Daniel Shen: for Tour and Travel Industry, U.S.-China Trade War is Bad, but Visa Rejections are Worse
In order to get a true insider’s, take on how to assess current market conditions in China, the world’s largest country source market for international tourists, we caught up a few days ago with Daniel Shen, one of savviest minds in the U.S. inbound tour and travel industry when it has to do with Chinese travelers. Shen is chairman and founder of the East West Marketing Corp., which is headquartered not far from Los Angeles, and who has been in the business of helping a number of U.S. clients sell and promote their destinations, travel products and experiences to Chinese buyers.
Unlike most reps who more or less joined the migration to the market following the Authorized Destination Status designation given the U.S. by the Chinese Government in late 2007, Shen has been working it for almost 30 years. When INBOUND’s editor first met and spoke with Shen in the late 1990s while working for another outlet, the Chinese market at the time comprised Taiwan and expatriate communities, so to speak, of Chinese living in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere in Asia. He had just launched his East West Marketing Corp. which has grown to be such an institutional presence in the industry that he sells out his annual group sales mission to China/Taiwan—this October will be its 23rd edition.
We caught Daniel at a good time to discuss the market. Before we talked, he just had accompanied a Travel South USA delegation mission to China and while they were there, the G-20 Summit, hosted by Japan took place in Osaka, where events turned out to be decidedly upbeat for the tour and travel industry. Following is the result of our conversation, condensed and/or excerpted.
About the Decline in Visitor Numbers—It’s All about the Context: Last year, visitor numbers from China to the USA were down, year-on-year, by 5.7 percent (from 3.17 million to 2.99 million), according to the U.S. National Travel & Tourism Office (NTTO). This was the first year-on-year decline since the Chinese government gave the United States Approved Destination Status. As well, visitor numbers from China this year through May were down by about 3 percent versus last year. So, we asked Shen: What happened?
“It’s mostly about the trade war between the U.S. and China,” he responded, adding, “Actually, everybody is aware of it …” But he was quick to point out that, even with a 5.7 percent decline, year-on-year, vs. 2017: “Remember, 3 million Chinese did visit.” He noted, too, that 5.7 percent equated to less than 200,000 fewer visitors—not a dire number. Of course, other than that, online sales are growing rapidly and, moreover, nowadays, there is greater movement to FITs, with more personal tailor-made itineraries than joining a tour group.
“Luckily, China is a big market. We’re talking about a 1.4 billion population. Even 3 million is a very small number compared with the global outbound from China (which the World Tourism Organization has placed at about 150 million visitors.). So, the numbers are there. We’ve just got to put a little more effort from the tourism side … and the government.”
An Interregnum in the Trade War? Realizing that the Travel South USA sales mission took place just as the G-20 Summit was taking place, “everyone was hesitant and hoping that during the G-20, there would be a more friendly climate during their meeting. Then, the G-20 took place. And on June 29th, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. and China had agreed to reopen trade talks, new tariffs suspended.
Said Shen: “They (Xi and Trump) shook hands and made friendly comments, and people saw this in the newspaper and on television. It was a good sign. Everybody was relieved and was optimistic about the rest of the year, and for the year to come. Hopefully, the ongoing negotiations and meetings on trade will come out nicely.”
What about Those Ominous Sounding Warnings Telling the Chinese Not to Visit the USA?
Early last month, the Chinese government issued a warning to Chinese travelers visiting the United States to watch out for harassment on the part of law enforcement officials in the U.S. The president of US Travel, Roger Dow, tried to put this action into perspective by saying “China has done this about every six months. About six months ago, they issued a warning for the U.S. because of crime and high health care costs.” He added, “We’re watching it. We’re monitoring it. We letting everyone know with a very loud voice that travel should not be used as a weapon.”
More or less, Shen agrees with Dow and is even a tad more cynical about the real intentions of the Chinese government.
“This type of a travel warning is very standard, very common,” Shen said, pointing out that, “it was exactly the same travel warning that was issued last year. Even the wording—every word—is the same thing. Nothing has changed. Exactly the same … To us, it’s no big deal. It’s a regular practice. Last year, nobody mentioned it. Nobody paid attention to it. Because nothing happened. Everything was the same as before.”
“This year, everybody is mentioning it because of the trade war,” he observed, adding, “Everybody will link these two together, and take it seriously. But, after all, this is a travel warning. The situation is different than it was with South Korea. (In that matter, in the spring of 2017, the Chinese government specifically forbade travel agents and tour operators to sell leisure travel to South Korea in order to protest Seoul’s decision to allow the building of a U.S. missile defense system in the country. Inbound travel from China—its largest source market—plummeted by more than half. China lifted its ban in August of 2018.) Nothing has been really affected by this warning.”
To illustrate his point, Shen related an account from an acquaintance who had noticed that, after the most recent warning, one major online travel agency removed U.S. packages from its offerings but, “in a couple of days, they put them back.”
Visa Application Rejections—the Real Culprit in Declining Visitor Numbers: Explained Shen: “This is in the newspapers and on the television, along with the trade war, every day So, people are reading it and seeing it—even those people who don’t travel to the U.S. It makes people feel like the U.S. is not so friendly anymore, it seems like there is a war going on every day. And the visa rejection is so high. It affects people’s intentions, their feelings about the U.S. Which is bad.”
The trigger for a rejection following a visa application interview by someone in a U.S. Consular office has to do with a question asked right up front: “Have you been to the USA before?” Forget the remaining part of the questions in the interview. If you say “no,” it means “no visa.” That’s what Daniel Shen has been told.
As he puts it, “If you’re a first-time traveler coming to the U.S. you will normally be rejected. That’s understandable. They require all the new applicants to travel to another country first. That is, they require all the new applicants to travel somewhere outside of China previously. Either to Asia, to Europe, to Australia, New Zealand—whatever. First you do some traveling, a couple of times, outside the country. And then, you’ll be able to apply for a U.S. Visa.”
“If a person has never traveled outside of China and, suddenly, the U.S. consular office asks questions about travel, they just want to know if you have any travel experience outside of China, especially long-haul. If you’ve done that before, it means you are a regular traveler. Your interest, your hobby is traveling—which is fine,” Shen said. “And then, they’ll ask the other questions: how many days you intend to stay there, who will support you, etc. Those questions will follow. But the first question will be: “Have you traveled abroad previously?”
(Editor’s note: It’s possible that there are other reasons or the State Department’s approach in its visa application interview process. If an applicant does not tell the truth about visiting the U.S. before, that is a matter than can quickly be verified. If not, the applicant is lying, which is certain to merit a rejection. Also, because a U.S. visa for Chinese travelers is valid for 10 years—part of a reciprocal visa policy measure China and the U.S. agreed to in November 2014—the State Department has been stingier about granting visas.)
The rejection policy has wreaked havoc on the way the tour and travel industry does business. How? Explained Shen: “Almost every Chinese travel agent will come up to you—the first question they have is ‘We would love to go to the U.S. And thank you for coming here for the promotion and for the updates and the information. But the only problem is, we’ve already sent in the visa application, we’ve been turned down. What can we do?’ They always urge us to talk to the U.S. consulate, the visa section. Or even the commercial service about this. This is the major problem that the agents in China are facing. Because the rejection rate is sometimes as high as 40 percent or 50 percent in some cities.”
40-50 Percent? How? “For example,” Shen said, “a request for a group of 30 is sent in. If you turn down 15 of them or even 12 them, this group definitely cannot materialize because the total structure has been damaged—the initial quotation, the pricing—everything is different if you turn down so many people. This makes the numbers go down.”
Will People Still Visit the USA? They will do so, Shen noted, because “the people traveling to the U.S. have many reasons, they’re not just taking tours. No matter what, if you have to come, you have to come. Like a student. Like family travel. Like visiting relatives, or visiting their kid who’s studying in the states. Or meetings, or conventions or business discussions. “
What Should We Do to Change the Visa Rejection Situation? Shen told us, “I would advise, if it’s possible, that the consular offices or commercial services, maybe, could call for a seminar or a meeting in the major cities. Perhaps they could discuss the issue and give advice, and learn, in real time, what is happening from the travel agent, what do they do when they encounter this problem, why they are encountering this problem what types of groups are affected, what kinds of people are submitting an application and are being rejected. Maybe they could solve or find out what’s happening if they meet face-to-face.”
Chinese Students Might Soon Give us an Early Indicator for 2019, 2020: Right now, July, Shen said, it is peak season for Chinese travelers—especially for students. Often, entire families travel with students who are attending school in another country to inspect the college and its campus. Then, the student will return to begin studies, often escorted by family.
The importance of the student market cannot be overstated. According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), almost 1.1 million students from abroad attended universities and schools in the United States during the 2017-2018 school year. Chinese students comprised one-third (33.2 percent) of the total, or 363,341 students. IIE numbers for the current school year will come out in November. There has been a scattering of anecdotal accounts that student enrollment has declined and could decline further in the coming school year.
Chen told us that students traveling during the summer usually are punctual about visa applications but that, because of rejections, “We’re not as optimistic about the student numbers as we were last year.”
To conclude, Shen would urge all relevant travel industry friends, DMOs or tour suppliers to put out messages via their reps in China or, through their own channel, that the U.S. is welcoming you, in order to rebuild and create a strong, friendly atmosphere and a wonderful travel destination—the USA.
The Market that Keeps on Giving and Growing—the UK and Ireland
There are a number of reasons why the inbound tour and travel industry in the United States keeps tapping into the combined market of the United Kingdom and Ireland, but—to put it in very basic, if unsophisticated terms—they like us and we like them. For some quick proof, continue reading:
—Results of a survey released last month by ABTA (formerly the Association of British Travel Agents) showed that, for the past 25 years, the USA has been the most popular overseas destination of British travelers. And why not? Central Florida, a favorite U.S. destination of Brits, is just about 9 hours from London by air, while New York is less than 8 hours away.
—And, with Ireland, the proof is in another set of numbers: With a population of just about 5 million, Ireland last year generated over a half million visitors to the USA; that is, put another way, more 10 percent of the country’s population visited the USA last year, and even more are expected to visit this year. (Some of this visitation might have something to do with the fact that some 35 million Americans have some degree of Irish ancestry, setting the stage for a huge VFR market.).
Regardless of the reasons stated above, Brand USA’s recent report on the UK-Ireland market digests a number of other which that illustrate why the two English-speaking countries comprise a potent market—one that Brand USA itself acknowledges by having its public relations agency on the ground work the it as a single market.
Along with some information gleaned from the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO), INBOUND has arranged and formatted key excerpts from the report which illustrate that, while British and Irish travelers have some predictable favorites insofar was where they go and what they do in the USA, they have begun to diversify—visiting new and different parts of the country and engaging in different activities once they are in a destination.
The Basic Table: Here is a ten-year window covering inbound visitor traffic to the United States from the UK and Ireland starting at the beginning of the decade through this year.
Overview: Together the UK (comprised of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) and Ireland have a population of more than 70 million people (65.6 million in the UK and 5 million in Ireland) with 40 percent of the total population in the prime 25-54-year-old demo. It has 5 cities with populations over a million.
