Looking to stretch your client's dollar? Try these three high-value destinations, says Topdeck Travel
One Canadian dollar converted into 90.49 Japanese yen.

Looking to stretch your client’s dollar? Try these three high-value destinations, says Topdeck Travel

This story originally ran in the October 5th, 2017 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.

TORONTO — Much of the narrative amongst travel industry circles in 2016 revolved around Canada’s dwindling loonie, with Alberta in particular bearing the brunt of the recession. Airlines like WestJet were forced to redeploy capacity to other markets, while tour operators and travel agencies across Canada reported a slow-down in bookings, with many Canadians choosing to forego annual vacations or staying closer to home to save money.

But with ATB Financial recently declaring that Alberta’s worst recession in three decades is finally over (economic growth is forecast at 3.2% this year), the narrative has flipped to a sunnier outlook for the travel industry. Just last month, MarketWatch reported that the Canadian dollar hit a 26-month high against the U.S. greenback. Now, instead of woeful tales about the loonie scaring off travellers, tour operators are getting the green light to push destinations where the stronger Canadian dollar is holding its own, and then some.

Topdeck Travel is one such tour operator, recently compiling a list of destinations where Canadian tourists can expect more bang for their buck. Catering to 18-30-year olds, the company names Japan, Russia and New Zealand as three countries that share a particularly favourable exchange rate with Canada. At the time of Topdeck’s assessment in mid-September, one Canadian dollar converted into 90.49 Japanese yen, 47.30 Russian ruble, and $1.13 NZD.

“Often when it comes to travelling, people need a ‘reason’ to finally book that trip they’ve been talking about. These three destinations in particular are quite far, both distance wise and culturally, for the average Canadian traveller, and with the current exchange rate being stronger now than ever, this is that ‘reason’ to try somewhere completely new,” Joe Ponte, General Manager at Topdeck tells Travelweek.

Some may be surprised by these long-haul destination recommendations, which aren’t exactly cheap to get to for Canadians, especially those in the millennial bracket who many associate with being budget-conscious. But Ponte believes that when the will to travel is strong, young travellers will usually find a way to get there.

“It’s true that most millennials will have fewer opportunities to spend big when travelling compared with older travellers, however, the real motive for that budget-conscious reputation is the high price point many millennials place on experience,” he says. “The bigger priority is getting to the destination and being able to see what they want. Going on a group trip or booking a low-budget airline, for example, saves money and similarly, working with a favourable exchange rate is easier on the wallet and might grant a few extra dollars for that food tour you wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise.”

Ponte doesn’t necessarily say Japan, Russia and New Zealand are emerging destinations for millennials – each country has enjoyed a long and steady history of tourism. But he has noticed a greater focus in recent years on Southeast Asia as well as countries in Western Europe and Scandinavia.

“We know for a fact that Russia’s rich history, New Zealand’s natural beauty and Japan’s modern and traditional contrast, as examples, are worth making respective trips,” he adds. “We noticed a recent uptick in Europe travel sales amongst Canadians for Topdeck’s specific Hotel Plus and Camping offerings, which are an unquestionable value and great examples of price-conscious informed travel bookings.”

Lake Wanaka, New Zealand

Lake Wanaka, New Zealand

Intrepid Travel, which also caters largely to a younger crowd, echoes these sentiments, with North America director Leigh Barnes saying the company saw more Canadians travelling to Russia on its trips in 2017 than ever before. Intrepid now operates seven trips in the destination as a response to the 16% increase in Canadian bookings to Russia since 2016.

“What we’re seeing at Intrepid Travel is an overall rise in the Canadian appetite for adventure travel, which has extended into Russia. The country has so much to offer beyond the main city sites like Hermitage Museum and Red Square. More adventurous offerings, from Lake Baikal to the storied Trans-Siberian Railway are really what’s resonating with Canadian travellers,” he says.

Keeping in mind the tight budget restrictions millennials often struggle with, Barnes says Intrepid goes out of its way to stretch the dollar even further in destinations like Russia.

“Intrepid Travel’s Russia tours are as low as $1,565. We avoid the over-priced, chain restaurants and hotels, instead our local guides take travellers to local families’ homes for a meal when possible, our accommodation is always clean, but affordable and locally-owned,” he notes. “By focusing on local experiences, not only do we impact the economy but also help lower the costs of our tours.”

In New Zealand, Bjoern Spreitzer, General Manager Americas & Europe for Tourism New Zealand says he has seen “fantastic growth in visitors from Canada”, with 65,744 Canadians making the trip from August 2016-August 2017, representing a 17.7% increase. He says this growth is expected to continue, with Air New Zealand expanding services to Vancouver.

When it comes to increasing value while in destination, Spreitzer offers a few travel tips. “Head to the smaller centres that don’t have as many tourists, like Nelson, Napier, Southland, Taranaki, Canterbury and Taupo. Stop in at roadside cafes and restaurants, which are often less expensive than the restaurants in larger centres. And our shoulder seasons (October to November and March to April) also offer great value for visitors, when attractions are less busy and when you can often get good deals,” he says.

And it’s not just travellers taking advantage of great NZ deals and discounts; travel agents can get in on the action, too, with Tourism New Zealand’s Explore Plus program, which combines travel agent airfares with heavily discounted products in destination. Signing up for Tourism New Zealand’s 100% Pure New Zealand Specialist program is also recommended, adds Spreitzer, which he says provides plenty information for agents.

Selling Japan, Russia and New Zealand as high-value destinations may require a bit of finesse at first, especially to younger clients on a budget, but the trick is to focus on the current exchange rate and local experiences that save them money while on the ground. Ponte recommends group tours, bar crawls and cooking classes, which he says is an affordable way to make new friends. And as Barnes succinctly puts it, “Often times, travellers think the further you travel the more expensive the trip will be, however, this is not always true.”

This story originally ran in the October 5th, 2017 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.

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