international travelers.
“Mature” means that both Chinese travelers and Chinese tour operators, as well as the receptive tour operators, travel suppliers and DMOs in the United States who sell to them have fully integrated China into the way the marketing and promotion of the U.S. travel product takes place across most markets. One indication of this is that NAJ’s Active America China trade show—it brings together Chinese operators in face-to-face meetings with U.S. suppliers and DMOs—which had its first edition 10 years ago to modest numbers in Atlanta, is scheduled convene its 11th annual edition next month in Anchorage, Alaska and has been a sellout for some time.
“Mature,” as it applies to the United States then, is a fair assessment of the Chinese Market—one underscored if you take a look at the data contained in the China Market Profile posted recently on the website of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO). The NTTO profile presents final numbers for 2017. While it might seem a little late for the 2017 numbers, it should be pointed out that it took a good part of last year for statisticians and technicians to repair an error in the way in which arrivals information was prepared for NTTO. Then, just as the data became available late last year, there was a partial government shutdown that lasted until late last month.
Among the highlights of the findings presented in the NTTO market profile are these:
—Three out every four Chinese travelers to the United States visited the Middle Atlantic and Pacific regions of the country.
—Overall, almost 7 out of every 10 visits were for leisure.
—When it comes to who they rely on for travel information, the top three sources cited by Chinese visitors are: airlines (40 percent) personal recommendations from others (more than 35 percent) and online travel agencies (26 percent).
—As expected, shopping and dining comprise two of the top activities that Chinese take part in when in the U.S., but they also like sightseeing in cities (81 percent), art galleries and museums (43 percent), and national parks and monuments (41 percent).
—Chinese travelers are very much like Americans in far out they plan their long-haul trip to the U.S., taking an average of only two months or so to do so.
Following are some of the key tables contained in the NTT0 market profile.
Note: Total Travel & Tourism Exports = travel receipts (purchase of travel and tourism-related goods and services, to include food, lodging, recreation, gifts, entertainment, local transportation in the country of travel, and other items incident to a U.S. visit) + passenger fare receipts (fares paid to U.S. air carriers and vessel operators for travel from foreign countries to the United States). All traveler spending data are subject to periodic, annual, and decennial revisions. BEA releases details for Education Related spending, Other Business/Personal Travel spending, and Passenger Air Transportation spending in their October release. NTTO estimates Passenger Air Transportation in order to provide a Total Travel and Tourism Export estimate prior to October of the current year. All NTTO estimates are supplanted by the BEA October release.
Notes: Only country and world region destinations having a sample size consistently of 100 or more are displayed. Visitation incidence was rounded to two decimal places in NTTO source files beginning in 2014 to reduce artificial ‘jumpiness’ in the data caused by rounding to only one decimal places, especially for destinations having incidence of less than two percentage points. Due to quarterly data weighting by country and port of entry, some unreported destinations may have a higher proportion of total than those reported.
Main Purpose of Trip
All Purposes of Trip
Information Sources Used for Trip Planning
Activity Participation While in U.S.
Note: “Cruises” was removed as an activity type in 2012, but was added as a transportation type (“Cruise Ship/Rover Board 1+Nights”)
Selected Traveler Characteristics
Mergers & Acquisitions
—Government authorities in Brazil have given the country’s largest travel company, CVC Corp., approval of its acquisition of Esferatur, the industry’s largest consolidator. It has offices in 14 cities in Brazil. The purchase price was 245 million reais ($65.6 million). With the acquisition, the CVC Group increases its sales in the corporate segment (via consolidators), providing it with a better balance in the leisure/ corporate sales mix. Esferatur saw the move as an opportunity to perpetuate its business by integrating with a publicly traded company and solid financial position. From now on Esferatur becomes part of CVC Corp. and its employees will be integrated into the company. Not all directors and employees should stay, but these adjustments will be announced over time. CVC Corp reported sales of $ 13.26 billion reais ($3.55 billion) last year. With Esferatur, not counting the growth of 2019, it would increase to almost 16 billion reais ($4.3 billion) billion.