Main Airports for Departure to USA: They are London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Manchester, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Glasgow, Dublin, Shannon, Belfast. Dublin and Shannon airports are attracting more and more users and more connecting flights because they have CBP clearance stations there, allowing passengers coming to the USA to avoid long customs lines upon arrival that are a feature of other ports of entry. (Source: https://www.world-airport-codes.com/uk-top-20-airports)
Top Ports of Entry for Travelers from the UK: As usual, the data show that New York is easily the top port of entry for the the Brits, but none of these places are really in the U.S. interior, with the exception of Chicago.
New Flight Routes in 2019: Carriers are continuing to build on increasing airlift from the UK & Ireland to the United States. Of those listed here, half are located in the U.S. interior,
beyond the gateways.”
—British Airways: London to Charleston
—British Airways: London to Pittsburgh
—American Airlines: London to Phoenix
—American Airlines: Edinburgh to Philadelphia
—American Airlines: Dublin to Dallas Fort Worth
—Delta Airlines: Edinburgh to Boston
—Virgin Atlantic: Manchester to Los Angeles
— Aer Lingus: Dublin to Minneapolis-St. Paul
(Source: Airline websites January 2019)
UK & Irish traveler profile
- The baby boomers 54-70 years
- Generation X 39-54 years
- Millennials 20-39 years
- Generation Z Under 20’s
Travel Types, Interests
- Honeymooners & couples
- Outdoor & adventure
- Specialist interest
Main Holiday Seasons
- Main School Holidays are in:
Shorter School Holidays Take Place during:
June and September are the key, off-peak travel periods
In UK, most employees receive 5 to 6 weeks paid holidays/leave
In Ireland, workers received 4 weeks paid holidays/leave
Destination Interest—Top 10 States
- New York
(Source: Brand USA Market Intelligence Study 2018)
—On average, UK traveling households intend to go on approximately five holidays a year (UK and abroad) and spend nearly £6,500 ($8,065) on leisure travel in 2019, a slight increase on 2018.
—In 2017, holidaymakers planned and booked with a longer lead time to get their holiday of choice. In 2018, holidaymakers focused on preserving and investing in their longer overseas breaks, in particular with foreign holidays of 7 nights or more.
—The majority of UK travelers are motivated to go on holiday to relax, experience different cultures and cuisines, explore and enhance existing relationships, while millennials are also motivated by self-discovery, the opportunity to meet new people and pursue hobbies
(Sources: ABTA Travel Trends 2019 Report; MMGY, Portrait of UK Travellers™ 2018)
Traveler Trends, Continued
- UK Millennials are driving growth– they intend to go on 41 percent more trips and spend 20 percent more.
- The rise in sustainable tourism – holidaymakers are increasingly aware of the impact that they have on a destination when visiting, with 45 percent saying sustainability is an important element when booking a holiday (up 6 percent from last year).
- Cruise continues to be a popular holiday choice, with one in 12 UK holidaymakers having been on a cruise in the past 12 months. Two-fifths of people are interested in going on a cruise for the first time, with 18-24-year-olds showing the most interest (53%), which possibly reflects the broad range of choice on offer.
(Sources: ABTA Travel Trends 2019 Report; MMGY, Portrait of UK Travellers™ 2018)
Digital trends Social media in the UK & Ireland
95 percent of residents in the United Kingdom and 64 percent in Ireland use the internet.
—Of these 66 percent and 65 percent use social media (in Ireland, there has been growth of 11 percent year-on-year).
—The average daily time spent using social media via any device per day for Brits is 1 hour, 54 minutes and for Irish, 1 hour 47 minutes;
(Sources: We Are Social, Digital in the UK 2018 andDigital in Western Europe 2018)
Specifically Relating to Travel:
- Two-thirds of all travelers go on social media at least once a day. 85 percent of these travelers are on Facebook and around 4 in 10 are active on Instagram and Twitter.
- A quarter of travelers follow influencer and consider social media posts from family and friends whilst looking for holiday ideas However, almost half of millennial travelers select a holiday destination based on social media content.
- The total annual amount spent on consumer e-commerce on travel (including accommodation) was $18.01 billion in the UK (+9 percent year-on-year) and $511.8 million in Ireland (+18 percent year-on-year).
(Sources: We Are Social, Digital in the UK 2018 and Digital in Western Europe 2018)
Tour and Travel Industry Overview
—The market is made up of the following trades:
—Tour operators Travel agents (Retail/Homeworkers/ Consortia)
—Online travel agencies (OTAs)
It Could Have Been Worse as Summer Blahs Signal a Blah Year
Notes from Here and There—2020 Should be Better: About this time of the year, in the midst of the peak summer travel season, travel suppliers and DMOs who market abroad know very well the wisdom of the old adage, “If it ain’t done yet, it ain’t gonna get done.”
Judging by random news notes in the global trade press, along with anecdotal accounts from tourism sales and marketing professionals, it’s clear that the focus is on prospects for 2020 and beyond, while data points here and there suggest that the key measures for success tell us that 2019 is going to end up being a flat year. Some notes:
—The latest issue of US Travel’s Leading Travel Index (LTI), covering activity through May told us that “International inbound expanded 1.2% (year-on-year) in May, falling closer to its six-month trend following three months of wider fluctuations. The Leading Travel Index continues to project that inbound travel growth will be slow, registering just 0.4% over the next six months.”
Leading tour operators in Germany are already taking bookings for summer 2020 holidays at the same time as trying to stimulate bookings for this summer.
An item in the German travel trade publication FVW, reported that, midst weak sales for summer 2019, the country’s top tour operator, TUI, has opened up for travel agency reservations for some destinations for summer 2020.
