It’s been another strong year for leisure travel and vacationers are looking for something new.
Travel agencies are working to offer more bespoke experiences for their clients, who are spending more than usual once they arrive in destination.
The complexity of planning large group vacations, and the difficulty of procuring exclusive vacation activities, has led some consumers back to travel agents.
“River cruising is definitely the brightest spot of all growth opportunities,” said Roger E. Block, president of Travel Leaders Franchise Group. Data from Travel Leaders Group shows a bump in cruise bookings, particularly in the Caribbean and Europe.
Chaos in Europe and the Middle East, however, may have limited tour bookings early in 2015.
“There has been a little bit of softness in escorted European tour segment early in the year; the terrorist activity in France, in the prime booking season of January to March, could not have come at a worse time,” said Block.
The renewed strength of the dollar has yet to impact the spending power of American consumers, but will likely create a favorable environment for international travel next year. Block expects the weakness in European bookings to disappear once the effect of the strong U.S. dollar is noticeable to consumers.
“Tour operators are surprised that the strength of the dollar has not had more of an impact this year,” said Block. “But it could be a very robust 2016 to all areas where the dollar is strengthening like Australia, China, the Far East, and Europe.”
Companies across the travel agency business are reacting to a shift in customer demand. While travelers are spending more, they want different types of experiences than before.
“Right now, we’re responding to a particular demand for custom vacations,” said Bill Sutherland, vice president of travel services for AAA Travel. “Travelers want things that are exclusive, from which they can come back with bragging rights.”
Developing these products takes building a deep relationship with partners in global destinations.
“People are taking a larger portion of their budget or allocating more spending to in-destination experiences,” said David Kolner, senior vice president of global member partnerships for Virtuoso.
Virtuoso’s advisors, for instance, work with tour operators and destination management companies to craft custom itineraries and meet the customer demand. AAA Travel collaborates with preferred suppliers to offer a more diverse range of exclusive activities than previously available to its clients.
Virtuoso has seen a 20 percent year-over-year jump in sales from its destinations and experiences portfolio.
“People are doing less luxury travel for the sake of luxury, and more for the sake of experiences,” said Kolner.
While travelers are spending more, due to decreased fuel costs and stronger consumer confidence, they are increasingly traveling on vacation with bigger family groups.
“Families are in a situation where time is precious, and they dont want to waste it,” said Sutherland. “We’ve seen a four percent increase over last year in terms of multigenerational travel; 36 percent of our travelers this year traveled in a multigenerational format.”
Millennials, too, are beginning to seek advice from travel agents for travel tied to life milestones. The top booking by Travel Leaders agents for travelers 30 and under is for a honeymoon vacation.