The Top 50 Tour Operators in the UK
April 2019 Update—ATOL Renewal Data Suggests that Brexit Doesn’t Seem to Matter: There was very little change this month when the UK’s Civilian Aviation Authority (CAA) released its biennial list of the top holders of an Airline Travel Organizer License (Atol), which is also a measure of the top operators in the UK. However, judging by the sales activity anticipated on the part of the Top 10 Atol-holders, the UK tourism industry is looking forward to a healthy summer and peak travel season this year, as these 10 have increased their authorized capacity for the by almost 15 percent. (Air Travel Organizers Licensing is a CAA program designed to give financial protection to people who have purchased package holidays and flights from a member tour operator.)
CAA figures show that, despite uncertainty about Brexit putting affecting sales, the 10 largest license holders are authorized to carry almost 18.8 million passengers through the coming year (March 31, 2020), up from 16.4 million a year ago. By contrast, the 10 largest Atol‑holders sought authorization for 325,000 holidays a year ago, a rise of 2 two percent vs. April 2017.
According to those who follow the matter, the sharp increase is due to a combination of added capacity and to previously unprotected sales being brought into Atol in line with the new Package Travel Regulations, which came into effect last July. (More holiday travel arrangements will be classified as packages. A “ready-made” holiday—this is usually where you book through one company and pay one price—is still classified as a package holiday. But so, too, are holidays sold in other ways; these include, for example, many tailor-made trips and “shopping cart” type sales on websites, where the consumer selects the different elements such as flight and hotel.)
Alan Bowen, an attorney who advises the UK travel industry, told Travel Weekly UK: “A lot of people in the past were getting away with selling flights as agent to the consumer [and] if you were just selling seat-only you didn’t need to protect those. Some have thought ‘better bring those back into Atol’ so they can tell people they are protected.” He expressed surprise at the increase in capacity by tour operators, adding, “The short-haul market is enormously difficult and there is huge competition.”
A Conversation with Robert Graff
When, as INBOUND’s editor, I first met Robert Graff—he’s vice president of sales and marketing at Las Vegas-based Bindlestiff Tours—several years ago at an IPW show, it was as if I had come upon an environment that belonged in to an era of black-and-white movies in which the setting was somewhere overseas in Beirut, which was once the multicultural and multilingual capital of the Middle East. Looking for someone who had some first-person experience in assaying the Arab-speaking market, a colleague had told me to go see Graff who, among his other talents, speaks fluent Arabic and has been working the international marketplace for several decades. When I came upon his booth, I realized right away that he was not speaking English, or Arabic. Rather, he was speaking French to a client visitor. When their session ended and he was able to talk to me for a few minutes, he seemed to know right away that I was not a speaker of Arabic or French and greeted me in English. There were mutual introductions along with a promise on his part to talk with me further at a convenient future date. It struck me that he conducted himself like one of those courtly gentlemen in one of those black-and-white movies (Think “Casablanca” or “Third Man” or David Niven or Rex Harrison in the 1940s) who is always neat, courteous and, well, gentlemanly. And he speaks your language. Following is an excerpted version of INBOUND’s long-time-in-the-making conversation with Graff.
INBOUND: You probably have been asked this question several times, but I will still ask it again: What drew you to the tour and travel industry and how and where did you get your start?
RG: Living in Las Vegas is perfect for me because I love living in this city and I love traveling the world talking about this city. Because I am also polyglot and there is a large number of international visitors, there were many opportunities. In the beginning, because I speak French fluently, that was my first opportunity as it enabled me to translate at high-profile trade shows. Sentimentally speaking, frequent flyer miles were another reason I came and stayed in Las Vegas. Years ago, when companies such as TWA had these programs, when I moved back to Las Vegas after living overseas, I was penniless and all I had was these frequent flyer miles. Thanks to TWA, I was able to sell them and that got me my first car and start here in Las Vegas. I attribute those miles to starting these special moments in my life.
INBOUND: What were you doing overseas before you migrated to Las Vegas?
RG: My dad was working overseas. He was involved with French and American companies and as a result, we were always based in different parts of the world – especially in the Middle East and Europe.
INBOUND: I’ve seen and heard you speaking different languages on the trade show circuit. How many languages do you speak?
RG: I speak seven—English, French, Arabic, Russian, Italian, Greek and I even studied Romanian. I can manage a bit in Spanish—I generally never really counted it before but people said,”You can manage it pretty well. You kind of mix it up with English or Italian, but you manage… “
INBOUND: That somewhat describes my feeble attempt at Spanish in which I have, at best, a third-grader’s level of competence. But I remember a quote I first heard many years ago which said, “Even if you just say ‘hello’ in someone else’s native language, you will have just scored your first diplomatic conquest.” Do you find that to be the case?
