10 Takeaways from the AFAR Travel Advisory Council Meeting

How travel is changing, according to experts.

10 Takeaways from the AFAR Travel Advisory Council Meeting

St. Kitts made it through hurricane season largely unscathed and welcomes the Caribbean’s first Park Hyatt hotel this November.

Photo by Pixabay

We met with our network of luxury travel advisors in New York to discuss the latest travel developments. Read on for their insights, including how destinations can communicate best after a crisis and why millennials are a positive influence on travel.

1. Hurricanes Have Hit Caribbean Travel Hard

The Caribbean depends more on tourism for its GDP than any other region, and our travel advisors confirmed that the recent storms have taken a tollcausing clients to cancel trips and be more cautious about future bookings.

But there’s no one destination that travelers have turned to instead; some are shifting to places as varied as Morocco, Colombia, and Portugal while others are rebooking in the region. (Not all islands were affected, and traveling to the Caribbean is indeed the best way to help with hurricane relief.) When it comes to rebooking, the advisors noted that they’re often able to leverage industry relationships, giving their clients a leg up.

2. Well-Traveled Cities Bounce Back Faster

Cites like Paris, London, and Las Vegas are bouncing back increasingly quickly after terrorism attacks because, sadly, travelers have become more accustomed to these incidents as they become more common. As Kate Doty, managing director of GeoEx Premier Access, observes: “A city like Paris rebounds a lot faster than a less-traveled place because there’s a sense that people are living and existing there. Unfortunately, Turkey is not coming back fast, nor is Egypt.”

3. It Pays to Take the Long View

When unexpected incidents happen, our travel advisors urge organizations to be flexible in the short term, for example, by making it easy for travelers to rebook hotel or airline reservations. It shows confidence in a product and creates goodwill among travelers who will be more likely to come back once circumstances improve.

Also be cautious about slashing prices to lure travelers in the short term, advises Michael Holtz, owner and CEO of Smart Flyer. If you start dropping the price, you’re unlikely to get it back up.

4. Communicate Frequent Updates with Real-Time Imagery

When a major event occurs, like a natural disaster or attack, the general consensus among advisors is that hotel properties and tourism boards need to consistently communicate everything else that is going on as normal in the destination. They should help educate travelers on the regional geography and share accurate, up-to-date information, such as maps and real-time photos and videos.

“Many hotels are reluctant to reveal the extent of the damage on property for fear of losing future sales, when in fact they end up losing the sale anyway,” noted one advisor. “It’s best to be honest and upfront as soon as there are new developments.”

Any updates should be easy to digest, such as bulleted communication in versions that can be easily distributed to an advisor’s internal team and to their client base.

For cruise lines, the sooner new or revised itineraries can be shared, the better. Judy Perl, president of Judy Perl Worldwide Travel, noted that she had booked a group on a February 2018 Caribbean cruise and some of the clients expressed interest in canceling because they hadn’t seen a revised itineraryuntil one traveler encouraged the others to stay the course as a way to support the region.

5. Destination Stopovers Expand Travelers’ Interests

One way to encourage travelers to reconsider a place affected by natural or manmade disaster is by integrating a stopover into an itinerary. Turkish Air, for instance, offers a stopover in Istanbul, and Icelandair has seen great success with its free Reykjavik stopovers.

Stopovers are also an easy way to encourage travelers to explore beyond classic destinations. For example, Dubai had 83.6 million people pass through its airport last year but only 14 million tourists. So they’re eager to get more people out of the airport and into the city, even for 24-48 hours. “I don’t have to change your client’s bucket list, I just need to get them to fly on our airlines and go to our city,” says Jessica Herring of Dubai Tourism.

6. Trump Administration Policies Are Influencing Destination Choices

GeoEx has been sending travelers to Iran since 1993 and had seen a recent uptick until Trump took office, according to Kate Doty. Now most travelers are too nervous and don’t want an Iran stamp in their passport.

While Doty says that GeoEx is still doing a brisk business with travel to Cuba, Tom Marchant, cofounder of The Black Tomato Group, isn’t selling Cuba to U.S. clients anymore because he doesn’t want to risk it. Cuba business is also suffering for Judy Perl and for Ignacio Maza, EVP of Signature Travel Network, who reported seeing more Cuba cancellations and slower new bookings.

Trump administration rhetoric and State Department warnings have also challenged travel to Mexicomore so than the recent earthquake that hit Mexico City but left resort areas unscathed.

7. Millennials Are Influencing Travelfor the Better

The overall verdict of our advisors is that rise of millennials is positive because they travel more frequently; they prioritize experiences; and they have high quality expectations. A lot of millennials have been to iconic destinations already. They don’t want anything that is cookie cutter; they want a sense of discovery and getting to do things that other travelers are not.

The only thing we’re going to lose is the traditional escorted bus tour around Europe, says Eric Maryanov, founder and president of All-Travel. Indeed, escorted trips and cruises may need to be reimagined, and there are already signs that the travel industry has been evolving. Ignacio Maza points to hotel trends like rooftop pools, more deconstructed service, different dining concepts, and lobbies that function like social hubs.

Millennials are also highly visual and want just the right picture. “We were in Iceland last year with people who wanted to go horseback riding and they said, ‘absolutely not white sand, we need black sand,’ and that was the image of the trip for them,” says Cari Gray. “So from a production perspective, we need to make sure that we’re at the right time, the right day, and really enabling them to capture what it is that they’re going to send to all their friends.”

8. Authentic Has Many Meanings

It’s like the word luxury, it means a lot of things and it means nothing depending on whom you’re speaking to. So as a service provider, you want to understand what it means for your guests: What’s genuine for them? What touches them? It’s about knowing your audience and getting the right elements in place. What consumers don’t want is kitschor crowds.

“Trying to put our clients where they’re not going to see the line of Americans has become, in some cities, an enormous challenge but also a gold standard for creating that great experience that transcends any price point. It’s that balance between being in an iconic location and being away from where the other tourists are,” says Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, coowner and copresident of Valerie Wilson Travel.

Advisors noted that what is authentic is what is indigenous to a specific place but also what that place is like today. Going to a village that is getting electricity for the first time shouldn’t be disappointing; it’s going to be a super big party. It’s authentic because it’s what is happening there currently, and just because it’s current doesn’t make it not wildly outside of your normal routine—or not compelling and dynamic.

Cari Gray observed that it’s important to encourage clients to experience a place as it is and go beyond their comfort zones but also be ready to anticipate their needs should they become overwhelmed.

Ellen Asmodeo-Giglio, AFAR’s EVP and CRO, agreed, adding that at AFAR, we take the approach that travelers should fear less, not be fearless. “Whatever that means for you, the world should be open to everyone’s level of comfort, and that’s not inauthentic.”

9. Hotel Openings Continue to Generate Buzz

Here’s a quick rundown of the hotels that have our travel advisors most excited: One&Only Gorilla’s Nest Rwanda, Montage Los Cabos, Park Hyatt St. Kitts, The Silo in Cape Town, Six Senses Bhutan, Hotel Californian in Santa Barbara, Las Alcobas Napa Valley, and Rosewood Puebla.

10. Travel Dollars Can Make the Biggest Impact

At AFAR, we believe that tourism is the most impactful way to help a destination rebound after disaster strikes. If you’re looking to give back this season, consider spending the holidays in a recently affected area. Click here for recommendations from our travel advisors on the best places to book in California wine country, the Bahamas, Las Vegas, and beyond.

From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR