As per usual, the travel industry is stepping out of another year of highs and lows – challenges that one simply can’t plan for and successes that set professionals up for continued success in 2019. So, what’s on our [s]hit list?
ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY & SUPPORT
It’s no secret that technology has vastly changed the role of travel advisors in vacation planning, and major travel organizations continue to invest in innovations for the sake of not being left behind. Ensemble Travel Group, for one, continues to advance its Navigate platform, while TL Network members are taking advantage of posting their profiles under its Agent Profiler lead generation platform. Plus, Flight Centre Travel Group acquired Canadian itinerary management platform, Umapped, a move that is anticipated to enhance the company’s web and mobile services to deliver upgraded documentation, better templates and seamless, real-time communication between agents and customers. Suppliers are also broadening their appeal on the tech side of things, according to some. “They are seeing that many travel agents are home-based and they need to accommodate that in terms of commission payment reconciliation and of course BDM support,” said Deanna Byrne of Destination Experts.
CONVERSATIONS ABOUT EQUALITY & DIVERSITY
The travel industry still has a long way to go in supporting equal and diverse voices, but at least conversations are taking place in order to encourage forward momentum. In October, Toronto’s Young Travel Professionals organization, in partnership with Ryerson University, G Adventures and Planeterra, hosted a panel discussion tackling the issue of gender equity and equality in the travel space. While it is well known that women are wellrepresented in frontline roles, they only hold about 10 per cent of positions on executive management teams and boards of directors in major industry organizations. Further, sexual harassment is rampant within workplaces (travel or otherwise), at industry functions, on FAM trips and beyond. YTP’s event aimed to shine a spotlight on the realities of the problem and equip the 120-plus attendees with ideas and tools that they can use in their own workplaces to empower and influence change.
FOCUS ON SUSTAINABILITY
Though overtourism landed on our SH*T LIST this year, we believe the resulting commitment to sustainable travel practices is a “win” for 2018. Destinations are making changes to mitigate swells in arrival numbers and negative effects, while tour operators and some hoteliers are implementing practices to reduce their environmental impact, such as banning plastic straws. WTM London expanded its Responsible Tourism program, focusing on animal welfare and conservation, empowering female entrepreneurs through tourism, inclusive tourism, and other topics that relate back to sustainable practices. And it matters to travellers – according to ABTA, nearly 70 per cent of people now believe that travel companies should ensure their holidays help the local people and economy.
MORE DEMAND FOR TRAVEL ADVISORS
Major travel groups are reporting strong – and in some cases, record-breaking – numbers for 2018, proving that the services of travel advisors continue to be in high demand. It’s easy to speculate any number of reasons why this might be the case – the aforementioned diversification of product as one factor. Tim Morgan of Virtuoso points to consumer confidence as another key influence, noting, “Due to strong economies in Canada and the U.S., consumers were feeling confident in 2018, which in turn led to greater spending, which in turn led to greater investment in our sector by travel industry partners.” In Canada, Virtuoso has seen 10 per cent growth in the number of advisors and 35 per cent growth in travel sales over the past 12 months.
Low water levels in the Rhine and Danube greatly impacted the river cruise market this year, leaving many travellers being bussed between cities and moving between different accommodations while ships were left unable to navigate forward. River cruise companies did their best to keep guests comfortable, and according to Cruise Critic, often used ship swaps as one solution.
Effective March 2018, Marriott International slashed commission paid to group intermediaries from 10 per cent to seven per cent, for properties sourced in the U.S. and Canada. “Changing economics” and “growing costs” were cited by Steve Heitzner, chief sales and marketing officer for the Americas, as reasons for the pivot. Hilton Worldwide followed suit soon thereafter. “In our view, a 30 per cent cut in intermediary compensation diminishes the value of the role agents play in this complex and ever-changing industry,” Zane Kerby, president and CEO of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), responded at the time. Unfortunately, pressure from major travel groups did not lead to any reversal in decision from the hotel giants.
California is reeling after the deadliest wildfire in its history was finally contained in late November, three weeks after it began. According to CBC, the fire destroyed nearly 14,000 homes and burned more than 62,000 hectares; the entire town of Paradise, largely a retirement community, is no longer. Despite the destruction, California’s gateway airports remained open throughout the ordeal and flights across the state continued to operate normally. British Columbia was also ravaged by wildfire, with nearly 13,000 square kilometres burned over the summer season. Walt Judas, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C., told CT, “The month of August is usually the busiest for visitation to British Columbia. With wildfires and smoke virtually throughout the entire province, some sectors and regions experienced a noticeable drop in business. At the same time, other communities held steady. We’ll know for certain the degree of impact once our research is complete.”
Popular destinations are being forced to mitigate arrivals in order to combat overtourism, which refers to negative impacts of travellers to the quality of life in a destination. The World Travel & Tourism Council categorizes the issues as: alienation of local residents, constrained infrastructure, diminished tourist experience, damage to natural resources and threat to cultural heritage. As two examples, Maya Bay in Thailand was closed to tourists for four months as of May 2018 “in a bid to reverse damage to surrounding coral,” according to The Telegraph; and Boracay in the Philippines closed itself to tourism arrivals for six months in order to carry-out rehabilitation efforts. New restrictions are also being put in place to reduce the negative impacts.
THE COSTCO EFFECT
Speaking with travel advisors across Canada, one of the biggest challenges they are facing is the growth of rebating in the marketplace. While cruise and tours are being discounted to appeal directly to consumers, hotel business is also being affected; according to The Wall Street Journal, Costco members can save up to 30 per cent on rates. And it seems as though the battle has only just begun, as Amazon is said to be eyeing its opportunity in the travel space as well. “There are two trillion-dollar markets that are great new business opportunities for Amazon, according to D.A. Davidson,” CNBC reported. “The firm reiterated its buy rating for Amazon shares, saying the e-commerce giant should enter the travel and gas station markets.”