RG: Absolutely! I think saying hello or approaching someone in their own native tongue is helpful. I think the other international language is a smile. Wherever I travel, a simple “hello” or “thank you” and a smile is understood and breaks down the barriers. And that’s what makes the travel industry so special.
INBOUND: Most of the products you’ve been associated with suggest that you like being associated with tourism experiences or activities that are outdoors, such as your position with Bindlestiff Tours. Is there any reason that you find yourself drawn to this product, or was it just kismet? Or a preference?
RG: It’s kismet. When you look at the national parks and the outdoors—that always has an appeal to the international visitor. When you combine the ability to communicate with people coming from different countries and/or having to reach out to them and explain to the what our natural beauties are or what special activities we have to offer—I think that, automatically, that helps. And more importantly, I love the outdoors. What a perfect place to be. I live in Las Vegas, the city of lights and entertainment. And, then, I’m surrounded by all these national parks and outdoor recreation activities.
(Here, INBOUND and Graff talked for several minutes about the Valley of Fire State Park, a favorite of both located about 50 miles north of Las Vegas. The 46,000-acre park gets its name from red sandstone formations, the Aztec Sandstone, which formed from shifting sand dunes 150 million years ago.)
INBOUND: Is the Valley of Fire State Park on any of your itineraries, by any chance?
RG: Yes, it is. We offer Valley of Fire tours. There are a lot of day trips that we do out of Las Vegas since we are headquartered here. We have ghost town tours. We have Death Valley, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Zion … a lot on a customized basis, as well. What got me attracted to where I am now is –it’s almost like the next generation of sightseeing products are coming out here with that immersive experience.
INBOUND: I’m sure we could talk ad infinitum about the do’s and don’ts of international marketing, but let’s keep it brief for now. If you had to give a small-to-medium-sized business five rules for starting up and tapping into the top international source markets, what would they be?
RG: I think that, a lot of times, when people look into the international market, they should realize—
Rule Number One—Not one thing works for everybody. Not all markets are the same. You’ve got to adapt to each country.
Number Two—If you’re going to be tapping in to the international market, you’ve got to diversify. You can’t have all your eggs in one basket, whether it’s all your eggs in Europe or China. In my experience, the world has never hit complete recession, all countries, every part of the world, so diversify. Make sure clients are diversified, too—according to the type of business they’re in.
Number Three—Work with receptive operators. There’s no doubt the inbound receptive operators are specialists in their field. They bring together a great platform where you can meet people from different countries and everything. They can arrange escorted tour programs that take visitors through your destination or attraction.
Number Four—Look at suppliers that are in the same place and who are trying to accomplish the same thing.
Number Five—You need time. You can’t just turn around and think it’s going to happen overnight. Just one trip is not going to change everything. It’s about building that trust and those relationships.
INBOUND: On that last point, I’ve heard it said that, if your maiden voyage into the international market is, say, at IPW, then don’t expect any return for a minimum of 18 months.
RG: I think you’re right. That’s when you’re just beginning to touch the surface. It’s almost like year one goes by and it’s getting to know you, and the perception is “Let me see if they’re still around next year.” Year two goes around and, then, like “OK, hold on a second.” They tell me about the product. Darn, I really need to probably look at it more and maybe we should try to start working together. And I think that, as you’re moving into your two-and-a-half to three-year period, you’re pretty much into full swing. You’ve got the project out there. You’ve got the nuances all worked out. The client feels reassured. If you’re maintaining these relationships, they can put a lot more eggs in your basket.
INBOUND: A sidebar regarding your rule about diversifying and point that not everyone’s been in a recession at the same time: Australia hasn’t had a recession in 27 years, so this might suggest that you’re right.
RG: Well, they’ve also had massive currently fluctuations, too. Over the years, you saw the Russians come in, or new markets emerging, then it was Brazil. Then Brazil dropped and here came the Chinese market. Then came the Indian market. And obviously, the precursor to all of this is the European business. You get to see a lot of changes and I haven’t had a chance to see everything fall apart at the same time. It’s good for you to have to have a domestic U.S.-Canada-Mexico base business going, combined with an international, long-haul outreach to different types of markets.
INBOUND: Continuing with the subject—China; it was a blip on the charts 20 years ago. No one really had an idea that China would become such a market in the way that it has. Do you sense any potential in any other markets in the next five years or so?