At the same time, No. 2 Thomas Cook has also opened up its summer 2020 program for reservations of package and hotel-only bookings. And No. 3 DER Touristik has also made many destinations offered by its tour operator brands available for bookings for Summer 2020
—For the first four months of 2019, came the news from Destination Canada, that the number of Canadians who had visited the USA drop by 5.8 percent for the same period in 2018—a drop-off of nearly 390,000.
—Meanwhile, the U.S. National Travel & Tourism Office (NTTO) recently released arrivals figures for the top overseas inbound tourism source markets which showed that visitor traffic to the United States for the first five months of the year (January-May) was mixed. While it was up year-on-year for the UK (+8.2%), Japan (+6.5%),, France (+4.1%), India (4.0%), Italy (+1.4%), Colombia (+12.5%) and Spain *.2%), it was down for China (-3.1%), Brazil (-2.1%), South Korea (-4.4%), Germany (-0.9%), Australia (1.9%) and Argentina (-23.3%).
Receptive Misha Jovanovic—He’ll Never Retire from Tourism … or Soccer
There is only one place more important to the San Diego-based receptive tour operator Misha Jovanovic than the 46 countries he has visited in his life; more important than his home country of Serbia (it used to be one of six states that made up the former Yugoslavia before its 1992 dissolution); more important than the single-person booth he has had for 31 consecutive IPW trade shows; and at least as important, it seems, as the tour and travel industry in which he has been active for nearly a half-century.
That place is the 100-meter-by-70-meter football field, better known in the U.S. as a soccer field. Jovanovic has been playing competitive soccer since he was 15 years old. Today, 57 years later, he still plays competitive soccer every Sunday—hot summer months excluded—in an over-63 league, San Diego’s Huff ‘n Puff League. The only real breaks he’s taken from soccer were during an 18-month stretch when he ruptured his Achilles at the age of 66, and another six-month hiatus after broke his fibula when he was 50. But those events have not stopped him from continuing to play and won’t, by his own count, till he is at least 84, which is the age of the current oldest competitive player in the Huff n Puff League. Perhaps soccer’s grip on the behavior of those who play it is the dynamic of a game—there is constant motion, individual skills and group efforts working at the same time, and the satisfaction of achieving a goal—that is shared by a player and by the team.
INBOUND spoke with him several weeks ago, and it was very challenging—not because of any difficulty with the asking of questions or his answering them, but because it was only a little more than an hour away from soccer’s Women’s World Cup quarter-final match between the U.S. and France. Somehow, despite that, we managed to have a full conversation during which we spoke about the state of the tour and travel tourism industry, how he got involved, what he believes international tour operators could do more of, and what U.S. travel suppliers could probably do better in working with receptive tour operators. Following is an excerpted account of our conversation as we talked around soccer.
How He Got into the Tour and Travel Industry: As an adult, Jovanovic has never really been out of the business, which he joined when he started as a tour guide while still in college. He graduated
in 1970 from University of Belgrade after having majored in foreign languages, with an emphasis on the French Language and Literature. After college, he eventually found himself employed as a tour guide with Atlas Tours, a large Dubrovnik tour operator that it is still in business, though it is a private-sector entity now—not owned and operated by workers, as it was during the time that Yugoslavia was a Communist state.
Much of the latter part of the 1970s was spent escorting tours mostly through Yugoslavia and Greece—tours that ranged from 7 to 14 days for French-and-English-speaking visitors to Dubrovnik. But even before that, he recalls with a smile in his voice, he served as a tour guide taking mostly student groups from Belgrade and Skopje to London—a 36-hour journey that required numerous stops through six countries.
|“Have you ever been a tour guide? You never know what part of the world you’re going to end up in … you meet thousands of people a year … and every one of them has a story.”|
His experience as a tour guide served him well. He absorbed scores of anecdotes in different languages from the travelers he has served, giving him a strong sense of duty to the retail customer and of what the retail customer wants; it is a sense that permeates his work when he assembles an itinerary for one of the small FIT groups that he specializes in. Occasionally, when there is a last-minute need or one of his regular, contracted guides can’t make an assignment, he can still be found acting as tour guide on one of his San Diego/Southern California itineraries.
It also instilled in him a belief that, as a receptive operator—he is the founder and owner of Misha Tours—he has to know everything about every one of his products and what the final customer is looking for: “I have people who work for me but, basically, what I am doing, I am doing alone. I have 100 percent control over it. Only I can fail. I am always concerned about our product. I have two people who work on airline tickets and I have about 15 guides, but guides are independent.” (He also owns an IATA and ARC-appointed travel agency, Firstworld Travel. This is a division of the same business and it why he has two people working on airline tickets. He sells products of other tour operators and cruise companies through his retail agency.)
How He Came to Move to the USA:
In 1978, he was doing a tour for a small Canadian group, with a Greek driver who came from Athens, starting in Skopje (now the capital city of Macedonia) down to Athens and a half dozen stops, including Igoumenitsa, a coastal city in northwestern Greece, which has a ferry service to the island of Corfu … where he went on to Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. It was in Igoumenitsa that he met his wife, Marsha, who is from San Diego and who was traveling with a friend and waiting for the ferry. That was in August 1978.
Keeping this account short, she returned to Yugoslavia the following year and, he ended up coming back to the USA with her. He arrived in San Diego on October 31, 1979. “I’m not the only one,” he told us. “I’ve met some people who’ve had the same experience as I did, and they were all tour guides.”
About His Business: In the U.S., it didn’t take him very long before he found the business activity for which he is a natural, as well his favorite sport, soccer. The two have complimented one another for nearly four decades. Perhaps the way he directs business to his company is best illustrated in what he does and how he does it at IPW. Last month in Anaheim, he attended his 31st consecutive IPW. (His first was in 1989 in Las Vegas.)
