As 2023 gets underway, the future of travel continues to look bright. The U.S. Travel Foundation projected in a recent report that despite inflation, all segments of travel will continue to surge at least over the short term, due to post-covid demand.
For travel advisors, the post-pandemic landscape has meant more business than ever and 2023 is likely to be no different. Travel industry executives from leading cruise lines, all-inclusive resorts, tour operators, and destinations told TravelPulse there will be abundant opportunities in the coming year for agents and advisors to maximize their business.
These same industry executives offered a variety of advice for agents on how best to work with specific brands and destinations over the coming year in order to maximize opportunities. From stepping up storytelling skills to embracing the booming luxury segment (not to mention the multi-generational travelers), and focusing on the destinations, offerings and experiences you have the most expertise in—here are the top tips for advisors from travel industry executives.
Focus on key brand partners and get to know them inside and out
In pursuit of best serving your demographic or niche as a travel advisor, it may be beneficial to focus on just one, or perhaps a few, key partners.
“It’s much easier to learn and partner with one partner like Playa, where we can offer you everything you need,” says Andrea Wright, vice president, travel industry sales US for Playa Hotels & Resorts. “Once you select what partner or brand you want to focus on, I encourage you to know all you can about them. Study up on all of their resorts and brands and try to experience and stay with them to better sell them.”
Make sure you know a brand or partner’s strengths and how they differ from the competition, adds Wright, adding: “It will help you align them correctly with the right customers.”
In the case of Play specifically, some of the details to know for the year ahead include that the brand recently added another Wyndham in Riviera Nayarit, as well as the Seadust Resort in Cancun, and two Jewel Resorts in Punta Cana. And at the end of 2023, the brand is slated to open a Kimpton resort in Riviera Maya.
“We offer everything from luxury to upper midscale resorts in the all–inclusive space,” says Wright.
Hone in on your areas of expertise
Similar to getting to know your handful of key partners incredibly well in 2023, it may also be wise to invest the time and effort to further deepen knowledge in the segments that advisors consider to be their specialties.
“My advice to advisors is to stay focused on the destinations, offerings, and experiences that you’re an expert in and hone in on that,” says John Diorio, vice president of North American sales for Virgin Voyages. “The demand is there, and you should take advantage of the opportunities.”
For advisors whose specialty includes cruising, a few key points to know about Virgin Voyages for the year ahead include that the brand will be launching two new ships—Resilient Lady and Brilliant Lady. In May, Resilient Lady will make her debut in Athens, sail through the Mediterranean in the summer, then embark on a repositioning voyage that ends in Australia. Brilliant Lady will celebrate maiden voyages in both Miami and San Juan.
And that’s not all for Virgin Voyages.
“This year alone we’ll introduce 33 new ports of call and 10 new itineraries to some incredible destinations including Dubai, Singapore, Bali, Sydney and Auckland,” says Diorio. “In the summer months, both Resilient Lady and Valiant Lady will have seven-night itineraries around the Mediterranean, while Scarlet Lady will continue to offer unique Caribbean and Mexican itineraries from Miami.”
Be savvy with client budgets amid continued inflation
While travelers are not necessarily letting the pressures of inflation hold them back in 2023 when it comes to indulging in vacations, that doesn’t mean they’re immune to financial pressures entirely. Jacqueline Marks, executive vice president of ALG Vacations suggests this is a point advisors should keep in mind in the year ahead.
“We’re still navigating against inflation, and news stories about these challenges are constant,” says Marks. “Toward the end of 2022, consumer confidence was going up and down, and I think that will still be a big factor this year as well…travel advisors will need to be very savvy with their clients’ budgets, and they will need to book vacations earlier for better pricing, with a focus on watching sales and promotions to fit their clients’ needs.”
Advance airline purchasing will be crucial in 2023
It’s hardly any secret that the airlines are not back to pre-pandemic operating levels yet. One need look no further than the recent Southwest Airlines debacle, which resulted in nearly 16,000 canceled flights over the holidays. For advisors, getting flights securely booked for clients well in advance will be an important step as the airlines continue fine tuning their operations this year.
“There is less capacity than before, and although leisure travel destinations remains more popular than other types of travel, advance purchase is crucial and also booking fares with more flexible rules,” advises Marks. “It can be tough to sell last-minute vacations in this market because flights are sold-out or high price.”
Europe represents a tremendous opportunity this year
Travel to Europe was off the table throughout the pandemic, but now that restrictions— and traveler concerns—have largely become a thing of the past, the continent has been surging in popularity. This past summer, travel to Europe soared by about 600 percent, according to a report from Allianz. And that popularity is likely to continue in 2023, say experts.
“A huge opportunity this year is Europe,” says Marks, of ALG. “There’s a lot of demand for it from clients, and now that COVID travel requirements have ended, it’s easy to get around. Clients are booking more tours and excursions, higher room categories and bucket list type adventures.”
Taking advantage of this surge in popularity, ALG Vacations brands is putting an emphasis on Europe in 2023. For advisors, that means increased commission on all hotels in Europe through Apple Vacations, Funjet Vacations, and United Vacations.
“We’ve also lowered our deposits for Europe,” continues Marks. “Only $250 down (reduced from $350) is now required for United Vacations Europe bookings, and $350 (instead of the full air cost) for Europe travel with Apple Vacations, Funjet Vacations and Travel Impressions.”
And finally, ALGV’s Travel Protection Plus policy for Europe now includes the brand’s Price Guarantee, which means if the price of a hotel drops after a booking is confirmed, the reservation will be adjusted to the lower price upon request.
