Trafalgar able to guarantee all Europe and Asia departures

Trafalgar able to guarantee all Europe and Asia departures

For the first time in more than 15 years, Trafalgar was able
to do something last week that is going to make selling its 2017 tours much
easier: The tour operator made 100% of its 2017 summer Europe and Asia
departures definite.

“By this time of year, in a normal year, we might have
75% of the departures [be definite],” said Trafalgar president Paul
Wiseman. He added that he has never seen that percentage shift so much in the
16 years he has been with Trafalgar.

But this year it did. Early into 2017, all of Trafalgar’s
Europe and Asia vacations are confirmed to depart this summer — circumstances
beyond the company’s control notwithstanding — and Wiseman cited several
reasons why he feels the company could make that commitment.

“It’s the volume of bookings,” Wiseman said late
last month, citing an unusually busy time for Trafalgar’s reservation agents. “It’s
a crazy volume of bookings. The call center is basically underwater again
today.”

He attributed the jump to the strength of the U.S. dollar,
and the resulting attractive costs of tours and low airfares.

“For the first time in my life, I’ve seen people from
the call center running down the hallway exclaiming about amazing airfares,”
Wiseman said. “They’re all booking [flights] themselves. There have been
amazing air deals, and what that does [is] it helps close the sale.”

When it comes to ‘definite’ or ‘guaranteed’ departures —
these mean essentially the same thing, that the departure will not be canceled
for any reason other than ones beyond the operator’s control — policies vary
considerably.

Some, like Trafalgar and the Globus family of brands, launch
their brochures with a certain percentage of tours guaranteed to operate. In
Trafalgar’s case, they launch with about 20% of their tours marked as definite
departures.

Other tour companies, such as G Adventures, guarantee all
their tour departures right out of the gate, something that company has been
doing since 2013.

For its part, Tauck said the company does not guarantee
departures because in the words of Jeremy Palmer, senior vice president for
Tauck Land Journeys, it has “frankly been a nonissue for us; our guests
don’t ask about it with any real frequency. More than half of our customers are
returning Tauck travelers, and we’ve historically operated virtually all of our
departures, so we’ve built up a very strong element of trust with our guests.”

But for some tour companies, tours need to be sold to a
certain minimum number of passengers to make them financially viable. If only
two people book a tour that can accommodate as many as 45 guests it can be a
money-losing endeavor to go ahead with the itinerary.

As it gets closer to the departure date if no one else
books, the operator might be forced to cancel that departure and offer
already-booked passengers the opportunity to join another tour that departs on
a different date.

The possibility of that happening is usually explained in
the brochure and/or by a travel seller, though it is, of course, a
less-than-ideal scenario for all involved.

As bookings come in, however, operators that run their
business on this model can start converting more departures to definite or
guaranteed. For example, Wiseman said, once a tour is at least 40% filled, it
usually shifts into the definite category. 

Steve Born, senior vice president of marketing for the
Globus family of brands, said that for his company, “the process of
converting a departure to guaranteed is both science and art, meaning we don’t
have a definite watermark where a departure automatically becomes guaranteed.
We start the sales year in the fall, with a significant percentage designated
[as guaranteed], and we add as we go. We take into account popularity of the
destination, popularity of comparable tours, volume on adjacent dates and
recent sales trends to the destination.”

As of the first week of March, the vast majority of the
Globus companies’ departures were guaranteed, Born said. He added that all
Avalon Waterways and Monograms departures are always guaranteed, and 70% of the
company’s 2017 Globus and Cosmos departures were guaranteed at the start of
March, a number that grows weekly.

“We have 468 Globus and Cosmos tours with guaranteed
dates at this time,” Born said. “In comparison to last year, we have
a larger percentage of guaranteed departures for Globus and Cosmos at this
point in the year, as passenger volume is up substantially for both brands.”

As for how much product tour operators have out in the
market, Wiseman said that Trafalgar kicked off 2017 with about as much capacity
as the tour operator had in 2016 but has since been adding inventory to keep up
with demand.

For example, capacity had been reduced in France following a
softer year there, but it was increased in popular destinations such as
Scandinavia, Ireland and Central, Southern and Eastern Europe. And regardless
of capacity, all destinations are booking well he said.

“There are just no dog destinations for once,”
Wiseman said. “We are on track to beat every year since 2007.”

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