At the time it was over, he posted a message from IPW on Facebook, indicating to all who would read it that he had just worked his own booth, by himself, for the 31st consecutive IPW, and had conducted all of his appointments by himself, in five languages. He had 42 appointments with tour operators from 24 countries from Europe, Asia, Australia, North, Central and South America.
He realizes that other—but not all—companies have done something like this, or that other individuals have done this (but not a company owner) and that there are many multi-lingual booths. But, as he explained it to INBOUND, there are few who have done it alone and by himself, and have done it all for three decades.
Jovanovic believes that, one benefit of being able to “do it all” is that “operators never forget you” and that “it makes a big difference when you speak their language.” And, we have noticed, there is something in the way that the one-time student of languages speaks a language that has a poetic cadence and an almost-diplomatic signature. Combined with his trim suits that go so well with his trim beard, he comes across as a gentleman of the court. At the same time, he is competing for business in his own fiercely intense way—the same way he does on the soccer field.
|“My favorite position in football is a wing. Left or right. It doesn’t matter. I use both legs, so it is not a problem. Sometimes during the game, I will switch from right to left wing if I see that the other defender is ‘easier.’ My specialty is to put the ball through a defender’s legs. A few years ago, I did it twice in 10 seconds. We were playing our archrival Rovers, an English team in the San Diego’s Huff ’n’ Puff Soccer League. After I put the ball through defender’s legs for the second time, the defender was embarrassed and said to me: ‘You little bastard.’ I laughed!”|
If there is one thing that he would recommend to DMOs and suppliers who want international business, what would that be?
“The first thing that comes to mind is … they have to have people who are familiar with the cultures of the countries they do business with. That’s most important – not to mention language. Language is a must. Because you have to have multilingual personnel, or at least one or two people who are fluent in, or be able to conduct business in either French or Spanish or Italian or German or whatever country you do business with. That’s not the case with many American because … if you go to IPW, many of the people who come there are already bilingual or multilingual. Very seldom to you come into to contact with people who don’t speak more than open language. That’s a must for every tour company that wants to do business.
“I would suggest that companies, even hotels—that’s another story—have bilingual and multilingual personnel at the front desk. You would be surprised that you cannot find at the front desk of the major hotels—you will be lucky to find one person at the front desk of major hotels, four-star hotels, speaking Spanish or French or Italian. You’ve traveled all over the world; you know how important it is to have multilingual people at the front of the desk at a hotel. In Europe, at any time, you can count on of five major languages being spoken, including Portuguese, German, Italian, French, English. That’s the norm. And we are behind in that department.
“So, I would suggest that everybody should think about hiring somebody who is at least bilingual and then many of them should train their employees, in case they get groups, to be tour guides. Because you can hire a tour guide, but it’s much better if you have your own – in your office.
“Also, understand the culture of the country you’re dealing with. When people come you know how to handle them and what to show them. You’re not going to be doing a city tour or a sightseeing tour for Italians, or French people or Spanish the same way as you would do it for Americans or Canadians because the interests of these people is totally different.
“With an English-speaking guide, about 30 to 40 percent of the information they share will not be of interest for those people.”
What about international tour operators? What can they be doing better?
“That’s another story. We still have a problem teaching and educating some operators overseas—in Europe and in South America, or anywhere in the world. Now, it’s a little easier, but they should be better about contacting us for advice. They plan their tours, they plan everything from their office with a map. In the old days, they would look at the map and say, ‘uh huh, it’s so many miles from L.A. to San Francisco from Las Vegas to San Francisco,’ and they plan everything not having in mind how big the distances are between the cities—not to mention in Los Angeles, where they plan what to include in a city tour during the day. And they forget that the mileage and the distance mean nothing. What takes two hours to cover before 9 a.m. might take just 45 minutes during the day. I don’t know why they don’t contact us and say, ‘Hey, by the way, can you help us with the time s and the distances?’ This way, when I get their plan from them and see it, I won’t have to see that it is impossible to do it
“So, what I would suggest that when they plan a trip, that they get in contact with their U.S. suppliers in asking all kinds of questions – not just doing it from their office in either Germany, France or Italy. Many of them do that. They think it’s so easy. I don’t want to use the word ‘arrogant’ but (he chuckles) I am from Europe and I know some Europeans think, ‘Oh, we can do everything.’ No, you cannot, because here it is different.
“My recommendation, then: Ask questions. Work together with your contacts in the U.S. I am sure that any supplier, any partner, will give good advice to their partners overseas. Use your contacts here more. Whatever you’re not sure about, just send an e-mail and ask, ‘Can you tell me if that’s right or wrong, or should I do this or that?’ I’m sure that every U.S. supplier will help.”
How long is he going to keep this up?
“I will first tell you: Have you ever heard that Chinse proverb, ‘If you do what you like, you do nothing in your life.’“
“I will always be doing this, because it is something that I like. I don’t consider this work. It’s fun—what I am doing. So, talking about retirement, I can tell you right now: Never. Because I enjoy what I’m doing.”
Chinese Travelers Really Like U.S. Museums
In the seemingly endless number of metrics that travel sales and marketing professionals who are in search of greater reach into the Chinese employ, a plain and easy-to-understand measure is the Jing Museum Index, which publishes a monthly set of results of its tally of the most popular museums worldwide—which are based on the number of WeChat visits a museum receives.
While we realize that some form of cross-measurement or quantification comparing this method with others, the Museum Index is presented in a basic table format and comes out on a monthly basis—so, it is almost a real-time way of measuring the impact of WeChat promotions. Results can be compared to result numbers over a period of months (or years) to help determine the answer to the question: “What works?” Or, “What Works Best?”
Whatever flaws there might be in this approach, a look at last month’s results should cheer the fact that, of the Top 11 museums, more than half are in the U.S. Here’s what the table, prepared by Richard Whiddington, tells us says:
As UK Residents Are Intent on Traveling, They’re Turning More and More to Online Booking
Two Tour Operators Provide the Best Digital Customer Experience, Says Study: Online bookings now dominate the travel industry. Despite political and economic uncertainty, Brits appear unwilling to sacrifice travel plans, with 86 percent taking a holiday at home or aboard in 2018. Eight out of 10 UK holiday makers now book their travel plans online, whether direct with an airline or hotel (47 percent), a booking website (41 percent) or via a travel agent (40 percent).
With 4 out of 5 holidays booked online, the digital customer experience is key to ensuring travel companies drive sales and grow market share in the coming twelve months—this according to the results of a study by Toronto-based Maru/Matchbox, a communications and brand research firm.
A great customer experience – including online interactions – is a major driver of both customer loyalty and future revenue. Our own insight reveals sites who are regarded better than their rivals enjoy much higher brand advocacy ratings, while supporting market analysis demonstrates that when a brand improves its customer experience, revenue can – and will – increase.
Maru/Matchbox has been benchmarking the digital travel landscape since 2008. By benchmarking top hoteliers, airlines, booking sites and travel agents, the company says, “we can identify the autonomy of a leading site and uncover best practice so others in the industry can replicate leading digital customer experience.”
Without revealing specifics, the company says that its effectively documents the impact of new technology and emerging trends on consumer expectations. Using independent digital shoppers to assess the end-to-end online booking experience, results have helped guide the travel industry over the past eleven years as it looks to continuously adapt to rapidly changing needs.
Holiday habits are changing, Maru/Matchbox indicated, noting that industry reports suggest more UK holiday makers are sacrificing minibreaks for one longer, extended holiday. It means thorough research and careful budgeting have never been so important to online bookers.
So, What Makes a Great Digital Customer Experience in 2019? The takeaways:
—A consistent and seamless digital customer experience is key to driving online bookings.
Yet, results demonstrate industrywide variability across the digital customer journey, including with Travel Digital Experience Benchmark leaders TUI and Thomas Cook.
—While brands are delighting with enticing homepages, many are failing to meet user expectations when it comes to inspiration, search and booking processes.
—It represents a huge opportunity for the market. When hoteliers and airlines are investing in campaigns to encourage booking directly and win back market share from intermediaries (Hilton’s ‘Expect Better, Expect Hilton’ campaign debuted in September 2018), it is essential that brands deliver exceptional digital experiences that drive on-going relationships and reduce barriers to purchase.
—Notably, tour operators and booking agents continue to drive best-in-class digital travel experiences, highlighting the development still needed by travel brands to effectively capitalize on campaign messaging.
—Despite consumers becoming more invested with researching holidays before booking, the initial research stage of the customer journey recorded the lowest benchmark average with a score of just 71 percent.
—Almost all online booking decisions are driven by ratings and reviews. Users expect to see review listings, especially for accommodation. Despite the importance of reviews to the travel industry, surveyors scored an average of just 56% for customer ratings. It is essential that reviews are easy to access and browsers have the ability to read all reviews, not just a select few.
—Customers want to be inspired and expect sites to sufficiently inform them about destinations, resorts and experiences. Product photos and videos – where available – also help customers to make informed booking choices yet scored an average of just 77 percent and 22 percent respectively. It represents a huge opportunity for brands to not only differentiate, but to improve online conversion rates.
—Customer reviews and product photos will become increasingly important to digital travel customer journeys with the impending end to high-pressure selling tactics by hotel booking sites.
—Two thirds (66 percent) of online travel bookers feel pressure-selling messages, such as the number of people looking at a hotel, has influenced their decision on where and where to book. Without these messages, users will put their trust in reviews, with two thirds (68 percent) saying they would use as part of their decision-making. This was significantly higher than both “prices” and “promotions” indicating even the best prices and offers cannot overcome a poor review experience.
Last month the John James Audubon Center, in partnership with Montgomery County (Pennsylvania)—specifically, in Audubon, Pennsylvania—and the National Audubon Society celebrated the grand opening of a new 18,000-square-foot museum and nature-based facility with a ribbon cutting ceremony. A $13 million project, The Audubon Center offers interactive and family-friendly ways to explore the legacy of famed ornithologist John James Audubon and the conservation movement he inspired. It houses two galleries for art and conservation, permanent exhibits with multi-sensory experiences and outdoor features. After losing his business in 1819, Audubon declared his intention to paint every bird in North America, resulting in the world-renowned body of work of 435 images known as The Birds of America. In this gallery, visitors can view one of the few surviving first editions of The Birds of America. Admission is $14 for adults; $12 for seniors ages 65+; $10 for youth ages 6 – 17; and free for youth age 5 and under and active military (along with immediate family members).
https://johnjames.audubon.org/ or call 610-666-5593 ex. 101 for tour information.
The Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory has invested a great deal and created a new a new factory tour experience. The tour now begins with a 3.5-minute movie that transports guests to the forests and mills, where every Hillerich & Bradsby Company Louisville Slugger bat begins. This giant floor-to-ceiling projection sets the stage for the tour by telling the important story of the wood before it reaches the factory. During the factory tour, guests now see and learn about steps in the bat-making process that have never been shown before. Bigger monitors, an enhanced sound system, and new footage take guests inside the machinery. New graphics along the route highlight the history of Hillerich & Bradsby Co.’s role in producing the iconic Louisville Slugger bat since 1884. Another new experience on the factory tour is the giant Pro Player Billet Bin, which showcases the billets destined to be turned into baseball bats for star players on every major league team. Every guest still receives a free souvenir mini-bat at the end of the tour. For information on tours, visit https://www.sluggermuseum.com/explore-the-museum/factory-tour, or call 877.775.8443.
