Special Report: Abta Group Travel and Tours conference

Special Report: Abta Group Travel and Tours conference

Seventy guests hear from experts at association’s first forum for the groups sector. By Robin Searle

‘Bespoke tours offer agents chance to increase sales’

Agents have been urged to work closely with touring specialists on bespoke itineraries and component bookings.

Speakers at Abta’s Group Travel and Tours Conference in London said the trade remained fundamental to their businesses.

And they highlighted opportunities for agents to increase their sales further by liaising with suppliers to create exclusive tours for special-interest groups, or to use touring specialists’ expertise to create tailor-made itineraries.

Trafalgar’s national sales manager, Chris Price, said: “We are working more with agents who are putting together groups and coming to us with opportunities to create bespoke tours to meet specific requirements or interests.

“At the other end of the scale, we are educating agents that we can book individual elements for them – whether that is just accommodation, or also travel and meals when they’re required.”

Speaking during a panel discussion moderated by Travel Weekly editor-in-chief Lucy Huxley, Price said Trafalgar was seeing strong year-on-year growth, a sentiment echoed by fellow panellists Carl Burrows, UK managing director of Collette, and Claire Ross, head of specialist products at Kuoni, who said the operator’s small-groups division was reporting stronger growth than its mainstream business.

The panellists admitted headwinds including exchange rates were presenting challenges, but Ross said the inclusive elements of a tour made it an attractive product to sell.

“Currency could work in the touring market’s favour,” she said. “It may be a high price point, but you know what you’re getting and, with so much included, some of that volatility and risk becomes less of a consideration.”

Giles Hawke, chief executive of Cosmos and chairman of the Association of Touring & Adventure Suppliers, said the evolution of touring product was helping attract new customers and those keen to try new experiences.

He said: “If you build a compelling group travel opportunity, then the likelihood is that the customers will come.”

‘Social media is not just a promo tool’

Agents and operators should use social media not only to promote their products but also to strengthen customer relationships.

Ant Stone, marketing director at G Adventures, said online channels gave opportunities to engage with customers before and during holidays, and praised Virgin Holidays’ approach to asking for customers’ permission to use content in marketing activity.

Luke Golding, associate solicitor and head of employment at Travlaw, said reform to data protection laws next year meant all travel companies would need to ensure they have the requisite consent to use customers’ data, including in marketing activity.

Small-group tours on the up as Costa Rica performs well

Small-group tours are growing in popularity, partly driven by growth in destinations suited to smaller parties.

Costa Rica, Iceland and South Africa were identified as on the rise, although established favourites such as Italy, Canada and the US still account for larger total volumes.

Speakers said global events had little impact on overall demand, particularly for experienced travellers, but admitted some customers were choosing to delay or avoid booking destinations such as Myanmar, Japan and Korea. Collette managing director Carl Burrows said the operator continued to assess returning to destinations such as Egypt, Iran and Iraq.


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