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Luxury tour operators report longer booking windows

Tauck says its 2020 Douro cruises on the new Adorinha are selling "incredibly well."
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The year's strong stock market performance is translating into a welcome booking surge for luxury travel companies, and some operators say they are also seeing travelers booking further and further out.

"We've absolutely been seeing an increase in the booking window, particularly in recent months as our guests' confidence in the economy has returned following some stock market volatility late last year," said Jeremy Palmer, senior vice president of Tauck Land Tours.

He also sees the trend as being long-term.

"Bookings across our entire 2020 portfolio are very strong, with our Oberammergau Passion Play itineraries and our three new Douro River cruises all doing incredibly well," Palmer said. "This is definitely part of a longer-term trend we've been seeing for some time, and we've responded by steadily bringing our products to market earlier in order to better serve our guests and our agents."

Abercrombie & Kent noted the trend in a recent news release, saying that guests were booking its Luxury Small Group Journeys a full month earlier this year -- on average, eight months in advance -- while certain popular destinations like Egypt and East Africa required even longer lead times.

Jon Grutzner, U.S. president of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, said he hasn't seen the same consistency in booking windows but that, concurrent with the strong economy and stock market, his brands are seeing a solid rebound after a first quarter that was slower than expected.

"Guests want to travel this year, and space is still available," Grutzner said. "This is driving short-term bookings. Some of this business is of course spilling over into 2020, and our forward sales for 2020 are way up. We are seeing strength with our exotic destinations, particularly Africa and South America, that do tend to have an earlier booking cycle. Egypt has had a spectacular rebound, and we have added significant capacity to meet this demand."

Steve Born, vice president of marketing for the Globus family of brands, said his company has been seeing a longer lead time for its more exotic offerings, such as Africa, Asia and the South Pacific.

"The average lead time is six months, but we see a higher percentage of those bookings take place early in the year, sometimes more than 12 months out," Born said. "Because these are likely once-in-a-lifetime trips and the destinations are less familiar, they tend to include more advance planning."

Pleasant Holidays president and CEO Jack Richards said he has seen a shift in booking habits for both Pleasant Holidays and its luxury Journese brand for several years, with roughly 10% more travelers booking their vacations more than 151 days prior to departure now than the company saw in 2016.

"We see the shift toward booking further out as indicative of a savvier traveler who is better traveled than ever before," Richards said. "They know what they want and are willing to wait to get it, particularly with cruise vacations with specific itineraries and stateroom accommodations, including suites with balconies or family suites that provide more living space."

Interestingly, he said, the second most popular booking window is just 31 to 60 days before departure, "which indicates that there are still a lot of summer vacations yet to be booked."

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