NEW YORK -- A panel of luxury travel experts said Y2K issues,
unrest in Kosovo and Africa and millennium celebrations are all
posing challenges for the luxury travel sector.
At the same time, however, the panel, conducted by the Fort
Worth, Texas-based luxury travel consortium API Travel Consultants,
underscored the growing demand for luxury travel amid consumers'
changing expectations of what such products should deliver.
Larry Pimentel, president and chief executive officer of Cunard
Line, said events in Kosovo have made some consumers balk at the
prospect of European travel. He added that his company must
constantly correct consumers' ignorance about the distances between
war-torn Kosovo and other areas.
"We had some people who didn't want to do a Norwegian fjords
cruise because of Kosovo," Pimentel said. "We are having to fax
daily to potential guests maps of the eastern Mediterranean and
surrounding areas overlayed atop a U.S. map to give them a
perspective on where things are."
Peter Tauck, co-president of Tauck Tours, said growth in
bookings to Italy and eastern Europe has been less than
anticipated, but there is a positive side to the Kosovo situation.
"My reservations people have been taking new bookings from people
who think it's a great time to go when everybody else is
Matthew Upchurch, managing principal at API Travel Consultants,
said the Dow Jones index has more bearing on consumer travel
spending than world events. "Babyboomers don't see travel as a
luxury, but rather as a part of their being," he said.
Alistair Ballantine, president of Abercrombie & Kent, said
bookings to Africa have picked up in the last few weeks, although
violence there has kept bookings "soft."
The panelists said their companies are addressing Y2K concerns;
however, problems are likely to arise in less developed
destinations. "Will you have water and will the telephones work
[overseas] after midnight New Year's?" said Douglas McKenzie, vice
president/luxury brand management for Starwood Hotels & Resorts
Upchurch said federal laws to limit the liability for such
incidents would be "the greatest test in the world for the concept
of personal responsibility." But there are other, intrinsic
challenges in selling luxury travel, said Upchurch.
API Travel Consultants spent three years conducting research of
800,000 households and found consumers have widely divergent ideas
about luxury travel.
"More than ever, it is incredibly tough to market to this
sector," Upchurch said. "The definition of luxury used to be
opulence. Today, it means anticipating and meeting the emotional,
physical and mental needs of the vacationer," he said.
But the time is ripe for selling such products because the
wealthiest market, baby boomers, have said they would rather spend
their money on travel than anything else, Upchurch said.