According to a recent AAA survey, 42 percent of Americans are planning to take a vacation this year, with most planning trips to warm-weather destinations in the United States and abroad. The same study listed experiential travel as one of today’s top trends, while Virtuoso revealed in a separate study that “active or adventure trips” and “beach resort stays” ranked first and second in a roundup of the top trends in family travel—so it’s really no surprise that travelers are increasingly thinking beyond the sun and sand when booking beach vacations.
The ongoing popularity of beach escapes, paired with the rise in demand for active or experience-based trips, means dramatic changes when it comes to how agents serve their beach-bound clients. According to Steve Jermanok, founder of Active Travels, part of Larjay Travel, in Newtown, Massachusetts, many travelers are looking for more than just time on the sand. “What’s happening now is that a beach is a relaxation component after more adventurous kinds of travel,” he says.
In Jermanok’s case, that can even include “beach and adventure” combinations in destinations as far flung as Zanzibar. “It’s pretty much all over the world,” he says. “Clients don’t seem to just want to stay on the beach the whole time any more. A lot of people want a more active, adventurous and authentic vacation. It depends on the individual of course, but more and more, we see the beach as just one component of a trip.”
The desire to go beyond the beach is good news for travel agents, according to Ethel Hansen Davy, a travel agent at Premiere Travel Group, a Uniglobe agency in Toronto. “It’s very lucrative to sell off-the-resort day excursions,” she says. “Now we can combine four days on-resort with a five-day excursion. The way we sell travel now, we can pull from all different kinds of suppliers and put it all together to meet the needs of our clients.”
Jermanok is also happy with the current trends. “To me, it’s much more exciting as a travel agent, because then I can design a package that’s much more multifaceted and diverse.”
In order to meet the needs of the new beach vacationer—those seeking a variety of activities—successful travel agents need to be aware of both evolving traveler expectations and in-destination offerings.
Lifestyle preferences and personal interests are two prime examples of what travelers want to incorporate into their vacation time nowadays. “People are getting more active in their day-to-day life at home, so they expect it when they travel as well,” Davy says, noting that active adventures, as well as history and culture, are all more popular than ever with her clients who buy beach vacations.
Along those same lines, Virtuoso’s 2017 Luxe Report lists interests such as “exploring new destinations,” “rest and relaxation,” “personal enrichment” and “seeking adventure” as some of today’s top travel motivators. And for those seeking relaxation coupled with any of these other interests, a beach vacation can be an ideal way to combine downtime with active pursuits like watersports and outdoor adventures, exploration in nature or local communities, cultural enrichment at museums and historical sites, and other in-destination activities and attractions.
Cuisine is also increasingly important to today’s travelers. According to another AAA survey from this year, about 22 million Americans expect to take a “culinary-focused” vacation within the next year, and three-quarters of the survey’s respondents said that food is an important part of their travel experiences.
Whether clients want a food-focused vacation or just a taste of the destination’s flavor, it’s easy to satisfy travelers’ appetites in just about any beach destination—fresh local seafood is an obvious choice, but agents can also recommend tours and restaurants that focus on unique regional cuisine or local takes on international flavors.
“Food tours are more and more an option. It’s absolutely a focus in many destinations,” says Jermanok.
In addition to knowing a destination’s food-related offerings, Davy says that travel agents should pay attention to hotel menus, too. “On-resort food is important,” she says. “I get a lot of questions about that. And if someone is really interested in [cuisine], you want to make sure they’re at a resort that’s close to a town. A lot of people are interested in local food.”
Advisors should keep family travel interests in mind, as well. While Davy says that couples are most likely to visit beaches during the winter months, Donna Carlin, owner and planner of Stepping Out Travel Services in Brick, New Jersey notes that families are likely to travel during summer vacation. And according to U.S. World & News Report’s “6 Family Travel Trends to Watch in 2017,” vacationing families are increasingly interested in nature-focused travel activities such as exploring America’s National Parks and “meaningful outdoor experiences”—both of which agents can easily design a beach vacation around.
How to Sell
Thanks to the Internet, travelers often have rather specific ideas about what they’d like in a beach vacation. But they can still benefit from using an agent, according to Jermanok. “Travel agents are there to guide and offer expertise. A lot of times clients might want to go to the beach, but you have to tell them where. It’s an education process.”
During the initial call with a client, “it’s important to tell them about all the aspects of a destination, not just the beach components,” he adds.
A knowledgeable and diverse staff is also helpful when it comes to matching clients with the beach destination that will meet their various needs, according to Carlin. “More than half my staff are millennials,” she says. “And within the millennials we have luxury travel [specialists], we have one woman who’s a Disney specialist and we just opened a division for romance travel.” She adds that she also has specialists in LGBT travel, seniors and the multigenerational family segment, providing insight on a variety of age groups and travel markets that will have differing desires on their beach vacations.
Travel agents also have access to an ever-expanding array of channels to promote their beach business.
Mark Benson, vice president of leisure product and sales support at Flight Centre Travel Group, which owns Liberty Travel, GOGO Vacations and other brands, points out the importance of social media and a multi-pronged marketing and sales strategy to get the word out. “A fully integrated marketing approach is best, to differentiate the breadth and diversity of beach destinations,” he explains. “Online channels—including email, blogs and social media—offer great opportunities to illustrate different beach destinations through great imagery and interesting content of varying lengths.”
Davy, for one, uses social media and email blasts, especially in the months leading up to the peak summer travel season for families. “Tour operators offer early-booking bonuses, ‘children stay free’ promotions—things like that,” she says. “As soon as I get those, I market them like crazy with email blasts and Facebook. And then, of course, I have my regular clients that I will personally call and say, ‘Should we get going on your summer vacation?’ ”
Personal experience and knowledge about beach destinations also helps agents to be more effective at selling, according to Davy, who participates in multiple familiarization trips, webinars and other educational programs. “I take advantage of every opportunity,” she says. “When I do that, I’m so enthused about the destination that it spills over when I talk to clients. It makes a huge difference.”
As with any type of destination or vacation, qualifying the client is crucial for matching each traveler with the appropriate beach experience.
Among the questions to ask when planning a beach vacation:
• Who are the travelers participating on this trip—what are their ages and relationships?
• What does the budget look like?
• Is the client looking for a hotel that will serve as a base for exploring a variety of places and activities, or for simple rest and relaxation? Do they want to be located beachfront, or in a more centralized location with easy access to local restaurants, activities and attractions, in addition to the beach?
• What types of amenities and facilities does the traveler like at a beach hotel?
• What are the client’s favorite beach activities?
• What non-beach activities would they like to incorporate into this vacation?
• Do the travelers play any sports or enjoy any other outdoor activities?
• How important is the culinary aspect of the vacation? Are they interested in local restaurants, food tours and activities, or both?
• Do they enjoy art, history, museums or other cultural activities?
• Do any of the travelers have any physical limitations?