National Museum of African American Music: Scheduled to open in Downtown Nashville in early 2020, the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) will be a 56,000-square-foot facility that will encourage visitors to discover the many connections and influences that composers have had on all genres of music. From classical to country to jazz and hip hop, NMAAM will integrate history and interactive technology to share the untold story of more than 50 music genres and subgenres. It will be an unparalleled institution, not confined by record label, genre or recording artist, but instead will tell a unique narrative through the lens of black music. For more information, visit https://nmaam.org/, or call 615.301.8724
Museum of the Dog back in NYC: After 32 years in St. Louis, the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog has reopened in New York City where it began over 35 years ago. The museum, with one of the finest collections of canine-related art, will occupy new purpose-built galleries in mid-town Manhattan, just steps from Grand Central Station. It combines fine arts with cutting edge technology and interpretation, providing unique and engaging experiences for visitors of all ages. The Museum of the Dog’s new home at 101 Park Ave hopes to capture the hearts and minds of its visitors. Located in the Kalikow building, the Museum by offering rotating exhibits featuring objects from its 1,700-piece collection and 4,000-volume library. There are several categories of ticketing, with retail prices ranging from $5 to $15. For more information, visit www.museumofthedog.org , or call 212.696.8360.
Academy Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman is keynote speaker at next month’s Connect Tour
Check out the Connect Travel Schedule for the Event that Suits You
Connect Travel has a seamless calendar of tour and travel marketplace activities and events. Find out more about each of these upcoming events merely by clicking on its symbol.
Connect Tour, powered by Connect TRAVEL, takes place Aug. 26-28, 2019 at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Ky. It brings domestic tour operators together with U.S. travel suppliers during pre-scheduled one-on-one Marketplace appointments. Featured speakers include Academy Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman and Olympic Champion Michael Phelps, who has won 23 gold medals in swimming.
Active America China: The Receptive Edition, Sept. 17-18, San Gabriel, California. A boutique product development show, AACRE attracts 30-40 receptive tour operators who conduct business meetings with U.S. travel suppliers, who also take a field trip to Chinese tour operator offices.
The inaugural Connect THRIVE Summit, Oct. 3-5 in San Francisco, will focus on community development through LGBTQ travel, sports, and entertainment. The featured speaker at this year’s event is renowned television news anchor Anderson Cooper.
eTourism Summit, Oct. 7-9 in San Francisco, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. A must-attend event, it brings together travel suppliers and providers who are the leading thinkers and practitioners at the forefront of travel’s digital frontier in an intimate setting where they get up-to-the-minute, real-life examples of the latest applications in video, content marketing, email marketing, search, social media, mobile and web design.
RTO Summit Florida, Oct. 23-24, in Kissimmee, Florida targets the large receptive tour operator community in Central Florida, bringing them together with travel suppliers who work the international market for educational sessions, business meetings and networking social functions.
Connect Travel Marketplace, Feb 19-21, 2020, at Florida’s Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, is a young and emerging international travel show, specifically designed to address industry needs, by bringing international tour operators and U.S.-based receptive tour operators with U.S. suppliers and DMOs.
The Connect Travel Marketing Leadership Summit, also on Feb. 19-21, 2020 at Florida’s Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, has an educational program focusing on trends and technologies that will transform tourism marketing in the next three to five years. A featured speaker at the 2019 Summit was former President George W. Bush.
People With Disabilities Want To Help Make Over The Travel Industry
TravelAbility Insider’s editor, Denise Brodey, recently wrote a piece for Forbes that contained the following observation: “Here’s what people with disabilities recommend: Start by talking with travelers who have disabilities to find out exactly what common obstacles they face. Set goals that are measured and make people responsible for them. This is basic business strategy 101, but for some reason, when it comes to serving customers with disabilities, progress has been impossibly slow. Accessibility is the law. I write that with zero snark intended. As a person with a disability, it baffles me that a law passed nearly 30 years ago in this country—the Americans with Disabilities Act—is still considered kind-sorta-maybe-sometimes enforceable.” For the full article, click here. For more information on the TravelAbility Summit visit here.
HODGE PODGE: Shifts, Shakeups and Occasional Shaftings in the Tour and Travel Industry
Lisa Love, division director for tourism in the Georgia Department of Economic Development has accepted the role of Interim deputy commissioner of Explore Georgia. She takes over from Kevin Langston, who recently announced that he has announced that he was retiring from his position as deputy commissioner. Love, who joined Georgia Tourism in 2017, will help maintain the department’s operation as the search continues for a permanent deputy commissioner. Before Georgia Tourism, she was director of music marketing and development for the Film, Musical & Digital Entertainment Office at the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
Courtney Cacatian has been named as the new executive director of the Charlottesville-Albemarle CVB in Virginia. She succeeds the retiring Kurt Burkhart. Cacatian comes to the position from the Convention & Visitors Bureau in Bristol, which straddles the state line between Virginia and Tennessee. Prior to that, she was executive director of the Arlington County Convention and Visitors Service, representing a destination that is on the other side of the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
Alexandre Mesquita has been promoted to the post of marketing and commercial manager at GSP Travel. Previously, he had briefly been part of the company’s sales business development team. He came to GSP from Clubventos, where he was commercial and travel manager. His career includes tenures in senior sales position at some major Brazilian tour and travel businesses, such as Hostway Viagens, Grupo Águia and MMT Gapnet.
