Princess passengers on why they booked direct

The number of travelers booking directly with cruise lines keeps growing, despite efforts by cruise lines to direct business to travel agents.

On a recent cruise aboard the Ruby Princess, I surveyed 25 passengers at random about how they bought their cruise. It was an unscientific sample of a fraction of the ship’s 3,000 passengers.

Ten of the 25 passengers I talked with had booked directly with Princess Cruises. Of the 15 that booked with a travel agent, nine had used agents they had some personal relationship with, while six booked through online agencies or non-traditional travel retailers, such as Costco.

So about 40% of my sample group booked direct. That’s a little higher than the most recent CLIA survey data, which suggests about 30% are booking direct, up from a 20-80 split 10 years ago.

In this report, I’ll address the passengers who booked direct and the reasons they gave for doing so. In next week’s follow-up, I’ll discuss the passengers who used a travel agent.

Donald and Erika Smith, of Melbourne, Fla., cited convenience as the reason they booked directly with Princess. “If you want to make a change, it’s easier than going through an agent,” said Donald Smith, who is retired from the aircraft parts industry and was on his 26th cruise.

James Wetherill, from Queensland, Australia, said that agents in Australia are “not knowledgeable” about the details of cruises in North America.

Another passenger said she knows someone who works for Princess and got a friends and family discount.

Mark from Las Vegas, who declined to give his last name, sang the praises of the Princess website. “You can see exactly what’s available very clearly. You can make an informed decision,” he said.

Some passengers said they used travel agents for previous or future trips but decided to book this particular trip with Princess directly. Others expressed an indifference that is remarkable to anyone who sells cruises for a living or knows someone who does.

It was basically six of one, a half-dozen of the other to Karen Brown, of Southern California, who bought the seven-day Mexican Riviera cruise from Princess.com. Brown shrugged and said, “Sometimes we use a travel agent,” citing a past cruise when an agent offered a free gratuities promotion.

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Consumer Trends 2013: Use of tablets, smartphones surges

Consumer Trends 2013: Use of tablets, smartphones surges

By Laura Del Rosso

2013 Consumer TrendsCall it the dawn of a new travel age. Handy and powerful tablets and smartphones are becoming de rigueur for travelers, leading to dramatically different ways of researching, planning and actually taking a trip, as new travel apps and optimized websites spring to life on the small screens almost every day.

“Every travel agent should be embracing it,” said Norm Rose, travel industry analyst with PhoCusWright. “The always-connected traveler needs the always-connected travel agent. You have to figure out how to be relevant in this new age of mobile.”

Travel Weekly’s 2013 Consumer Trends Survey underscores the surge in popularity of mobile devices: In 2012, 25% of respondents reported using a smartphone or tablet for purchasing travel online at any point in the previous 12 months. That number grew to 30% in this year’s survey, representing a 20% increase. (Read more from the Consumer Trends report here.)

Just as importantly, the survey revealed that the percentage of the population using mobile devices for buying travel has grown beyond typical early adopters. While mobile users last year were predominantly in the 21-to-34 age group, over the past 12 months, older travelers have caught on.

Among ages 35 to 54, use of mobile devices to make a travel purchase climbed from 23% to 33%. An even bigger growth was reported among the 55-and-over crowd, where use of tablets or smartphones for travel purchases jumped from 14% last year to 24% this year.

Airplane and tabletWhat’s more, Henry Harteveldt, industry analyst for Hudson Crossing, predicts that those percentages will skyrocket in all demographic groups in the coming year.

A recently released Hudson Crossing study concluded that if prices remain “reasonable” and the devices become even more appealing, with speedier and more accessible data downloading, 59% of travelers will own a tablet by the end of 2014 and 89% by the end of 2018. It’s only a matter of time before mobile devices become the norm, Harteveldt said.

“As tablets support more functions and have more capability it will allow travelers to leave laptops at home,” he said.

New apps by hotel companies and other travel firms are offering an array of products and services designed for travelers on the go, and they’re often easier to use for booking than websites.

“They [travel suppliers] are streamlining the research and booking process for mobile compared to a desktop,” Harteveldt said. “United, for example, has streamlined flight check-in to two steps on their app, whereas there are more steps on its website.”

Suppliers are also enabling customers to store booking information on mobile devices so that they don’t need WiFi or a data connection to access information.

Apps for mobile devices are currently geared to travelers while on trips, rather than for pretrip planning, Rose said.

