We asked a selection of industry experts for their thoughts and predictions for the year ahead. Here's what they had to say...
Trudy Redfern, Silversea Cruises
As 2010 draws to a close I sure we are all breathing a sigh of relief. The year started very optimistically, forward sales were strong and it was hoped that booking trends might potentially be starting to return to some form of normality. After a long period of very late booking trends, Operators hoped that it might be possible to start to predict longer term occupancies and manage revenues accordingly. Nobody could have predicted that several months into the year, we would be hit with one of worst natural disasters the travel industry has ever experienced; a series of cabin crew strikes, thereby grounding the national flag carrier, followed by a general election which threatened a radical change in economic policy seriously affected the value of the pound. In fact, one could possibly say that it has been one of the most challenging years on record for the travel industry with all sectors affected. Perhaps the only exception might be those operators who offer a UK based programme, who potentially have had a very lucrative selling year, as travellers chose to stay closer to home to avoid being stranded in some far flung land! Then the snow arrived! "In true British spirit we have to be optimistic for the year ahead.
My predictions are that travel will continue to be part of our everyday lives and in view of the problems of the past twelve months, people might well feel they deserve a holiday to escape from the doom and gloom of old Blighty. Fortunately, cruising has become one of the most popular holiday options and a cruise holiday, will become more of a main stream holiday choices. Cruise lines will look more to the "international arena" to develop cruise sales as the US market might well have reached it's peak. This bodes well for those cruise lines who already have an established base in the international markets. However,across all market segments, the name of the game will be "value" and the extra initiatives that have been introduced during 2010 to stimulate sales, will become even more part of the pricing matrix. Operators will have to be smarter to stay ahead of the competition and from a marketing perspective, their unique selling points will have to be very distinctive to maintain customer satisfaction levels and meet expectations. "Operators and agents alike will have to embrace the new technology age, making good use of the new mediums if their products are to stand out from the crowd and win over the more sophisticated traveller - speed to market will be and essential ingredient in the marketing mix. The "app" will dominate! As we start 2011 let us raise a very large glass to everyone in the industry and hope that good fortune and a sense of humour will see us through the next twelve months!
Claire Riches, Norwegian Cruise Line UK
Prediction number 1 – cruising in the Med will become more popular: The Mediterranean is certainly the hottest spot to cruise now, with cruise lines placing more ships in the area and also throughout the winter season. Additionally, cruise lines such as Norwegian are placing their newest ships in the region which makes it an even more attractive proposition. Regional air links have increased too, making it easier for guests from all over the UK to fly direct.
Prediction number 2 – increasingly exotic destinations. As more people ‘switch-on’ to cruising as a great value holiday option, cruise lines need to start scheduling more creative ports-of-call to keep loyal customers coming back. The METT (Morocco / Egypt / Tunisia and Turkey) countries have become more popular in land-based holidays, and we’re seeing this trend for cruising too. For example, Norwegian Jade now hosts winter itineraries visiting three out of four of these countries. In terms of new, more exotic ports, Norwegian has also added a Holy Lands cruise which calls at Haifa and Ashdod in Israel in addition to ports in Turkey and Egypt.
Prediction number 3 – people will start choosing ships based on entertainment. Last year has really been the year that entertainment on cruise ships has come of age. Traditionally it’s been seen as a bit ‘cheesy’ but with brand-name acts now available on board such as Blue Man Group and Nickelodeon for kids on Norwegian Epic, ships are becoming as much a destination as the ports. I believe we will see this continue in 2011 as cruise lines put more of a focus on entertainment on both new and existing ships.
Prediction number 4 – fly-cruise will grow in popularity. People are looking for more value and they have less time. So I predict that with the increase in the number of ships based in the Med that fly-cruise will become more popular. This enables people to get to the heart of their destination and be on holiday more quickly. Norwegian will have three ships in Europe that can be reached in less than three hours from a number of UK departure points.