RG: Absolutely. The growth you’ve see from China is amazing. The markets that are growing in my mind—one example is India. I think they’ll surpass China this year or next as the world’s largest in population. International air service is growing, with the hub and spoke areas that you have. Their economy is doing well. And in my travels there, the aspiration of Indians to travel to the United States—it’s the perfect storm. I’m also keeping an eye on the emergence of the Gulf region as well, primarily as it ties into Africa, believe it or not. If you look further down the road, I think you’re going to see a lot more African countries come with more air service coming non-stop into Africa. Royal Emirates has just joined the Oneworld (airline alliance) and has just launched service to Chicago and Miami. I think you’re going to see a lot more of that coming through. Ethiopia is coming out with flights to Dublin, then on to Los Angeles and Chicago. You’re opening a whole different sector of markets and everything.
INBOUND: As an aside, when it comes to India, as an experiment I spent several days with a tour group from India as their itinerary went through Pennsylvania (the editor lives near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) several years ago and it was easy for me to join in. Everything you’ve just said was affirmed by my experience with that group. They really like and know so much about the United States. For instance, I wondered why the operator would schedule a stop in Hershey … what special appeal would that have. Several people from the group told me that the Hershey product is known in every household in India. The applicability of English? This was not a pre-formed group; it was sold on the market, so you had people from different parts of the country—from Punjab in the north and from some of the larger cities in other regions. One man told me that the people in the group would speak different languages in India, but on the bus and during the tour, they speak English to one another.
RG: Yes, they have so many different dialects, but English is the main language. When you think about it, look how much effort we have put into growing the Chinese business–the tools, the resources that we needed. Now, you have a market that speaks the same language, with the same population demographics and a stronger middle class.
INBOUND: OK, we’re shifting to a different line of questioning now. Our industry is considered by many to be a proving ground for relationship marketing. Just how important do you believe relationships are in this industry.
RG: I think it’s one of the most important things. I think that’s what differentiates us from so many other of the businesses out there. It comes down to one thing: people like to do business with people they like and people who are liked. And I think that’s what gets so exciting about the travel-hospitality industry. That’s exactly the business we deliver. We like to do business with certain people. It comes from a handshake. It comes from that ability to pick up the phone and get things moving. Of course, we’ve evolved a lot like other businesses and have with rules and procedures and everything. But that communication is critical.
The other aspect that I find where that relationship element becomes so critical is: When I got in the business, I was shocked to think that I talk to a tour operator half way across the world, who will tell their clients “Hey, give me $3,000 dollars, present this little electronic voucher or this piece-of-paper voucher and someone half-way across the world is going to deliver your dream, just like we told you in this picture, or this brochure or website.” Ultimately, we’re selling dreams. And to be able to pull that off, you must have the relationship in place –to be able to fulfill someone’s expectations that way.
INBOUND: I’ve never heard it put so beautifully. You mentioned India. Is there any other place on the list of the Top 20 to watch out for?
RG: The world is pretty much connected now. You have service from almost everywhere. I do see business dramatically changing. It is evolving. You have mature markets, you have emerging markets, and you have consumers who are fully plugged-in—to the internet and everything like that. And they are moving into a whole different marketplace. They are customizing their product. They are customizing their vacations, their experiences. This is one thing that all of us will have to wrestle with. How do you capture that?
Things are moving very, very quickly. A product idea that might be great today may not be good tomorrow. There are so many startups in our business that can respond quickly. They’re innovative. They have technology. I think that puts a lot of pressure on a lot of the legacy businesses that are out there. You’ve got a lot of companies who’ve been doing it for a while. They’ve grown. The challenge that they face is that they’re unable to change direction. They’re so concerned about the profits that they’re driving on what they’ve maximized for a long time that they’re missing the boat on some of the unique opportunities out there and what that new customer wants.
INBOUND: Between you and me, it sounds like you’re talking about (mentions several major European tour operators).
RG: Let’s take it into the attractions space—myself, where I’m at. I grew up with the tour operators and the receptive operators—dealing with them. When I look at what attractions are doing well in the United States right now, it’s anything that’s experiential-based. The legacy attractions are all down. The areas of growth are coming in to anyone who’s providing that “experiential experience,” per se. It’s more personalized and more customized at the same time. That’s a challenge for us. We’re used to 50 people on a coach coming through. Now, we have an audience that says, “Hey, look. I’m a solo traveler. I want my own guide. I want my own experiences.” Or, “I’m a family.” Or, “I want to travel in small groups.”
I think that’s something new that’s been coming out there. That’s the base where our new business is in, and it’s been growing by leaps and bounds. That caught me off guard, because I really didn’t see that in the radar—how well the small group business has been doing. The adventure specialist that caters to multi-day itineraries and day trips … I was very surprised on how well they did.
You see other areas that are doing very well—like the traditional shows in Las Vegas that people have been doing forever, are becoming stale. That audience is now looking for new experiences. I talk to my friends who are in the club business in town here. The days of someone spending $500 for bottle service at a table are long gone. That environment’s changing, and I think it’s caused by the internet, by a customer half-way across the world saying “I want to pick and choose things. I want to stay in this hotel. I want to do this activity. But I want to go here.” That’s an area in which we’ve done very good packaging—in setting packages for people or telling them they need to do this. But I think the new consumer is telling us, “I’m going to do what I want to do, and, thanks to technology and the internet, if you can’t provide me this experience, I’ll go and tailor-make it myself.
INBOUND: Can I say that, in other words, Robert Graff is telling us that “Elvis is Dead.”
RG: Yes! (Laughter) I suppose when you do this for a while, you see the patterns change. I’m shocked to see, for instance, the gun-shooting business, the ATV business, the outdoor experiential business all doing phenomenally well. There is a whole new generation of clients that value that interpersonal relationship on a small-group basis. And I think that is the success that you’re seeing. For all of us who’ve worked for larger companies over time: How do you access those people? That’s our challenge.
IPW Countdown: Where It Is this Year, Where It Will Be in the Future and Where It’s Been
June 1-5 in Anaheim will mark the 51st annual staging of the inbound U.S. tour and travel industry’s “Big Dance.” If you don’t do IPW, industry professionals will tell you, then you’re not serious about working the inbound international market. When one takes a look at the list of cities that have hosted IPW since its inception in 1969, one gets the impression that, with few exceptions, only “the big boys” need apply.
Why? Because it requires, at the very least, the following: A huge convention center—not necessarily because there are so many attendees, but because, in addition to sufficient exhibit space, the event requires contiguous function space that makes a luncheon for 6,000 people easy, as well as space for ancillary meetings and event management; local ground transport to pick up and return delegates at the airport, at hotels and at evening functions; a city government that understands the importance of such an event and doesn’t create roadblocks for necessary permits and approvals; and a tourism community volunteer force willing to put in untold extra hours for many months leading up to IPW; and convenient air service—i.e., a destination that is preferably non-stop, especially for international delegates.
The above might help to explain, in part, why 30 of the 50 previous editions of IPW were hosted by major and/or populous U.S. cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami and Orlando. Only New Orleans, which the 49th largest city in the U.S., has hosted IPW on three or more occasions. After this year, it’s back to the usual for the next five years, with the exception of San Antonio—it is the 10th most populous city in the U.S.—which will host the event in 2023.
IPW Countdown II: Brief Tips and Advice for INBOUND Subscribers Attending IPW
—from Jake Steinman, editor-in-chief of INBOUND.
Q: Which collateral is best to leave behind for your appointments at the IPW?
A: A one-page (front & back) summary w/ photos and captions and e-mail them a pdf after the show
Q: When meeting a new buyer at IPW, what should you do?
A: Three things we recommend are:
—Inquire about destinations they currently near you and the gateways cities.
—Determine which receptive tour operators they use and record that info for future use.
—Provide them with a list of Receptive Operators along with IPW booth numbers who are currently selling your product.
Q: If you meet an operator at IPW trying to sell you advertising in their brochure, what should you do?
A: If you don’t know them, act like a media buyer and ask them about distribution, price, reach, CPM, etc.; and, if you’re at all interested and the price is right, try to negotiate for additional free space. If the operator is well known dropping subtle hints about excluding you if you don’t pay to play, ask them for numbers–room night or ticket sales data– as part of the deal.
Q: How soon should you expect to see business materialize from a “traditional” tour operator you are meeting for the first time?
A: Normally 2-3 years. You’re meeting them while they are preparing to release their 2020 brochures, promoting tours that will be sold in late 2020-early 2021 that will operate in summer 2021.
Q: When meeting with someone already familiar with your product or destination, what are the most important features you should to highlight?
A: What’s new/what’s changed in the past year that can help them make money
Q: You’re a hotelier and buyer requests rates for 2020-21 season, which you do not yet have, how should you respond?
A: Provide them with an estimated range of percent change based on most recent industry forecasts and tell them
Q: What should I do if I encounter a buyer whose English is not understandable?
A: Take advantage of IPW’s official translation service, Jeenie. You’ll find more information on the Jeenie service here: https://www.ipw.com/translation-app
New Air Service
The end of March marked the launch of the peak travel summer season of 2019 (S 19) for the world’s airlines and, as a result, the perfect time to launch new international flight routes. This meant the start of a number of new long-haul routes between international destinations and U.S. gateways. Here is a tally of major recent launches:
—Cathay Pacific Airways launched service between Hong Kong and Seattle-Tacoma on March 31. Seattle becomes the eighth destination in the U.S. for Cathay Pacific, which already serves Boston, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, New York’s Newark and JFK (via Vancouver), San Francisco and Washington Dulles.
—United Airlines launched flights between San Francisco and Amsterdam on March 30. The airline will serve the transatlantic service daily using its fleet of 787-9s. With this new service, the carrier has inaugurated 10 new routes across North America, including its first flights to Everett Paine Field (also known as Snohomish County Airport), a small international airport serving part of the Seattle metropolitan area
—American Airlines launched two transatlantic routes during the first weekend of the S19 season: one route. Begun on March 30, connects Charlotte-Douglas Airport in North Carolina and Munich. A second new service began the following day, linking Phoenix and London Heathrow. Both routes have competition: Lufthansa flies daily from Munich to Charlotte-Douglas daily this summer, while American Airlines offers daily service from London Heathrow to Phoenix.
—WestJet launched service to Atlanta from Calgary on March 3rd. It operates six times weekly.
—On March 31, Air France launched a new route to Dallas-Ft. Worth from Paris (Charles de Gaulle). The new service operates three times weekly. The flight faces competition from American Airlines which provides a daily service.
—Finnair launched its fifth U.S. route, from Helsinki to Los Angeles (LAX) on March 31. It will operate three times a week. Finland’s flag carrier also serves Chicago O’Hare, Miami, New York JFK and San Francisco in the U.S.
—KLM began service between Amsterdam and Boston on March 31. It is the carrier’s 10th destination in the U.S. The others are Atlanta, Chicago O’Hare, Houston Intercontinental, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York JFK, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Washington Dulles. KLM will operate the route three times weekly—on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Beginning July 1, a fourth weekly (Mondays) flight will be added.
—Norwegian began its first route Canada on March 31, with the low-cost carrier connecting Dublin to Hamilton, Ontario.
—Norwegian has also introduced three long-haul services to the USA, including its first flights to Miami and San Francisco from London Gatwick as the carrier shuts down Gatwick service to Fort Lauderdale and Oakland services. The airline’s third U.S. route connects Rome (Fiumicino) to Boston.
Meanwhile, for the future …
—Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines are planning to launch flights from London Gatwick to Boston and New York JFK beginning in the summer of 2020. The new routes will give the two carriers up to 18 daily flights between the UK and Boston and JFK. Full schedule and fare information will be announced later this year.
—The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has finally paved the way for Vietnamese airlines to make flights to the country as the FAA has been assured that the Vietnamese civil aviation authority has complied with international safety standards, enabling the action. With the news, companies such as Vietnam Airlines and Bamboo Airways, which had already expressed a desire to operate direct flights to the US West Coast, could plan routes between the Vietnam and cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. Vietnamese airlines will still need to undergo individual evaluations promoted by the FAA before they actually start selling air tickets for nonstop flights to the United States.
—U.S. carrier JetBlue will enter the transatlantic market in 2021 promising “multiple daily flights” from New York and Boston to London. JetBlue says the new routes—they represent the airline’s first transatlantic venture—will, according to Jet Blue underline a “new era” of “customer-focused, low-fare travel between the US and Europe.” It is still unclear, however, at which London airport JetBlue will base its UK operations. “JetBlue is evaluating which London airports it will serve,” said the airline.
The Noisiest, Greediest, Messiest and Boozing-est International Visitors Are Also the Favorites of Hotel Staff
And They Are … Perhaps one of the reasons that U.S. travel marketers make such an effort to sell and promote their products and destinations to visitors from the UK—and making it the USA’s Number One overseas source market in doing so—is that the British are the world’s friendliest guests. According to a just-released survey of more than 1,000 hotel staff in key destinations by the UK-based online travel agency On the Beach, just over a third (35 percent) of hotel staff said Brits were the friendliest of all international guests.
Irish and Swedish visitors took second and third place with votes of 27 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, travelers from France and the United States were named the least friendly guests, according to hotel staff who responded to the survey.
Which Visitors are the Most and Least Generous? The study revealed that just over a quarter of international hotel staff named Brits as the most likely to tip staff during their stay, while holidaymakers from Germany and the U.S, tied for second place with 19 percent of the survey votes cast. They were followed by the Irish at 13 percent and Norwegians at 8 percent. Hotel staff named holidaymakers from France the least generous, along with guests from Denmark, Finland and Italy.
Who Tries the Most to Speak the Local Language? According to 23 percent of hotel staff, holidaymakers from Germany make the most effort, while 22 percent of hotel staff said the Brits do.