—World Choice Investments, the operating partner of Dolly Parton’s dinner theaters, will expand its dinner theater holdings to seven with the purchase of three theaters and a restaurant from David Fee and Jim Hedrick’s Fee Hedrick Entertainment in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Parton’s enterprise now operates spectacular shows in Branson, Missouri, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and with the purchase, five theater attractions in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. “My theater production company just purchased Fee Hedrick Entertainment, and I am so excited to have more family entertainment to present to our guests in Pigeon Forge. In 2019, we’ll operate Comedy Barn, Hatfield & McCoy and Smoky Mountain Opry in the same way folks have come to remember them,” Dolly Parton said. “David, Jim and their team have done a great job with these shows through the years and, for now, we don’t plan to change anything. They are fun family entertainment, and that is the business I’m in.” Founded in 1988, World Choice Investments, LLC, doing business as Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Attraction and Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show, operates dinner attraction venues for family fun and adventure in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Branson, Missouri and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Its shows feature special effects, musical productions, live animals and a four-course family feast.
—Minnesota-based Travel Leaders Group has acquired Halifax, UK-based YES (Your Event Solutions), a MICE business with global meetings and event expertise. The addition of YES complements Travel Leaders Group’s growing presence in the meetings and incentive marketplace, the company said, and will provide both firms with additional geographic reach and meetings expertise. A full-service event provider, YES provides a range of corporate event solutions from individually-tailored venue sourcing, meetings and training events to executive conferences, large-scale exhibitions, product launch events and incentive travel programs in all locations globally. The firm also assists in client outsource planning for annual meetings, calendar training programs and fulfillment. Sue Gill, founder and Chief Executive Officer of YES, will remain in her current leadership role. YES will retain its brand and no major operating changes are anticipated at the company. Travel Leaders U.K. portfolio will now include YES, Barrhead Travel, Colletts Travel, Protravel International U.K. and Tzell U.K. and ALTOUR, which are among the UK’s leading travel companies.
—Concierge Travel Group has announced its acquisition by global corporate and event travel company Reed & Mackay. The acquisition includes brands such as Concierge Business Travel, Concierge Traveller, Alquemie, Elegant Resorts & Villas and Freighter Expeditions. Its sale became effective on February 1, 2019. Headquartered in Sydney, Australia, Concierge Travel Group specializes in travel arrangements and services for both leisure and business travelers. Since 2012, Concierge has been the official travel service provider to the Australian Olympic Team and will manage the travel requirements for the team destined for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. Concierge Travel Group was founded in 1979 and acquired by Don Ferguson and Michael Keating in 2001. The company aims to provide highly personalized travel arrangements often with complex requirements. Chairman Michael Keating, commented: “The business had grown to a point whereby we had to make a decision how to take it to the next level. We felt the answer was to more deeply connect into international markets, so the opportunity with Reed & Mackay presented a perfect opportunity”
HODGE PODGE: Shifts, Shakeups and Occasional Shaftings in the Tour and Travel Industry
Paul Scurrah has been named the new chief executive of Virgin Australia following an eight-month long search. He will replace John Borghetti, who will be stepping down from his role on March 25 after eight years of leading the carrier. Scurrah is currently non-executive director of Gold Coast Football Club and has previously held board positions at Australia Post, Asian Terminals Inc, Australian Federation of Travel Agents, AOT Group, Australian Tourism Data Warehouse LTD and public transport group – Australian Railway Association.
Lisa Cannavacciuolo has joined the B2B sales team of the French tour operator La Française des Circuits—it sells USA product among its offerings. As a Southeast Trade Commissioner, she will meet with travel agents in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur and Corsica regions. Cannavacciuolo comes to the new position with more than His 10 years of professional experience in tourism sector.
Matthew Lepisto has joined TBO Holidays as country manager for USA. Previously, he was vice president of sales, USA & Canada, for WebBeds America, Middle East & Africa. And prior to that, he was regional head of sales, USA & Canada for JacTravel.
Chris Compton recently left his position as general manager of Gray Line of San Francisco, San Jose & Monterey and established his own consulting firm, specializing in the transportation and tourism industries. Compton had been with Gray Line for more than two years. Previously, he was executive director of the Woodward (Okla.) CVB and a regional director for Big Bus Tours.
Jesse Guerra for 33 years at Astro Tours
Bill Deef for 32 years at Meet Minneapolis
Roxanna Torrens for 22 years at Earl Enterprises: Planet Hollywood/Bucca di Beppo/Earl of Sandwich
Floy Kennedy for 11 years at Visit Colorado Springs
Joyce Kiehl for 10 years at Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau
Amarilis Cid for 6 years at TEAM AMERICA Ltd.
Mara Sultan for 6 years at Discover Lancaster
Joe Timko for 5 years at San Diego Tourism Authority
Diego Camacho for 1 year at Empire State Observatory