Skift Take

It's only a segment of the U.S. population that has a go-to travel agent for trip planning, although they are more popular in other parts of the world. Virtuoso is trying to equip its members with the smarts to adapt to the evolving traveler, and you have to give Virtuoso credit for that.

Travel agents will convene in Las Vegas this week and their dialogue on everything from modern luxury to foodie tourism will serve as a mid-summer check-in on travel industry trends.

Meanwhile, solar eclipse hype fatigue may start to appear in the shadows as we await the big August 21 event. In other matters, we’ll be looking to see in the United States if airline fare wars spill out at an airport near you.

Here’s what’s going down in Travel This Week — What To Expect and, as always, you can read all of our reports here.

Virtuoso Has a story to tell

Luxury travel agents are gathering in Las Vegas this week starting Sunday for Virtuoso’s annual training sessions, and the classes will highlight several travel industry trends, including the intersection of travel and luxury experiences, such as dining; a new emphasis on customer lifetime value, and the importance of story-telling in marketing.

Look for a lot of verbiage about the comeback of travel agents — even though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that travel agent jobs will decline 12 percent from 2014 to 2024.

Participants in a Skift Data Sheet survey found that a majority (64 percent) of U.S. high-income travelers rarely or never use travel agents, but that left a substantial minority (36 percent) who often or always call or visit their travel agent.

So that amounts to a segment of a wider demographic that is open to using traditional travel agents for travel planning. Still, the Bureau of Labor Statistics did say that travel agents with specialties — such as many of those attending the Virtuoso event this week — or travel consultants targeting corporate travelers have the best job opportunities.

Barcelona Bottleneck

More strikes are planned at the airport in Barcelona this week at the height of the summer travel season. Airlines such as United are already issuing waivers for travelers unlucky enough — from a transportation perspective — to have Barcelona itineraries. Between strikes by disgruntled airport staff, and protests against overtourism, is Barcelona suddenly becoming the center of the travel universe?

Summer Travel Season Winding Down

In the proverbial dog days of August, there are signs aplenty that the summer vacation season is winding down. In Illinois, for example, some public school students have already returned to classes to begin the 2017-2018 academic year.

We’ve noticed that travel website advertising on U.S. TV is starting to edge downward, according to statistics. The spend on U.S. national TV advertising in the first week of August was about $16 million, a 22 percent decrease compared with the first week of July, which included the July 4th holiday.

Will Sharing Economy Get Cozier to Corporate Travel?

Ya, we expect another development this week in making it easier for corporations to have their employees tap into the sharing economy. Stay tuned.

What Not to Expect This Week: New Uber CEO

Speaking of the sharing economy, one thing you almost certainly won’t see this week is a new Uber CEO since board maneuverings are chaotic. Last week, major shareholder Benchmark sued former Uber CEO and current board member Travis Kalanick for fraud and was looking to kick him off the board.

Then three Uber investors, who are in the pro-Kalanick camp, called on Benchmark to give up its own board seat.

Potential CEO candidates, including former General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt — who would be a terrible fit for the job — can’t be pleased about what they are seeing from this now-dysfunctional Uber board.

So don’t expect a Kalanick successor until the board straightens out the mess.

Fare Wars to Reassert Themselves?

We’ll be looking for signs this week that airline price wars are starting to break out in some U.S. markets. For a few years now, the largest airlines in the United States have engaged in what they euphemistically call “price discipline.” In brief, they try not to grow their market share by undercutting rivals’ fares.

But fare wars may be coming back, led by United. While recently giving second quarter earnings commentary, executives at Southwest Airlines warned that United was undercutting it on price in several markets, such as by offering walk-up fares for less than $100. JetBlue executives also claimed United is discounting, with fares especially aggressive on routes between Newark and Florida.

Meanwhile, executives at Frontier and United exchanged barbs about whether they would match each other’s low prices. Frontier also said that it plans to double the number of cities it serves next summer, and expand its service on routes in and out of Denver and Florida.

What are the facts? United hasn’t revealed its tactics. But average airfares in the United States dropped, year-over-year in the first three months of 2017, according to government statistics. Falling oil prices can only partly explain that drop.

Airline analyst Hunter Keay of Wolfe Research isn’t worried. He expects United to only match, not undercut, low-cost competitors, like Frontier.

That said, pricing varies route-by-route. On some routes, airlines are shrinking capacity to help prop up prices. Skift has noticed one case in point: Philadelphia to Chicago, where fares have shot up, on average, as airlines have reduced service.

Overall, though, consumers should still be happy. Adjusting for inflation, the national average fare of $352 in the first three months of 2017 was the lowest ever recorded in the first quarter since the government began collecting statistics in 1995. Sean O’Neill

Getting Ready for the Solar Eclipse

Solar eclipse fervor is in high gear even though the event won’t take place until August 21.

Consider comedian Steve Martin’s tweet: “I want to hire the person who does the publicity for the eclipse.”

Travel Oregon will be among the participants in an Oregon Governor’s Office press conference Tuesday advising visitors and residents on how to be “prepared and have resources before, during, and after this once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Oregon is in the path of the temporary and total blockage of the sun as are 13 other U.S. states. Elsewhere, in much of the Caribbean, South America, Africa and Europe, residents will get a partial show.

Seldom are media advisories as colorful as Travel Oregon’s:

“On eclipse day, Monday, Aug. 21, an eerie twilight will descend on a swath of the state in the late morning, starting on the coast between Lincoln City and Newport, then moving over Salem and eventually over the best potential viewing areas of Warm Springs, Madras, Mitchell, Prairie City, and Huntington in Eastern Oregon. The eclipse will appear at 10:15 a.m. PDT on the Oregon Coast and depart the state by 10:27 a.m. The effect of the eclipse will last under two minutes on the coast and stretch to just over two minutes in the eastern part of the state.”

We are looking forward to the “eerie twilight” that the moon will create when it sandwiches itself between the earth and the sun. It should be quite a show — or no-show, in the case of the sun, that is.


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Tags: airlines, barcelona, travel agents, travel oregon, ttw, Virtuoso

Photo credit: Travel agents from Ovation Vacations Emily Westaby Polly (center) and Christina Callahan (right) at the Virtuoso event in Las Vegas, Nevada in August 2014. Virtuoso began its latest training conference in Las Vegas August 13, 2017.

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