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Terrorism in Europe. A failed coup attempt in Turkey. The Syrian refugee crisis. The Zika virus. Brexit. The list goes on.
There are plenty of reasons for American vacationers to take pause this year when planning their next vacation.
North American travel agents, however, say the public is still traveling despite concerns. In fact, major travel agencies are still expecting 2016 to be a growth year for the industry.
“In the overall leisure industry, we do see growth from passenger and revenue standpoint,” said John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Network and Leisure Group. “I don’t think its as strong and robust as we turned the year in January and February. We were like everybody, optimistic about the outlook, but some unfortunate things did happen along the way. Europe as a market has been somewhat depressed, but the consumer is very resilient.”
The year started off strong, according to Lovell. But the attacks in Brussels on March 22 began a period of extended weakness in European bookings. Paris was already weak, as a result of last November’s terror attacks.
The good news is that lackluster bookings have been limited to specific destinations rather than regions or vacation types. People who had been considering a trip to Paris or Brussels are booking a Caribbean vacation instead. Those concerned with Zika may book an Alaskan cruise or Hawaii resort vacation.
Coupled with the cyclical weakness of an election year, things aren’t as bad for travel sellers as the news may suggest. Booking patterns this year look more like 2012 than 2008, according to Lovell’s data; no steep drop off in travel demand is expected like during the throes of the 2008 financial crisis.
Other travel agency executives echoed Lovell’s assessment.
“Overall, [security concerns] certainly have an impact on business,” said Debbie Fiorino, senior vice president of home-based travel agency CruiseOne, which is a World Travel Holdings brand. “The question is that travelers are looking at whether they should travel to Europe. They’re choosing different destinations. If they dont want to go to Europe, they do Alaska, Bermuda, or Hawaii.”
Low gas prices are also propping up travel in the domestic U.S. AAA projects that a record 43 million Americans traveled for this year’s July 4 holiday.
“The American people are determined to see travel as a right that they won’t give away,” said Bill Sutherland, senior vice president of travel for AAA. “Issues do happen, and we’re seeing a more considerate traveler mentality, meaning they’re thinking twice [about traveling] but many of them are continuing with their plans the way they have planned them. Some are making adjustments moving from one destination to another, but I can’t call it a huge market shift.”
Gas is about 25 percent cheaper than it was last year at this time, according to Sutherland, and is contributing to an increase in drive vacations. The aggregate savings on gas over the year is also leaving Americans with more to spend on their vacations.
Vacation pricing, as well, hasn’t dipped widely despite worries about traveler demand. European hotel rates, airfares, and activities fees are dropping to drive demand to drive demand, but most other sectors have worked to maintain pricing.
The cruise lines in particular have been lauded for maintaining fares instead of cutting fares to attract more cruisers. They’ve also moved ship deployments away from potential trouble spots like Turkey.
“I do give a lot of praise and really foresight to a lot of the cruise executives who have held their prices,” said Lovell. “It would have been really easy in that February/March period to lower prices to drive passengers. They have done value-adds to stimulate demand, but they have held prices. I look at 2017 and if we can hold that position and those policies in place, you only need a little bit of demand surge to have a big cumulative effect.”