DALLAS -- Travel agents should book Europe tours as soon as possible to ensure that clients get the vacations they want this summer. That was the message from tour operators participating in a panel discussion at the ASTA Tourfest here.

According to operators, early bookings are running high and many Europe programs show signs they might sell out.

"Europe is booming," John Martinen, chairman of Globus & Cosmos, said. "Book as soon as possible because at some point airlines are going to run out of seats."

Gary Murphy, vice president of Brendan Tours, said sales to Ireland and the U.K. are so high that 25% of his product for 1998 already is sold. With the exception of Asia and Egypt, all parts of the world are experiencing strong sales, operators said.

Even though economic problems in Korea and other parts of Asia have driven down currencies, making those destinations real bargains, Americans seem to be put off by the instability and are shunning that part of the world, Martinen said.

Some Asia operators reported a 40% drop in business there. Egypt still is reeling from the terrorist attack on tourists three months ago, but everywhere else the picture is rosy.

John Stachnik, president of Mayflower Tours, said New England; Branson, Mo.; Arizona, and the Canadian Rockies are the strongest sellers on this continent.

Martinen noted tours that averaged 21 days in the early 1980s dropped to an average of 17 days 10 years ago. That figure has not changed since.

Another trend is the combination of cruises and tours.

Other comments from the operators were the following:

  • Consumers increasingly are using the Internet to research their trips, then asking their travel agents to find them a tour with a particular restaurant or hotel they read about on line, Murphy said. The danger with that, he said, is that the Internet often has "suspect" information -- more reason for consumers to use agents to interpret value and offer solid knowledge.
  • More families are taking escorted trips with children, said Peter McCormack, vice president of Trafalgar Tours.
  • More agents are using their computerized reservations systems for booking escorted tours. That is a tremendous plus in terms of savings and efficiency. An added bonus: When agents book through a CRS, the trip "has been sold and the client puts down a deposit," rather than waiting seven days, Murphy said.
  • Tour operators are "rethinking their commissions," Stachnik said, particularly to consortiums and to agents who do not produce volume. Operators no longer willing to pay overrides across the board without actual production.
  • Agents should work closer with national tourist boards, particularly those that have programs that can generate client leads, McCormack said, adding that tourist boards often say agents do not follow up on leads when they are passed along.
  • Comments
    JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI