At the Advantage Travel Conference I had the chance to talk to around 25-30 agents particularly during a 'speed dating' session. On talking with agents, I feel very optimistic on the future of independent travel agents on the High Street, as the majority of them said that business in general is doing well, with January and February particularly strong, with business slightly slowing down in March and April.
Regarding Turkey as destination, I found mixed feelings among the agents. Most of them told me that Turkey had started slow this year due to some bad press regarding the Syrian border, which had lost the confidence of the consumer. However, they are all optimistic about Turkey as a destination and they all had great knowledge on how big the country is, with all confident in telling their customers of the huge 1,200km distance between the Syrian border and the resorts. Agents are doing a great job trying to reassure their clients that there is nothing to worry about.
They also added that Turkey still offers the best value for money by far. They agreed the pound has gained a lot against the euro, and that has made the Euro zone much more affordable, but they still felt the Turkish Lira offered the best value for money with the pound being worth more than 4 lira (last year it was 3.5 lira). Percentage-wise, the pound gained 16% against the euro and 15% against the Turkish lira. Agents also commented that they are all looking forward to a strong lates market, as we are here at Anatolian Sky.
Some agents also mentioned that bookings are like waves - it goes from one country to another country year-by-year, without any good reason. I agree that consumers sometimes look to change their bookings each year, but I also definitely believe there is a power behind the changes and the direction of the waves. Most of the time these are coming from an outside effect, whether these are regional political problems, natural disasters, terrorist attacks or even global economic changes. I also feel the exchange rates can make a huge impact on destination booking patterns.
However, I also strongly believe you can fight and find a way to change the directions of the waves, rather than wait for the storm to take you. The most powerful way is to fight the waves and eventually change their course. Sadly, over the last four or five years, I don't believe the government of Turkey has been fighting strong enough to change the directions of the waves. We as individual tour operators or agents cannot change the climate of the market and we do not have enough funds to do this. But the Turkish Government can, as they did four to five years ago, where they allocated a £5million budget for the UK with a strong TV campaign on the main channels during peak times. I haven’t seen any major campaign or TV adverts on major channels since then.
I also believe the recent series of elections in Turkey have not helped. The Turkish general election is on June 7 and a large focus has been put on this. Before that it was the president election and prior to that it was local elections. This is now the last one so I'm hoping once this is over, a new government will focus on the destination's real problems and allocate some serious funds for the advertising and promotion of Turkey. I strongly believe there is huge love of Turkey in the industry and enthusiasm still remains; once the Government starts promoting the country on a bigger scale, all of industry will carry on supporting Turkey. We as Anatolian Sky decided to expand into Bodrum for 2016, as I witnessed there are a lot of new investments, including many luxurious choices for families and couples.
On a completely separate note, I heard of the terrifying experience some of delegates had with Pegasus Airlines on their return flight, where they had to make an emergency landing in Izmir. Onboard there was our lovely agency sales manager, Stephanie Robins, and editor of Travel Bulletin, Lauretta Wright. I spoke with both of them and they told me how awful the experience was, with many of the passengers left feeling puzzled and annoyed there was no proper announcement given by the pilot to advise exactly what was happening.
I have to add that I had similar experience two years ago with Turkish Airlines in Istanbul. We couldn’t land and the aeroplane got very close to the runway and then suddenly took off again, with my thoughts that the tyres didn’t open. All of the passengers were terrified but again there was no explanation from pilot. I believe this may be a cultural thing; I appreciate that the pilot should focus on the problem first of all, but wherever they can, they should reassure the passengers immediately, before everyone starts panicking when it could be avoided. I believe these early communications and reassurances would ease the tensions amongst the passengers and would also help them sort the problem in a calm and effective way.