What’s good for travel advisors, travelers and top travel destinations? Capitalizing on traditionally off-peak travel windows to extend the selling and travel season all year long.
The good news: Tourism is booming. The bad news: Tourism is booming. In 2018, for example, international tourist arrivals grew 6 percent to total 1.4 billion, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, hitting that number two years earlier than anticipated in its 2010 long-term forecast. For perspective: according to the UNWTO, international tourism arrivals in 1999 were 664 million, while in 1950, they were a mere 25 million. As international tourism continues to expand, the growth in the number of tourists has brought positives and negatives, particularly to what is traditionally considered high summer season travel.
Granted, travel advisors are never going to complain about too many bookings! But what if you could even out your business? What if you could help yourself, your clients and favorite destinations by moving some of your business from high season to off-peak windows?
“We are very conditioned in our industry to understand that we have a high season when we sell and a high season when people travel—but is it self-fulfilling?” asks Melissa Da Silva, president of Trafalgar. “Can we extend our selling season to all year long?”
Da Silva says the answer is a resounding yes, noting, “There are compelling reasons to expand the season so that there are selling hills rather than mountains, dips instead of valleys—this way travel advisors can have commissions all year long. It’s a much more sustainable business model when they don’t have to depend on one good quarter to balance out the whole year.”
In fact, savvy travel advisors, as well as suppliers and destination management organizations, are working to expand the off-peak season in an effort to smooth out annual travel patterns. Here’s a look at why—and how both travel advisors and travelers benefit from expanding travel into the off-peak season.
Henry Dennis, a top-selling travel advisor with AAA Carolinas in Charlotte, North Carolina, notes that selling off-peak travel helps “even out the business cycle. Just 15 years ago, come April, the spigot would shut off—people had planned their summer vacations and it was pretty dead until the next year. Now, we have a good opportunity to level that out as suppliers have expanded their off-season products with a wide variety of new interests and departure dates.”
Expanding the selling and traveling season to become more of a year-round enterprise yields benefits both on a professional and global level. In addition to the income balancing that can result for travel advisors, Da Silva notes increasing off-peak travel “positively impacts the places we visit so that their business is also strong throughout the year.”
“It’s our duty in the travel industry, as suppliers and travel advisors, to ensure that we are positively impacting the places we visit,” she says. “With over-tourism, some destinations are overwhelmed for part of the year, so the traveler doesn’t have the best experience, and then the small businesses don’t have enough traffic during low seasons. That’s why Trafalgar and many of The Travel Corporation brands continue to offer more experiences year-round, which helps the travel advisor, the traveler and the destination. We adopt a ‘365’ approach to travel, working to ensure year-round visitation to the incredible places we visit, and that includes going beyond the usual tourism centers. We plan our itineraries in a way that shares both the iconic places as well as those off the beaten track that provide a true connection to the locals and communities.”
And for the travelers, there is no sacrifice in experience as suppliers’ offerings highlight the best in each destination no matter the travel window. “There are several advantages to traveling during the off-peak season, so much so that we actually call it the ‘Secret Season’ because while the benefits might be lesser known, they are no less compelling,” says Jon Grutzner, president of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold.
More Time & Space for Personal Connections
Grutzner notes, “During the Secret Season, destinations can be significantly less crowded—which allows for a more leisurely pace and more of a human connection. The feel of a place changes when it’s not packed to capacity with visitors as locals, and travelers, move through daily life with more ease and comfort. ”
Dennis agrees that the nature of interactions change: “We find that locals are more engaging during off-peak seasons. You can go into a local restaurant or pub and find they are more interested in interacting and that travelers have a better chance of one-on-one encounters when there are fewer tourists around.”
Fewer people also means that those who are visiting can experience the city itself in different ways. Grutzner, for example, remembers how he, his wife and daughter were able to spend 45 minutes leisurely checking out the Mona Lisa in the Louvre in December, which would be impossible during the summer high season, while Da Silva notes that Dubrovnik in March was peaceful and calm, very different from the high cruise season.
“While some attractions have alternative hours and days in the low season, we make sure to schedule our visits so that our travelers will be able to experience as much as possible,” says DaSilva highlighting the benefits of guided vacations as a travel style no matter the season “Travel advisors can sell guided travel with confidence all throughout the year knowing that we have taken all of these important details into account to ensure the best possible experience for guests.”
Showcasing the Appeal of Off-Peak Travel
While some clients will start off with the idea of traveling during off-peak times, for many others, the concept must first be introduced. As part of his qualifying process, Dennis will always ask: What made you pick these dates and this destination?
“If someone comes in with a specific idea, we always want to ensure their expectation matches what they’re really going to get,” says Dennis. “Sometimes they’ve done their research and they match up beautifully, but other times, we can discuss other options that might better suit their needs.”
For example, if he has a client who wants to go to Europe on a guided vacation in the summer, but is seeking pricing a little lower, he says, “We can discuss how flexible they are and how they could enjoy savings and still have nice weather if they go during October, for example.” By the same token, if they are comfortable with the pricing, they still might prefer an off-peak vacation that allows them to spend the same, but experience either more days or a more premium level of experience. “Traveling during the off-peak season extends the value and the dollar proposition, allowing clients to have experiences they might not otherwise be able to,” says Grutzner.
In addition to conversations with existing clients, Miriam Krieger-Slen, co-owner of Three Martini Travel, DBA Cruise Planners, which debuted about a year ago in Tolland, Connecticut, is actively trying to build a more balanced book of business throughout the year with proactive marketing and planning group business. “We regularly take some time to plan the year out,” she says. “We work with strong brands and depend heavily on their marketing materials so when off-peak season promotions come through, we focus on how we can maximize those to fit our clients’ needs.”
Da Silva adds that highlighting off-peak travel also allows travel advisors to go after new demographics. “Many travel advisors have their standard book of business, but they can open up to other groups of people to fill in the rest of the year,” she says. “Travel advisors know the patterns of their clients so they can see where there are opportunities, and perhaps fill that funnel by reaching out to retirees, different business communities and others with different sales cycles.”
“Traveling in the off-season offers such a different perspective,” says DaSilva. “Travelers can find unique and magical experiences that just aren’t possible during the high season, while travel advisors enjoy the increased stability of year-round business. Vacation is not just for summer and opening travelers’ eyes to what they can discover all year long—like charming European Christmas Markets and vibrant fall foliage—can open new doors for them and more sales for advisors.”