“Smartphones, especially, are all about local search,” Rose said. “It’s about finding what’s around you now, finding an alternative when a train is delayed or a last-minute hotel room.”

And that, he said, is where traditional agents come in.

“It’s an opportunity for travel agents to be involved,” Rose said. “Just because travelers can go online and look for every hotel doesn’t mean that they’ll want to do it. Every agent should be embracing [mobile app] tools such as TripCase or Tripit and have ownership of their clients’ itineraries.”

Rose and Harteveldt agreed that the biggest change for agents is that they need to be connected at all times. Clients who carry smartphones or tablets on their travels will expect their agents to be available.

“Agents have to be there and be relevant in the conversation,” Rose said. “The holy grail is expertise. If you can tell someone who’s just found something on a travel app that it’s not what [you] would recommend, that there’s something better, well, that’s gold.”

Andi Mysza, president of Mtravel.com, a subsidiary of Montrose Travel, said that agents need to pay close attention to their clients’ use of mobile devices.

“Anything that people can do at their fingertips affects us,” Mysza said. “And it means we can join in that trend ourselves. Our agents who are proactively using new technology are very active in the mobile area.”

Montrose Travel, No. 47 in Travel Weekly’s 2013 Power List, already offers apps for corporate travel and is planning to have its website optimized for mobile devices.

Mysza is confident, however, that the apps will be used for impulse travel and last-minute purchases and not for the kinds of complex travel arrangements and exotic trips for which agents prove their value.

“That’s our selling point,” Mysza said. “Even though people can go out and easily research and do all these things, the pendulum is swinging back to agents, because consumers are getting confused and still need someone to untangle that glut of information.”

Tiffany Glass, Vacation.com’s vice president of e-commerce, technology and member services, said travelers don’t want to be “overwhelmed with data.”

“This competition requires the travel professional to be duly informed and use the consumer-facing websites and apps as well as agent-only information sources and differentiators that consumers cannot obtain,” she said in an email interview.

Vacation.com stepped into the mobile field, offering GoSiteSee, a destination-guide app for travelers that stores info and thus doesn’t use roaming charges.

It comes down to agents doing their jobs well, according to Jose Ferreira, Travel Leaders Franchise Group’s vice president of travel technology and marketing.

“Our mobile solution for leisure consumers features custom itineraries delivered from the agent right to the consumer’s smartphone or tablet,” he said in an email interview. “The consumer is able to build upon that itinerary by viewing nearby points of interest, restaurants, etc. In both cases, the agency’s contact information is a click away, allowing for immediate contact for any issue.”

Ferreira added: “The core value proposition of a travel agent — expertise, service and accountability — does not change for the mobile 24/7 consumer. It’s probably more important since they are looking for ways to sort through enormous amounts of information.”

Young agents organize to reinvent travel retail for millennial age

Young agents organize to reinvent travel retail for millennial age

By Kate Rice
After years of industry hand-wringing over the graying of travel agents, young travel professionals are taking it upon themselves to recruit more of their own into an industry that one young organizer recently called “sexy.”

In recent months, young travel professionals have formed a handful of industry groups — significantly, none exclusively for travel agents. They hold virtual as well as actual cocktail parties. They communicate as much by Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as by email.

And when they hold an event, be it a website launch party or a regularly scheduled monthly meet-up, the venue is packed.

YoungTravelProPartyTheir goal is to spread the word about travel careers to a generation that grew up in an online world.

“I never knew anyone who used a travel agent,” said Karen Magee, 26, a member of the board of New York-based Young Travel Professionals and manager of hotel sales and marketing for Ultramar Travel Management in lower Manhattan.

At present, three distinct groups have been formed, though at the 30,000-foot level, they have similar goals: Each is targeting young travel professionals, and each wants to attract new, young talent to a “fun, exciting, sexy industry,” in Magee’s words.

And they’re getting a response.

California-based Millennials in Travel budgeted for 60 people to attend their launch party in Los Angeles last month and attracted more than 100, said Joshua Smith, Millennials’ director of strategic development and independent journeys manager for Travcoa.

Before the group even held the event, he got email queries from peers in Miami and Chicago interested in starting their own chapters.

“I think it’s great,” 36-year-old Ryan McGredy, president of ASTA’s Young Professionals Society (YPS) and president of Moraga Travel in Moraga, Calif., said of the mushrooming number of groups for young people in the travel industry. “It means that there are enough of us out there now to have some different ideas about how these groups can run.”

Most of the differences between the groups lie in their membership requirements and focus.