Who are the Unruliest? While British holidaymakers are considered the friendliest and most generous, according to hotel staff, the survey found that British kids are the unruliest, with only 4 percent of staff naming them the best behaved. Children from Germany were named the most well-behaved, with 37 percent of the vote, and youngsters from Sweden (26 percent) and Norway (9 percent) are better behaved than their British counterparts, grabbing second and third places, respectively.
Who are the Biggest Boozers? Brits were also named the biggest holiday drinkers, garnering 64 percent of the vote, well ahead of the Irish who came in second place with 17 percent. Only 6 percent of hotel staff named Germans the biggest drinkers, with Russians (5 percent) and holidaymakers from Scandinavia (1 percent) also appearing to have greater control on holiday when it comes to alcohol.
Who are the Greediest? British travelers were also named the greediest guests, with 22 percent of staff saying British holidaymakers eat more during their stay than any other nation, just ahead of Spanish guests who came in with 18 percent of the votes.
Who are the Noisiest? With a vote of 44 percent, the British were also named the noisiest guests, ahead of the Spanish (33 percent).
Who are the Messiest? Once again, Brits were named the messiest travelers, least likely to maintain a tidy hotel room. German holidaymakers were considered the cleanest guests, with a vote of 42 percent, followed by those from Sweden (18 percent) and Norway (8 percent).
Summing up the results of the survey, Alan Harding, marketing director at On the Beach, said:
“Whilst we Brits enjoy letting our hair down during our well-earned holidays, we are incredibly popular guests amongst international hotel staff. We’re a fun-loving, friendly and generous bunch, and it’s heartening to see that Britons make such a positive impression on our travels abroad.”
Receptive Tour Operator of the Month
For 40 years, RMP Travel has been a part of the inbound tour and travel industry focusing on, and catering to, the MICE market, Med Pharma visitors, convention and congress groups. In doing so, the New York-based operator has developed programs that highlight New York City, New York State and major cities throughout the United States. Its formula for success has been clear and direct: “We assess our clients’ needs and deliver customized programs catered to those needs.”
The TourOperatorLand.com website of the Connect Travel Group (it also publishes the INBOUND Report) has introduced both receptive tour operators, U.S. tour operators and international tour operators to travel product and services of U.S. travel suppliers and DMOs. Visitors to the website can use its exclusive Receptive Finder™ to find the right RTO. It is designed to help both the travel trade and travel suppliers find the right U.S. based receptive tour operator to sell their products on the international travel market place.
The receptive operators listed on TheTourOperatorLand.com, who are vetted and qualified by the Connect Travel Group, also take part in at least one of Connect’s RTO Summits series. The Summits take place annually in Los Angeles, New York City and Orlando.
If you would like to make personal contact with RMP Travel next week, then check out the RTO Summit East April 24-25 at the Park Central Hotel in New York City. RMP Travel will be there. For more information, visit: www.rtosummit.com, or www.TourOperatorLand.com.
Notes on the China Market: Customized Luxury Tours Are Hot
Also, luxury travelers are “keen to explore” different local cultures; they enjoy “self pampering”; and they are “open” to socializing with locals. Following are more details on the two developments.
Research Unveils Chinese Travelers’ Changing Lifestyles. A survey by Kantar and Nielsen of 1,000 Chinese citizens across different age groups and regions who have stayed in an upscale hotel at least once, the Kantar study identified four new key traits that have emerged among today’s Chinese travelers:
—83 percent of respondents are “keen to explore” different local cultures
—82 percent enjoy “self-pampering”
—77 percent are “open” to socializing with locals
—77 percent are “self-expressive” by seeking out new experiences.
These traits, said the study, demonstrate an appetite to dive deep into local culture and pay a premium for rewarding experiences. Travelers also expect hotels to feature a blend of culture, comfort, socialization and personalization. Additionally, they seek places where unique spaces, special gourmet experiences and customized services come together to define a distinctive lifestyle. The survey also captured three common mindsets among Chinese travelers:
—They “work hard and play harder,” with 67 percent of respondents opting to live in the moment and seeking instant gratification to quickly recover from the hectic pace of work. At the same time, 54 percent of respondents seek out hotels that can offer an “invigorating experience.”
—Sixty-nine percent label themselves as the “me generation” who thrive on being in the limelight, with a strong desire to express their identities. Correspondingly, they relish opportunities to be visible, including through socially shareable visuals; 50 percent said they prefer hotel walls to be curated with local items and 48 percent favor unique and stylish design decorations.
—They are happy with moments of simple bliss. Sixty-three percent refer to the importance of thoughtful, personalized perks over opulence, while 50 percent said they care about how hotels attend to their everyday lifestyle needs.
