Outlook strong for North American travel
By Glenn Swain
For many motorcoach operators and tour companies, 2011 saw a rebound in the tourism and travel business. After a couple of years of sluggish sales in an economy that was at times in free fall, last year the motorcoach tourism industry began to experience spirited sales and renewed excitement.
“For our members 2011 was much better than 2010, despite some of the economic volatility that’s still going on,” says Lisa Simon, president of the Lexington, KY-based National Tour Association. “It’s not like everyone got back to where they were pre-economic crisis, but they certainly had a better year.”
At the NTA’s convention in Las Vegas in December, many operators told Simon they were booking business directly on the event floor, a rarity in the past few years. Simon says she noticed a related trend.
“We’ve been having shorter booking cycles for years, but now operators are starting to see longer booking cycles,” Simon says. “I don’t know what’s driving that, other than maybe people are more careful with their money so they are planning farther in advance and are being wise about where they want to go and do.”
“2011 was a very strong year,” says Kristy Kennedy, group marketing specialist for the Adirondack Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau. “People were starting to travel more.”
Deborah Duerr, the director of tourism sales at Niagara USA, has found success in repackaging existing tours. Late last year she put together a tour called “The Ghost of Niagara,” tying in the apparently haunted Fort Niagara, the Olde Angel Inn and other spooky locations near Niagara Falls.
“It’s putting a new spin on tours and tying them together,” Duerr says. “We’ve been featured on the Syfy Channel’s ‘Ghost Hunters’ and ‘Scariest Places in America’ on the Travel Channel.”
Duerr says the problem Niagara USA has is people thinking the only attraction is the Falls itself.
“We have been building the idea that there are other things to see here,” she says. “We have our Niagara winter market, which is a European-style outdoor market with wonderful shopping and ice skating. We have a new culinary school that’s opening this year, too.”
For 2012, Simon says she is seeing a resilient market in faith-based travel.
“We found that 40 percent of our operators are actually producing faith-based products,” Simon says. “Specifically, it’s going on pilgrimages, visiting shrines, or mission and fellowship trips. I believe that’s understated because that was based a specific product designed around a religious- or faith-based experience. That doesn’t include the operators who are working with their local church groups, but they are going on a more traditional type of vacation.”
Simon claims a number of NTA members are diversifying their markets and going for younger clients.
“According to our 2011 survey, the senior market was about 42 percent of our tour operators’ market,” she said. “Ten years ago it was 80 percent.”
Duerr suggest companies become more aware of their markets and not assume travelers are coming from the usual areas.
“We always assumed we were the 600-mile radius market, but now we’re finding that a lot of our motorcoaches are coming in from farther away,” Duerr says. “I think it’s a combination of people looking for different products, and it may be the motorcoaches themselves. Now they’re luxury coaches. People are starting to realize they can travel in comfort with a group that’s going to interesting places.”
Kennedy says tours are filling up for September’s 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, a big event for not only New York State but nationwide. The observance will be held the weekend of Sept. 7-9.
“We’re seeing resurgence in history-based tours, as well as our wine tours,” Kennedy says. “Those tours are spiking more than we expected.”
“The outlook for travel in North America is very strong,” Simon says. “Vacationing and traveling is more of an entitlement than a right and luxury. While some plans may have been canceled over the last few years because of the economy, I think people have a lot of pent-up demand. That’s why the outlook for 2012 and 2013 looks good.” BR