NEW YORK — Tour operators are optimistic about the year
ahead, according to session panelists at the New York Times Travel Show.
Before the U.S. election was over last November, 2017 was
not looking like a good year, said Mark Grundy, managing director of Asia for
Avanti Destinations. “Post-election, we can’t answer the phone fast
enough,” he said.
“Everybody is traveling,” Grundy said, with many
buying expensive, long-haul trips to exotic locations.
The past year was a challenge, according to Gregg Marston,
chairman of VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations. But his company marketed
aggressively through the difficult times, and that marketing is beginning to
pay off with business in 2017.
Ireland will continue to be a strong destination in 2017,
said Elizabeth Crabill, CEO of CIE Tours, which specializes in the country.
Unlike some other destinations, Ireland was strong in 2016 because Americans
perceived it as a comfortable, welcoming destination, she said. That strength
is expected to continue.
“It’s the right time to be in the right place,”
Steve Spivak, vice president of global sales for Tauck, said
that while 2016 was still a “record-breaking year” for his company,
it was one that “certainly required a great deal of agility” with all
the challenges in Europe. While Americans traveled, it became a question of
where they would go.
But the year was bolstered by the trade and “the
emergence of the travel agent as the true advocate of the guest, of the client,
emboldening them to go.” That is a trend he said will likely continue into
Paul Wiseman, president of Trafalgar, also said that
offering a diverse portfolio of destinations was key in 2016, and his company
saw a large amount of growth in non-European destinations.
“Travel is like a balloon — if you squeeze it in one
part, it’s just going to expand somewhere else,” he said.
Scott Wiseman, president of Travel Impressions, said travel
agent partners have been reporting working late hours and on weekends, a good sign
for the year ahead, he said.
Crabill said she is keeping her eye on the growth of
low-cost carriers flying transatlantic routes. How tour operators can work with
them remains a question.
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