In sum: “Bolstered by higher disposable income, wider international exposure and easier accessibility of travel, Chinese consumers are more confident in exploring new destinations and looking to gain new experiences when they travel.
The emergence of custom-made luxury tours. Chinese tourists have been dropping group tours at a rapid pace, reports Jing Travel, (https://jingtravel.com/), which covers the luxury travel market in China, and, as a result “custom-tour operators are reaping the benefits of this booming tourism industry segment.”
In a recent article, Jing describes, point-by-point how customized luxury tour products have emerged as a hot item for customers who want them and the tour operators who are creating them:
—First, the first waves of Chinese travelers who’ve tried the group tours and now have experience in traveling abroad are seeking new, unique experiences.
—Most of these travelers have the adventurous nature and significant disposable income needed to partake in these high-end tours. Even so, there is one traveler demographic within this industry that is still under-served by China’s booming online travel agencies: high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs).
—As Chinese tourists have increased the frequency of their travels abroad, abroad, a growing demographic of high-end tourists have taken to joining smaller customized tours hoping to avoid the crowds of other Chinese tourists making international trips over the holidays.
—According to Chinese research company Hurun Report, about 3.9 million families in China have assets worth more than and 1.6 million households have more than $1.5 million and many of them are looking to spend their money on experiential travel abroad.
—The transaction value of China’s customized travel market totaled $1 billion in 2017, according to a recently published report from Chinese research firm iResearch, which said that it expects this industry segment to grow as more travelers become aware of the option. The report notes that the customized travel industry is in the early stages and online sales for such tours remain low, leaving significant room for growth.
—While the market segment has been around in China since 2000, only 7.9 percent of customized tour revenue came from online bookings in 2017.
—The low online travel agency penetration rate may be due to the age of the average customized-tour traveler. The high-end travel market is powered by tourists between 35 and 50 years old. However, 58 percent of Chinese tourists over the age of 46 are the ones choosing long-distance destinations, according to another 2017 report from the high-end travel agency HHTravel. (The report notes that younger luxury travelers, most of whom are likely to book independent travel online, take fewer long-haul trips due to limited holidays and paid time off.)
—China’s largest online travel agency, Ctrip.com International, noted that its customized travel offerings have seen triple-digit annual growth since they were introduced in 2016. The platform now hosts more than 1,500 suppliers and over 6,000 trip designers. The company recently upgraded its customized travel platform to offer tours geared toward high-end luxury travelers with packages that include small group tours to over 80 countries and regions.
—The company noted that the average custom tour costs over $1,489 for domestic travel, $2,978 for short-haul international, and $4,466 for long-haul destinations.
Concluded Jing: Building a reputation among wealthy Chinese travelers will be a focus for the country’s online travel agencies as they jostle for market share in this growing segment. Companies that offer the highest standards for personalized service will end up atop the industry.
HODGE PODGE: Shifts, Shakeups and Occasional Shaftings in the Tour and Travel Industry
Karen Shiers has been appointed vice president of sales, North America for Merlin Entertainments PLC. Shiers joined Merlin in 2011 as part of the company’s management trainee program and since then has worked across the world in various sales positions, from Madame Tussauds New York to New Openings EMEA to LEGOLAND Japan. She will be moving to Orlando from her current role as head of sales and revenue management for LEGOLAND California Resort.
Keiko Matsudo Orrall has been named executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (MOTT). Prior to her appointment Orrall served in the Massachusetts Legislature for four terms as a Representative for the 12th Bristol district. Orrall lost in her bid for a seat in the State Senate to incumbent Democrat Deb Goldberg last November in the general election. She succeeds Francois-Laurent Nivaud, a management consultant and former hotelier who held the job for three years.
Mike Waterman has been let go from his position as president and CEO of Visit Houston. He held the post since May 2015 and also served as chief sales and marketing officer for Houston First. The decision not to renew his contract was made by Brenda Bazan, president and CEO of Houston First. Visit Houston (formerly the Houston CVB) was structurally aligned within Houston First five years ago and the employees became employees of Houston First. However, the bureau and Houston First remain separate entities. Waterman came to Visit Houston in 2015 following more than 20 years in senior sales and marketing positions from Renaissance Hotels and Resorts, and then Marriott International.
Transat has announced the appointment of Monique Lalonde to the position of director, Agent@Home, for Transat Distribution Canada. She will be dedicated to the development and the maturation of Transat Distribution Canada’s Agent@Home program, to make it the best outside sales agent program in Canada. Monique reports to Susan Bowman, vice president, marketing.
Donna Hanson has been named director of fun at US Integrity Touring, a Maine-based operator that plans and operates student performance group tours. She joins the company from The Maine Tour Collection in South Portland, Maine, where she served for nearly 19 years, lastly as vice president of fun.
