‘Virtually no lates market’ in US, claim tour operators

‘Virtually no lates market’ in US, claim tour operators

Operators claim there is “virtually no lates” market for the US this year as families book further in advance for value.

US operators’ upturn in forward bookings comes as the pound hovers at $1.32 following a sharp fall from $1.50 after the Brexit vote.

USAirtours chief executive Guy Novik said families were booking further in advance for 2019 to lock in better deals. He said: “There has been virtually no lates [this year],” adding that winter deals were offering savings of “at least 20%”.

The operator said sales were up 16% to Florida, 5% to Las Vegas and 4% to California against last year, with self-drives increasingly popular, but New York was “flat”.

Gold Medal’s 2019 Florida sales are up 49%. Marketing manager Kerry Gallagher said agents were seeking more “added-value” for customers, such as inclusive theme park dining plans. California, New York, Massachusetts and Chicago have all seen growth this year, she said, adding that multi-centre bookings are 12% up.

Multi-centres make up 60% of If Only’s US bookings and account for all bookings to its top-selling destination, California. Sales and marketing director Gordon McCreadie said demand for its recently-added destination was “massively surpassing” expectations, boosted by interest in themed itineraries, such as to Nashville and Memphis in Tennessee.

Funway Holidays said US bookings had been “flat” due to a “volatile” exchange rate but higher in value. Product destination manager Malcolm Davies attributed a rise in advance bookings to families “not wanting surprises”.

He noted a trend towards on-site theme park hotels with early park access and a shift away from villas in Orlando.

Davies also said multi-centres had increased in popularity and that agents were adding ancillaries on “every second booking”. Funway printed 10,000 extra copies of its US brochure to meet demand, he added.

Trek America’s managing director Richard Hanson said bookings for the company’s price-driven brand had seen “negative growth” with younger, less-affluent UK customers affected by the weak pound against the dollar but that its more up-market brand, Grand American Adventures, has recorded double-digit growth as its typical demographic were less affected by currency fluctuations.

Market analyst GfK reported summer 2018 US bookings 6% behind 2017, but winter 2018-19 bookings 16% ahead of last year. Family bookings were 11% behind for summer but 3% up for winter.

ForwardKeys, which monitors 17 million flight bookings a day, found US bookings for the first half of 2018 were 2.9% down on 2017 but only 0.3% behind for departures from July to September.

Virgin Atlantic said July and August departures to the US were 7% up on last year and it had seen a 21% increase in December departures to New York.

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