Storytelling skills will be crucial
Gone are the days of simply sending out promotional emails or print communications to clients and expecting them to be compelling enough to generate demand or bookings. In today’s social media dominated world, advisors and agents should consider taking their efforts to the next level.
“instead of just sending out sale flyers, today’s savvy advisors are capturing clients through good storytelling via social media,” says Marks. “Now you can see and hear vacation options through video instead of just reading a blurb in a brochure. Learning how to tell a compelling story about a destination or resort is an incredibly effective sales tool.”
Opt for specializing, rather than generalizing
While there’s an argument to be made for serving travelers of all ages, budgets, and travel styles, there’s also a great deal of value in dedicating a portion of your business to a specialty or a specific traveler type or niche, says Jenn Stevens, US trade marketing manager for G Adventures.
“Once an advisor dedicates a portion of their book of business to a specialty, a specific traveler type or niche, they begin to create authority and that leads to curating content that converts,” explains Stevens. “For example one of our top advisors specializes in polar cruises. She’s perfected the pitch, knows the regions, has a pulse on the ships, policies, and cruise lines. It’s something she’s passionate about.”
For other advisors, the passion point might be destination weddings, multi-sport adventures, or agritourism. Dedicating the time to becoming a clear thought leader in the area of travel that you’re most passionate about is a move that will pay dividends, both this year and in years to come.
“There’s no harm in being a general advisor and working with all travelers, but best results are found when they secure a portion of time to specialize,” suggests Stevens. “They’ll find referrals come more often, and clients are further down the funnel, knowing they are speaking with an advisor who specializes in the type of travel experience they’re looking for. Identify that niche and work to curate content that helps you sell.”
Experiential travel and local experiences are in big demand in 2023—ride that wave
Between the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change-related challenges, and environmental degradation around the world, the travel industry faces increasingly complex challenges and an increasing responsibility to tread lightly while also finding ways to have a truly beneficial impact on the destinations being visited.
The good news is travelers also want to see that happen and are seeking out travel opportunities that not only offer “local experiences” but also offer a true sense of place and that are mutually beneficial to both the traveler and the community, says Stevens.
“Agents will need to catch this wave and invest time to unpack what brands, hotels, cruise lines and small group operators are tailoring products for these immersive travel-hungry clients,” Stevens explains.
“While we do have many new offerings for 2023, including our new Trans Bhutan Trail itineraries as well as new trips in Mexico, Iceland, Morocco and Iceland, we’re also increasing our focus on those destinations that we visit that rely heavily on tourism and could use help rebuilding,” Stevens continues. “We’re doubling down on our support to those beautiful places and providing not only educational pieces but the right selling tools to ensure advisors have these sidekick pieces in hand to help them close the deal.”
Whether it’s showcasing Planeterra projects in South America or local restaurants in India, these G Adventures specialized destination pieces for agents create a new level of wanderlust that travelers are seeking in 2023.
Embrace luxury travel
Luxury travel has been booming post-pandemic and this reality has helped lead the travel industry’s recovery at a much stronger rate than other segments of the hospitality industry, says Mark Benson, associate vice president sales and strategy at the Inclusive Collection, part of World of Hyatt.
With this in mind, Benson suggests travel advisors should embrace luxury in 2023.
“After two years of border restrictions and lockdowns, U.S. and Canadian travelers are eager to see the world, and they’re also willing to splurge on trips to make up for lost time and book more sophisticated vacations,” explains Benson. “More guests are seeking our luxury all-inclusive resorts, booking longer trips than usual—four-to-five-night stays—and taking advantage of business trips, adding on a few more days to spend leisure time with partners, family or friends.”
For its part, the Inclusive Collection has been busy expanding and amplifying its luxury, all-inclusive service.
Among the most exciting developments, and one that has become an incredible asset to travel advisors, is the brand’s evolution into the Inclusive Collection.
“By uniting World of Hyatt and AMR Collection’s complementary brands, we bring travelers one of the largest portfolios of luxury all-inclusive resorts in the world, with more than 120 resorts across 40 beachfront destinations and 11 countries,” says Benson. “Our continued growth in the Americas and overseas is something that’s pertinent to agents because we’re expanding our brand footprint into sought-after destinations that matter to our guests. With resorts in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, South America and Europe now joining the Inclusive Collection, the portfolio will continue to evolve and meet the ever-changing needs and wants of guests”
The brand is also expanding into new luxury markets. That has included the recent opening of Zoëtry Marigot Bay St. Lucia in the Caribbean, as well as the introduction of Secrets Impression Resorts & Spas.
“This first-of-its-kind resort line extension merges extraordinary luxury with distinctive experiences and personalized service for an unforgettable retreat where guests immediately feel valued from the moment they arrive on resort,” added Benson.
Establish strong partnerships in different segments
While 2023 is just getting underway, there’s already much to be excited about. In particular, travel industry executives predict there’s plenty of business out there for everyone. But being strategic as a travel advisor about your efforts, knowledge base, and partnerships will continue to be critical.
“It’s good to have a few strong partners that can support you and help you sell in different areas and offer different types of vacations,” says Wright, of Playa Hotels & Resorts. “You must diversify yourself to be successful and to grow. The cruise-only and Disney-only agents learned that the hard way during the pandemic.”
“A strong partnership with your suppliers will not only support current business, but can help you develop and sell more than you dreamed possible,” concludes Wright.