Ian Ross has been promoted to the position of executive vice president at Travel Spike, a travel technology and digital marketing company. Ross, who has been with the company for nearly six years, was previously vice president.
The Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB has announced the appointment of Tracy Vaughan as its new senior vice president of tourism & travel industry sales. Starting on April 22, Vaughan will be responsible for the strategic leadership of the bureau’s domestic and international transient sales efforts.
Prior to joining the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB, Vaughan served as director of global market development for the tourism division at the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) for four and a half years. Prior to that, she was director of international sales and marketing at VISIT FLORIDA, where she served more than 22 years.
Anna Laestadius has been appointed chief creative officer of TUI Group. In her new role she will oversee the global development of the TUI brand. Formerly Nordic marketing chief, she replaces Barbara Haase, who left TUI earlier this year. Laestadius has been with TUI since 2015 and was responsible for the launch of the brand name TUI in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. Before joining TUI she was global vice president brand and marketing for Electrolux Grand Cuisine.
WestJet has appointed Charles (Chuck) Crowder as vice-president, sales and distribution, reporting to Arved von zur Muehlen, chief commercial officer, effective April 29, 2019. Crowder has nearly 30 years as a sales leader in the global travel and aviation industry. He joins WestJet most recently from Avis Budget Group where he served as vice president, global accounts and cross border sales, in charge of developing the global sales strategy with large corporate and travel management companies. Prior to that, Chuck held various sales leadership and general management positions with United Airlines and Continental Airlines in the United States and Europe.
Scott Towers has been named manager of tours at Boston’s Boch Center, which is home to three theatre and a popular venue for the performing arts as well as special events. Towers comes to the job from Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox, were he worked for nine years, lastly as manager of tours at Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox.
Anna Engstrom Klapper has been appointed director of marketing communications for securiport, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that specializes the application of modern technology for border and airport security. Klapper’s CV includes a five-year-plus tenure at Brand USA, where she was once Manager, Global Trade Development
Simon Garrido, former head of sales at Attraction World, has joined Travelopia as head of trade partnerships. Garrido will manage trade sales for Travelopia’s tailor made brands Hayes & Jarvis, Citalia, Sovereign Luxury Travel and Austravel. Garrido, who was previously head of trade sales at Monarch, before its collapse, had also held roles at Airtours, Global and Avis.
Visit Phoenix has promoted Lorne Edwards to senior vice president of convention sales and services. Edwards joined Visit Phoenix in 2012 after a 16-year stint in sales at Hyatt Hotels Corporation, where he served as director of sales and marketing at two Boston-area hotels, among other roles.
Brazilian tour operator RCA Turismo, has hired Maurício Alexandre as commercial director. Alexandre left Sea World / Imaginadora last week after almost a decade as director RCA is Disney select operator and has carrier contracts also selected with Universal Orlando and Sea World Parks, since one of its specialties are trips to Orlando. Mauricio Alexandre has worked for companies such as American Airlines, Walt Disney World, RCA and Sea World Parks.
Erminia Nigro has joined Air Canada Vacations as its new general manager, sales – Ontario & National Accounts. In this role, she will be responsible for leading a six-person sales team, including five area sales managers and one manager of national accounts. Nigro joins Air Canada Vacations from TravelBrands where she most recently held the position of director of sales, having spent the past 16 years with the company. Prior to that, she spent four years at Sunquest as a Business Development Manager, with her first two years in the industry at Regent Holidays.
Glenn Hollister has been named vice president–sales strategy and effectiveness for United Airlines. Hollister comes to United from ZS Associates, where he was the principal and practice leader for travel and transportation. He also he led ZS associates’ efforts to help travel companies across the commercial functions of marketing, sales and revenue management and other related areas. At United, Hollister will lead the carrier’s strategy, analysis, market development, digital sales, channel management, sales support, sales events, sales training and sales systems teams.
HAPPY WORK ANNIVERSARIES
Beverly Roberts for 26 years at AVS Tours & Travel
Shirley Smith for 21 years at Central Pennsylvania CVB
Sandra L. Spires for 19 years at Meeting Point North America
Nick Wayland for 19 years at TravMedia.com
Margaret Zola for 10 years at American Ring Travel
Wendy Dobrzynski for 5 years at Circle Wisconsin
Heidi Steffen for 8 years at Nordmanns-reiser AS
Ron Price for 6 years at Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau (Texas)
Debbie Kenton for 5 years at Hotelbeds Group
Yves Fore for 3 years at America & Beyond
Ryan Thompson for 2 years at Odyssey, The Story Studio