U.S. bookings are holding steady

‘Trump Slump’ could still happen here but so far agents, tour ops say U.S. bookings are holding steady – the dollar’s the concern, not politics

This article originally appeared in the March 9th, 2017 edition of Travelweek. To read the Digital Edition, click here. To subscribe to the magazine for free, click here.

TORONTO — Not easily daunted by political hoopla and negative headlines, Canadian travellers aren’t letting the threat of another travel ban and all the airport chaos that comes with it get in the way of their U.S. travel plans.

Canadian tour operators and travel agents selling tours and packages to the U.S. say they’re seeing surprisingly strong bookings to destinations south of the border so far in 2017, steady for the most part and up by double-digits in some cases.

As the U.S. travel industry grapples with the real threat of a prolonged ‘Trump Slump’ – international travel to the U.S. dropped 6.5% in the wake of the first travel ban in January – so far tour and package bookings from the Canadian market are ticking along fairly well.

Asked about a ‘Trump Slump’ effect on U.S. bookings, Doug Patterson said Collette’s booking patterns are bucking the trend. “Booking trends are suggesting quite the opposite in regards to travel to the U.S.,” said Patterson, President, Canada for Collette. “They are really selling well. Classical tour bookings have been consistent over the past few months and we’ve really seen an uptick in bookings for our Explorations (Small Group Touring) & Spotlights (City Stays) line for 2017 season.”

Over at Trafalgar, the 2017 USA & Canada program including Hawaii and Alaska is seeing double-digit growth, says Wolf Paunic, President, Trafalgar. “Due to consumer demand to see explore more areas of the U.S., we created two new and notable itineraries: our eight-day California’s Great National Parks and the 10-day Adventures of the Lone Star State,” says Paunic. All the coverage about the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary last year generated a lot of interest in this market and these tours continue to sell well, he added. “Also, this year we launched our first ever North America Cost Saver program and our value oriented vacations have been well-received and are doing very well.”

Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks

Sister company Insight Vacations has seen a 67% increase in passengers on two Insight itineraries that showcase America’s National Parks: Enchanting Canyonlands featuring Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks; and American Parks Trail visiting Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. “We are seeing record numbers on this itinerary for 2017,” says Insight Vacations President, Cris David.

Demand for the U.S. is growing in its own right and not, he added, as the result of a shift in market share from Europe “to the better-known and more familiar destination right on our doorstep”.

Funny as it may sound, it’s possible that all the media coverage coming out of the U.S. over the past couple of years, including the run-up to the U.S. election that dominated media coverage for so long, has actually fuelled interest in travel to the U.S., at least by keeping the destination top of mind, said David. “I believe the key reason for America’s great draw as a tourism destination is the intense focus on America in the global media over the past year or two.”

He added that package and escorted tour operators like Insight might be experiencing a win-win, as all the turmoil in the U.S. right now “makes travellers more inclined to seek out the security and dependability of a reputable guided vacation operator.”

Escorted touring clients have long booking lead-times and the real impact of the Trump Slump may not have made its mark yet in Canada, especially with this type of vacation.

But even tour operators with more flexible (and shorter booking window) FIT travel product are seeing at least steady sales to the U.S. WestJet says it has seen no impact from the travel ban or any drop in bookings. Transat has seen no significant changes in the pace of U.S.-bound bookings either, and has not received requests for cancellations, says spokesperson Debbie Cabana. The company’s Florida program continues full-on.

US Currency vs CAD currency

The dollar trumps politics

In typical Canadian fashion, more travellers from this market are still worried about the exchange rate and how much (or how little) their Canadian dollars will buy them in the U.S.

Sandra McLeod, who runs RedDoorTravel in LaSalle, ON, said none of her clients have cancelled U.S. trips or expressed reluctance to travel to the U.S. because of politics or the President. “The one thing they complain about is the value of our dollar in relation to the U.S. dollar,” she said.

McLeod’s client base is mostly upscale/premium, with many experienced travellers who travel to the U.S. but who also frequently take vacations to other parts of the world, in Europe, Africa and Asia.  “Some have been reluctant to travel to other areas of the world, but mainly those that Canada already has travel advisories for,” says McLeod.

Meanwhile the family travel market is a huge one for the U.S. especially from this market, and a big revenue generator for travel agents specializing in family vacations. Parents with young kids aren’t looking for more hassle when they travel, but neither are they necessarily keen on giving up trips to places like Florida and California.

Jennifer Trofimuk, who specializes in family travel with her travel agency Planes, Trains & Kids Travel in Calgary, said she hasn’t noticed a decline in U.S. bookings at all. “California and Florida are still very popular for so many people,” she says. For her clientele, the biggest worry is still Zika, and ruling out the U.S. doesn’t leave a lot of options. “Given that my target audience is families, especially for those with young children the Zika virus is still a huge concern. For families that still want a warm trip somewhere to escape the winter, there really isn’t much choice for them if they were to discount the U.S. as a destination due to politics.”

Family fun in Florida

Family fun in Florida

Given the proximity of the U.S. and its importance as a travel destination to this market, both in terms of leisure and corporate, it’s not likely Canadians are going to stop travelling en masse to the U.S. any time soon.

“It is true that when the U.S. sneezes, we Canadians typically get a cold. However the U.S. remains the most accessible destination for Canadians and offers such a huge range of destinations within one country,” says Globus family of brands’ Managing Director, Stephanie Bishop.

If and when Canadian travellers express concerns about travelling to the U.S., it’s important for travel consultants to listen and try to appreciate the customer’s perspective, she adds. “It might very well be that the next vacation journey will not be in the U.S. but it depends on the needs and wants of each customer. Most important is to avoid assuming that people won’t travel to the U.S. It remains close, easy and accessible.”

Escorted touring clients are more likely to stick with U.S. tours since they typically book so far in advance and take a long view of ripples in the travel industry. “The beauty about our travellers is that they are worldly, business savvy and they understand the ups and downs that come along with travelling to a wide range of destinations which might suggest that they will look beyond short-term political fluctuations,” says Bishop.

U.S. destination bookings with both Globus and Cosmos are up, adds Bishop. “Our Globus tours to Hawaii and to the South and Midwest are up well into the double-digits year over year. Not a single itinerary is even flat.”

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