John Dixon, Prestige Holidays
There are several areas where I feel quite confident for 2011 although the economic outlook is supposed to be not quite as severe as previously thought. I sense that the business will really be far better than it was in 2010. "There are four areas of activity that I see opportunities for growth and the first one is experience holidays. By experience holidays I mean in this context being part of a small group led by a professional, well qualified guide to an unusual destination such as Syria, Iran or Myanmar with the express purpose of experiencing the local culture, history, architecture and food at first hand and having the opportunity to mix with local people wherever possible. We’ve been operating this kind of holiday for many years for a closed travel club but will now produce a small range of holidays to promote through travel agents this year.
- Long-haul high value – In 2010 we introduced a programme to Canada which slightly exceeded its budget in its first year. For the second year we are looking for substantial growth and early signs are that the market for tailor made holidays, often with very complex itineraries to several parts of Canada, are growing very substantially. We are blessed with a team of very professional people with many years of experience in selling Canada to an upmarket clientele, and it is because of their expertise that we are able to capture growing amounts of business. It’s interesting that clients travelling to Canada on British Airways or Air Canada do often opt to upgrade to Superior cabins on the aircraft and will choose the better hotels, I believe on the understanding that if they’re going to have a holiday in a country as exciting and as different and as varied as Canada is, they’d rather do it properly and in comfort. Additionally I sense an increased interest again in Bermuda, which unfortunately had a rather quiet year in 2010. With regular British Airways scheduled services and a vastly improved hotel stock on the island I think it’s time that the travel agents of the UK woke up to the fact that Bermuda is a sensational destination to promote to for their clients because it is safe, of a very high standard and very superior to anything in the Caribbean, which is of course a 1,000 miles to the south of Bermuda. I would urge travel agents to seriously consider recommending Bermuda to their clients who could be older couples, couples with young children, in fact any client who’s looking for high standards and good service in a laid back sophisticated, affluent island.
- Closer to Home – We have for a number of years operated a small programme of holidays to the Isles of Scilly which performed particularly well last year at a time when “staycations” proved very popular. The proximity of the Isles of Scilly to the mainland makes the journey a short one and once there the standards are high, the atmosphere is natural, friendly and accommodation and eating is of a very high standard. To capitalise on the success of 2010 we have expanded this brochure with more properties on the Isles of Scilly and added a selection of hotels in Guernsey, Herm, Sark and Alderney which I’m sure will build on the popularity of holidays closer to home.
- Sporting holidays – We have for a number of years been able to make travel arrangements for a number of sporting organisations particularly golfers and football clubs who take short breaks in appropriate resorts in Europe for training and/or thank yous to the players from the management, and we will continue to major on this kind of business as much as we can. We are opening a co-operation with a renowned hotel with a huge range of sporting facilities for footballers, golfers, tennis players and others and we will be launching a small programme to cover this activity shortly.
In general terms our European business for this summer is currently substantially ahead of where we were this time last year. Particularly strong performers include the Canary Islands, especially Tenerife and La Palma. Morocco has certainly come to the fore again in terms of popularity and that seems to be continuing. The island of Cyprus has been through a rather difficult time in the last 18 months, but again forward business for this year is very strong.
Sandy Murray, Normanton Travel
I know what I would like to predict for our industry this year – lots of business for everyone and stay healthy! And for the Universe to give our industry a break and pick on someone else!
What do I predict? Despite everything that has been thrown at us my gut feeling is that the Independent Agents and those multiple shops that give exceptional service will do well – I think the phrase what goes around comes around – we have had everyone experimenting on the internet and doing it themselves and as a result there has been a heck of a lot of people out there that have got burnt or singed at the very least especially if things have gone wrong. It is these people that are starting to say ‘oh I did it on the net but I prefer to come in to you and then I know who to come back to’ – I have heard this several times now and it is music to my ears so I feel positive and optimistic for 2011. I think it is going to be the year of change – people have had enough of cutting back and hearing the doom and gloom of the economy, they are still working hard and have cut back and gone without things and they now want to see something at the end of the line to look forward to. There have also been a lot of people hanging back because they were worried about their jobs but most of them now know what is happening so that frees them up to make decisions and I think priority will be given to booking a holiday as against changing the car or house renovation etc.