Tricia Suit has been appointed visitor experience manager for the Cincinnati USA CVB. Suit, who began her new job on July 1st, oversees operations at the Cincinnati USA Visitor Center, managing the Cincy USA Tourism ambassador Program. Previously, Suit was vice president of marketing for Downtown Cincinnati. She was also communications manager at the Taft Museum of Art
After more than 23 years at Delta Air Lines, Luiz Henrique Teixeira (better known as “Tex” in Braazil) is joining Latam Airlines as country manager of Gol Airlines in the United States. Teixeira and his family will move to Orlando at the end of the month in preparation for assuming his new job.
Latam Airlines has announced the hiring of Sabrina Salgado as a new marketing manager in Brazil. She comes to the airline from Time Warner. Salgado replaces Daniel Aguado, who left the tourism industry three months ago to accept a position at Poliedro Educação, a preparatory school in São José dos Campos.
Trivago has appointed James Carter as chief product and technology officer. He comes to the hotel price comparison site from Google. In his new role, he joins the trivago leadership team as the head of hotel search. With 14 years of experience in the travel tech industry, he was most recently engineering director at search engine Google, working on its hotel ads product.
Brittney Hendricks has been promoted to the post of director of marketing and communications at the Oxnard CVB in California. Previously, she had been marketing and communications coordinator. Previously, Hendricks had been a technical writer and editor for Marine Research Specialists in Ventura, California.
Kristen Loflin has been named communications and marketing manager for New Orleans & Company. She comes to the post from Onslow County Tourism in Jacksonville, N.C. She has also served with the Albany (Georgia) CVB.
Not Just Travel and The Travel Franchise has appointed a new managing director and head of sales and training. She is Annabel Wathen, who joins from the banking and training industries as MD. She started her career on Wall Street at the Royal Bank of Scotland and has also worked on convertible bond trading at Credit Suisse and was business manager and associate at Deutsche Bank for Global Markets in London, overseeing 300 people on the trading floor. Also, David Pope has joined as head of sales and training. He has worked for Travel Bag and AirTours, progressing from a commission-based sales role to director of sales at Abercrombie & Kent.
Suzanne Brunt, former business development manager for the Freedom Travel Group, is taking on a new role with Vertical Travel Group. Brunt has joined Vertical’s Your Holiday Booking homeworking division as sales manager. She will assume the role on August 19, bringing nearly 30 years of travel sector experience.
The Travel Leaders network has hired Lindsay Pearlman as senior vice president, international leisure, a newly-created position. Pearlman started July 8 and reports to Travel Leaders Network President Roger E. Block. Pearlman most recently served as co-president of Ensemble, where he worked for 12 years, including as executive vice president and general manager of the retail travel group. Prior to Ensemble, Pearlman was with American Express Global Travel Services for 11 years in a variety of roles.
Travelport has just announced Greg Webb as the company’s new CEO. With more than 20 years of experience in the travel technology industry, the executive will take office on August 1, taking the place of Gordon Wilson, who has been in the company for 28 years and President and CEO since 2011. Previously, Webb served as senior vice president at Oracle Hospitality and vice chairman at Saber. The professional will bring to Travelport a deep knowledge of the industry and a strong track record of commercial and operational execution, having been responsible for strategy, training, development, sales, service and support.
Sérgio Vianna has been named to the post of sales and marketing manager for the Brazilian tour operator Lusanova. He joins the company from another operator, Abreu, where he spent more than 20 years.
Happy Work Anniversaries to:
Tina DeMarsh for 32 years at North Country Tours
Judith Harris for 28 years at U.S. Travel Association
Theresa Belpulsi for 17 years at Destination DC
Malcolm Smith for 10 years at the U.S. Travel Association
Keri Hanson for 6 years at Macy’s
Elliott Calloway for 6 years at Bonotel Exclusive Travel
Mary Lewis for 4 years at Heart of Virginia Tours and Receptive Services
Janette Roush for 1 year at NYC & Company
Source: LinkedIn, INBOUND
POSTED INDUSTRY JOBS
From SearchWide Global:
—Visit Dallas is looking for a president and CEO. For more details, click here.
—Visit Vancouver USA is searching for a president & CEO. Click here for more information.
—Destinations International is seeking to hire a senior director, strategic alliances. For more information, click here.
—The Georgia World Congress Center has an opening for a senior director of sales. Click here for more information.
—Visit St. Pete/Clearwater is looking for a president & CEO. For more information, click here.
—Experience Prince George’s (Maryand) has an opening for a sales manager. For details, click here.
—Visit Oakland has an opening for a sale manager. For additional information, visit here.
—The Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau is looking for a vice president of sales. For more information, click here.
—The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau has an opening for a vice president of people strategies. Click here for more information.
—Discover the Palm Beaches has an opening for the position of associate vice president—integrated marketing. Find more information here.
—A leading hotel management company is searching for a national revenue & sales reporting manager. For more information, click here.
—From HARP wallen Global Executive Recruitment and Search:
—A London-based ultra luxury travel company is looking for a senior travel designer. For more information, visit here.
—A growing travel business is looking for a country manager to be based in Lisbon, Portugal. Click here for more information.
—A London-based tour operator is looking for a head of marketing. For more details, visit here.
—Another tour operator/DMC is looking to hire a German business development manager. For more information, click here.
—From other sources:
Ad1 Global is looking for an area director of sales for its new brand properties: Wyndham Garden and Tru by Hilton in Dania Beach, Fort Lauderdale. For more details, click here.