From Alaska to New York, U.S. travel is thriving

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"Since Europe was down, and the Baltic was slightly down this year, it seems like everybody took their money and they went to Alaska," said ShoreTrips' Barry Karp.
"Since Europe was down, and the Baltic was slightly down this year, it seems like everybody took their money and they went to Alaska," said ShoreTrips' Barry Karp.

FORT LAUDERDALE -- Panelists during yesterday's CruiseWorld presentation on "Selling U.S. Travel" discussed how events in the U.S. and abroad and changing client tastes are affecting vacations to domestic destinations.

Barry Karp, co-owner of shore excursion specialist ShoreTrips, said that declines in Europe cruising have boosted demand for itineraries in Maine, Hawaii and especially Alaska.

"Since Europe was down, and the Baltic was slightly down this year, it seems like everybody took their money and they went to Alaska," he said, adding that Alaska bookings for next year are also "up radically."

"People are buying dogsled tours, helicopter trips, whale-watching tours," he said.

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And although Alaska was a bright spot for ShoreTrips, Karp asked the agents in attendance at the hourlong panel to help persuade cruise lines to change "itineraries that don't make very much sense to me. They're coming into Ketchikan at 7 a.m. and then leaving at noon … I think it's crazy.” He said that's not enough time for clients today, who are increasingly interested in whitewater rafting, glacier hiking and other adventure-oriented excursions: "They're no longer just interested in going to the shops at Ketchikan."

Joel Cohen, vice president of New York City Vacation Packages, discussed how the strength of the U.S. dollar compared with the euro and the currencies of Brazil and the U.K. has led to domestic business "becoming more and more important to New York vendors: hotels, attractions, Broadway shows."

"As we're getting contracts in for 2017-18, this is the first time in all the years we've been doing New York City that I'm seeing hotel rates flat or lower," Cohen said. That has made the city a bargain relative to years past for his company's clientele, which he said is "about 98% [U.S. and Canadian] visitors, generated by travel agents."

The "Selling U.S. Travel" panelists (from left): Joel Cohen, New York City Vacation Packages; Barry Karp, ShoreTrips; and Thomas Valley, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.
The "Selling U.S. Travel" panelists (from left): Joel Cohen, New York City Vacation Packages; Barry Karp, ShoreTrips; and Thomas Valley, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

And while many visitors to the Big Apple, particularly first-timers, still primarily want a Manhattan-centric experience, "what we're seeing is the development of the outer boroughs," Cohen said. "There's so much going on in Brooklyn that it's transforming not only that borough, but Queens and the Bronx have to step it up, as well."

Tom Valley, director of national sales for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, said his company has also enjoyed a boost in U.S. business recently, owing to the low price of gas, which he said is a particular boon to the family travel market.

He said that research spurred the company's recent efforts to retool its traditional show offerings at its flagship SeaWorld parks.

"The research said that the American public, and especially millennials, did not want to see whales in these theatrical shows,” said Valley, who made reference to the company's March announcement that it would stop breeding orcas but pointed out that the parks' existing whales were still among the parks' attractions. "They weren't necessarily opposed to seeing whales in captivity, they just didn't like the way the current shows were. So we had to make some changes."

He discussed the company's continued conservation efforts in cooperation with organizations including the Humane Society of the United States and, punctuating his point, directed a question to the Florida-based agents in attendance: "Whenever you see on the news that a whale or a dolphin or a manatee is stranded on the beach, who do they call?" 

After audience members answered in the affirmative that it was SeaWorld, he added: "We're really proud of the work we do for rescue rehabilitation."

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