Where will people be going? Difficult – I think families will still stick with the bucket and spade destinations and pick euro destinations going all-inclusive and then they know what they will be spending, but there are more and more people coming into the shop that want somewhere different as they have done most places but they don’t want to take ages getting there. I think Italy, Greece & Croatia will be more popular. I think family adventure type holidays and holidays with a wildlife theme will also be popular. People are also getting fed up with some airports as queues get longer and security goes into ‘extreme mode’ so they think a cruise will be less hassle and certainly rail holidays could really become very popular! Also escorted coach tours will be more popular as it is still travelling but someone else is taking the strain and responsibility which is becoming more important to some people.
I also think themed breaks will be more popular because of programmes like Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing on Ice and I do not think the UK will suffer either because there is so much choice now. Tour Operators please play nice no trying to pinch our customers and we will support you the best we can!
Tony Seaman, Attraction World
- This year will see a small improvement on this year for the travel industry. The ongoing austerity cuts will mean consumers will be cautious in booking holidays until the effect on them personally are known. Agents need to work hard with customers to build confidence and book with operators that offer low or no deposit schemes as people may be unable to predict their income situation many months in advance. Independent agents especially will have to work extremely hard with local marketing and promotion as they are unlikely to see customers walking through their doors with the frequency they did before.
- The Eurozone countries will continue to be a concern for tour operators such as ourselves who have to try and price against currency changes. Agents should keep a close eye on what is going on as we may see further uplift into countries that are not part of they Eurozone as a result of the current uncertainty. The dollar has also stabilised so America is more attractive than it was in 2010.
- I think that we should be prepared for strange booking patterns this year with the continued focus on booking late. For example, operators and agents may see that the traditional key booking months of January and February are no longer what they used to be and therefore need to react by not overstaffing call-centres to meet the usual rush. Only time will tell but everyone needs to be on the ball in 2011.
- The royal wedding in April could create a great ‘feel-good factor’ for our industry with customers either booking a holiday away taking advantage of the 11 days off by taking just three days leave, or perhaps heading to London or somewhere else in the UK to join in the celebrations. Agents need to get behind this event and capitalise on every possible opportunity to sell.
Noel Josephides, Sunvil Holidays
Will Egypt and Turkey remain popular this year or will there be a shift towards the Western Mediterranean? Will sterling strengthen now that there are renewed doubts about some of the countries within the Eurozone? The dollar seems to be strengthening again because of the euro’s problems. Will it continue to strengthen or will it weaken once more, as many analysts were telling us only a few weeks ago? The fact is that nobody knows what is going to happen. There are so many imponderables in this fast-moving business of ours, and we need to keep on our toes to survive. I wish all Travel Bulletin readers a healthy New Year, both personally and business-wise.
Ian Mounser, Superbreak
More agent UK hotel break bookings will be ‘dynamic packages’, including multiple elements such as hotel, rail, theatre, concert, attraction, event and tour. The royal wedding and some big new show openings will be a major boost to London break sales, especially from March onwards. The number of people travelling south to north on a UK break will increase eg. London to Stratford-upon-Avon, York to Edinburgh. More hen and stag groups will choose to have their celebrations within a UK break. Agents will do more targeting of their customer base with tactical offers for anniversaries, Valentines etc and offers which include added value such as free dinner will become increasingly popular. This year is likely to remain a challenging time for consumers and the economy as a whole in my view. However, we have seen before that UK breaks are very resilient and recover from demand dips quite quickly. They are easy to book at the last minute, which helps, plus many customers reach the ‘sod it’ point and need a break to recharge their batteries.