ASTA’s youth chapter

ASTA’s YPS, the most senior of the three groups, celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. But in the past year, it has undergone some radical changes.

Last summer, it morphed from committee status to a full-fledged chapter, becoming ASTA’s first chapter to not be based on geography.

“We were coming up with events, fund-raising, doing all the things that a chapter board does but without the power of a chapter,” McGredy said.

A classic example of a young travel pro, McGredy came to travel from the tech industry, finding travel, fun, interesting, challenging and lucrative.
“It’s a great business to be in,” he said. “You can make a lot of money doing it.”

Getting the word out that being a travel agent is an attractive career is one big goal, he said, as are training and networking.

Joining forces is important, he said.

“We can benefit from each other, and not just networking-wise,” McGredy said. “We are such a heavily regulated industry [that] it’s important for us to start understanding advocacy.”

Noting that federal, state, county and local governments all regulate travel, he said, “It can affect us, from making our jobs harder to raising our costs of doing business to cutting our margins.”

For example, he pointed to sequestration as a federal budget issue that could have a constraining impact on travel. A Members-Only Day in Washington last November saw YPS members going around the capital to talk to high-ranking staffers of their representatives on Capitol Hill and meeting with legislative analysts.

“People came out saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know that you could do this, that people care about what you say,’” McGredy recalled recently.

At the same time, YPS is addressing a gap that McGredy saw when he first entered the travel business, between the old guard’s way of doing business and young turks coming in and reinventing the wheel.

He wanted to find a way for young industry entrants to connect with their peers and also connect with the legacy of the travel industry, and he sees YPS as a way to accomplish that.

Senior members of ASTA last year voiced strong support for YPS’ efforts to become a full-fledged chapter.

Because YPS is part of ASTA, it is focused on agents, but it is not limited to agents. McGredy stressed that suppliers are just as active in the group.

Membership in YPS is currently about 400, but it changes as new members enter and as older members “age out” at 40. The only limitation on suppliers is that they cannot attend the group’s retreats, which YPS calls its “fams.” That’s because retreat sponsors want agents who will sell their destination or product on these trips.

The group says it plans to play a larger role at ASTA’s Travel Retailing and Destination Expo in Miami in September.

Young Travel Professionals

Magee said that Young Travel Professionals, a group based in New York, has three goals.

The first is relationship building. To that end, the group holds monthly events at hotels or bars as well as special events such as their website launch party in February. It has 800 members and averages about 100 attendees at its monthly get-togethers.

The second goal is career development, helping people network to find new jobs. It also encourages members to post new jobs on its Facebook and LinkedIn pages.

Allison Davis, 24, social media manager for YTP and social media coordinator of marketing for Ultramar Travel Management, said she got a job thanks to one such posting, and her involvement in YTP is attractive to employers because she’s connected to a talent pool of young people enthusiastic about the industry.

The third goal is to bring new blood to the industry. Magee said that event attendees include people from other fields such as finance and media. The group is planning a mentoring program and ultimately plans to expand to other cities.

YTP is hospitality-focused but defines hospitality very broadly. Its members include hotels, restaurants, meetings and event planners, airlines, other transportation providers, operators, agencies, online travel agencies and deal sites such as Jetsetter. It has no age requirements.

Millennials in Travel

The main goal of Millennials in Travel is career development, Smith said. It is looking at a mentorship program that pairs young professionals with one or two years in the industry with more experienced, five- or 10-year veterans.

Millennials is targeting colleges and universities to show students the value of a travel career. It’s creating a jobs board and has already seen one person change careers thanks to one such posting. Its membership is open to those born between 1979 and 2000.

“That is the millennial generation,” said Smith, who adds this group is differentiated from previous generations by the acceleration of technology and by the rise of a global economy.

It will hold elections to its board every two years and has an advisory board of high-level executives who are guiding the group.

Millennials is headquartered in Los Angeles, but the group plans to expand into Washington and Atlanta this year and into New York, Miami, Chicago, Denver and Dallas in 2014.

Its members include travel agents, suppliers, destinations, marketing rep companies and media. Because of its Los Angeles roots, the group is attracting members from companies such as HBO and Paramount, which Smith said are a part of the travel industry, though a different sector of it.

He added that Millennials is open to alliances.

LAN Airlines was a sponsor of its February launch event, giving away two roundtrip tickets.

Smith said the group’s core values were a passionate commitment to the travel industry, behaving professionally in both social and work environments, a strong belief in the potential of travel and a desire to help drive tourism on a global level.