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Are you easing into 2017 with cautious optimism or skepticism? At CT Magazine, we wanted to get a sense of what our readers can expect in the coming 12 months, and to do so, enlisted the help of travel industry executives, who have shared their insights and perspectives. The good news? Things seem to be looking up!

Our panelists:

Lindsay Pearlman, co-president, Ensemble Travel Group

Cathie Lewis-Hardy, VP, international marketing, TRAVELSAVERS

Matthew D. Upchurch, chairman & CEO, Virtuoso

Flemming Friisdahl, founder, The Travel Agent Next Door

Gavin Miller, VP, Leisure, Flight Center

Joe Adamo, president, Transat Distribution Canada

Christine James, president – Canada, Vacation.com

What is your outlook for the travel industry in 2017?

Across all of our divisions – TRAVELSAVERS and the Affluent Traveler Collection – agents are busier than ever. One change we are seeing affect the market is that the booking windows continue to shorten. This is due to a general mindset of waiting for last minute deals and safety concerns. In addition, unique itineraries and customized travel are in strong growth mode, with experiential and transformational travel leading the way. Despite predictions over the past few years that travel agencies and travel agents are struggling to retain customers, a recent survey shows our agents are seeing significant gain in new clients and are very optimistic about the coming year and in the future of their business. Almost all of our agents are seeing new customers across the board from all generations, which is very encouraging for the industry. Lewis-Hardy

Definitely optimistic. We are truly in the golden age of travel – it’s never been easier to travel nor has it been more affordable. – Miller

Advance bookings for 2017 are generally ahead of same time last year so we are cautiously optimistic. Ontario and Quebec are trending ahead of last year; we continue to be challenged due to market conditions in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Paris terrorist attacks of November 2015 and the unusually mild December of last year pulled general demand down for 2016 travel. Thankfully, neither of these is a factor at this time. – Adamo

Based on the feedback from our membership and future sales reporting from our key suppliers, I would have to say that the outlook is positive. That said, sustaining this trend is naturally dependent on any unforeseen global or economic issues.  – James

What factors will you be keeping a close eye on, as it relates to industry performance?

At Virtuoso we talk about VUCA, which stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous; it’s actually a term coined by the U.S. government in the wake of the Cold War as a means of explaining the new unknown. There’s no doubt that 2016 had its fair share of VUCA, but even so, we still came out ahead. This industry is resilient and we see consumers still favouring experiences over goods, which bodes well for luxury travel.

What happens as a result of VUCA – this feeling of uncertainty – is that it actually creates a stronger, intensified craving for authentic human connection and we see that manifesting itself in two ways. First, there is a desire to connect with an actual human being during the travel planning process. The thought of having plans go awry, or being caught without a net, is driving consumers to seek out the expertise and comfort of working with a professional travel advisor. This doesn’t mean that consumers have stopped doing their own online research. However, they are looking to advisors to provide clarity and validation, because not knowing if you’re asking the right questions is the biggest uncertainty. And, travellers are looking for advisors to deliver experiences that they might not know how to achieve on their own. They’re willing to pay for it, too.

The other outcome is that people want customized travel that allow them to see/taste/touch a destination in a different way and above all else, connect with locals and their culture on a very personal level. Dine at a restaurant where only residents frequent or, better yet, dine in someone’s home. Stay in hotels that have been decorated with local art and textiles that give a deeper sense of place or rent out a staffed villa/private home. Each experience will ensure guests feel like citizens and not tourists. Upchurch

In spite of a great 2016 and promising 2017 for Ensemble, there are still both challenging and positive takeaways facing our industry in the coming year. 

The challenges have to do with the unknown. No one can predict what the future holds except that there will be struggles and tough times ahead. Whether it’s related to a natural disaster, political ramifications, economic downturn, or more, those challenges have become the norm in recent times. The one thing we do know, regardless of the circumstances, is that people will travel, especially Canadians. It’s just what we do. The uncertainty is the impact of those circumstances on the closing cycles. That’s the heartburn part, especially for the suppliers.

The good news is that travel is becoming more complex and consumers are becoming smarter. To get the most out of the travel experience, they are reaching out to travel professionals to help them sort through airline fares and new rules, the influx of capacity within the cruise industry and tour operations, and the ongoing “deals” in the market. It’s good to see that people are seeking out professional advice before spending significant dollars on this type of investment. Pearlman

Pick-up the December issue of CT Magazine to see more on what the experts expect from 2017.


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