In order to reignite Europe bookings, which have been
lagging in the aftermath of the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris, tour operators
have kicked off the busy selling season with more aggressive promotions and
incentives than usual, hoping that their 2016 Europe business can still be
“The expectation was that 2016 was going to be a good
year,” said Trafalgar President Paul Wiseman. Then, two things happened: The
news media seized onto coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, and a
series of deadly terror attacks were carried out in Paris. We saw, pre-Christmas, the growth that we had all but
So, in order to minimize any potential losses that might
spill over into 2016, tour operators have started off the year by investing in
loftier deals and more attractive travel agent incentives in an effort to get
the Europe travel market moving again, and it appears to be working somewhat.
Many operators, for example, have managed to negotiate
more favorable fares with airline partners, which in turn is helping to
convert travelers they say are still in a bit of wait-and-see mode with Europe.
Steve Born, senior vice president of marketing for the
Globus family of brands, said, “Our airline partners have been more
accommodating, as they’ve seen strong results and see that we can move market
share for them with a good offer to pair with our land [packages].”
Born said the company’s Europe bookings thus far are up
slightly year over year, and he attributes that in part to an aggressive air
offer the company introduced at the start of the year for flights to Europe
with Globus, Avalon and Monograms itineraries.
“That had an immediate impact, as we had a very strong
first week of the year,” he said. “My sense is that agents are beginning to use
deals like this to work very hard to let their clients know that now is the
time to make your travel plans.”
Wiseman said Trafalgar’s shareholders decided to invest
tens of millions of dollars in order to extend Trafalgar’s early payment
discount (which includes both a reduction of the packaged tour price and an
airfare discount), originally scheduled to expire on Dec. 17, until Jan. 28. In
the first week of January, Trafalgar’s Europe bookings came in ahead of 2015
bookings in three out of the first five selling days.
But Wiseman cautioned that deals alone are not the
“I think the promotions are definitely kicking in,” he
said. “But there is an underlying concern from our point of view that unless we
address this issue of confidence, the overwhelming sentiment can undermine the
He said that unless tour operators and travel agents are
more proactive about re-instilling confidence in a shaken traveling public, the
2016 season is still at risk.
“You cannot make up in July for what you need to sell in
February,” Wiseman said. “The peak is always somewhere in [the first quarter of
the year], so who takes the role to counterbalance the negativity? It has to be
Along those same lines, in an effort to offset the drop
in foreign tourism to Brussels in the wake of the arrest of terror suspects in
the city and subsequent lockdown that followed the Paris attacks, Visit
Brussels launched a campaign it hopes will help re-instill some of that
confidence in potential foreign visitors.
Dubbed the #CallBrussels campaign, it was designed to
enable locals to convince visitors of the safety of their city. Three phone
booths were installed at the Mont des Arts, the Place Flagey and in the Place
Communale, which is in the city’s Molenbeek borough, so that passersby could
answer calls from foreign tourists. The calls were made to the phones between
Jan. 7 and Jan. 11 via the website Call.brussels, and a webcam filmed the
According to Visit Brussels, 12,688 people from 154
countries called in. A film portraying those calls is being broadcast
on Call.brussels and on YouTube.
“Over the past few weeks, the international media has
portrayed Brussels as a war zone that tourists would do well to avoid,” Visit
Brussels said in a statement. “This has obviously had dire consequences for the
tourist sector, which is currently experiencing a noticeable decline. Yet life
goes on, and the European capital is as packed as ever with tourist and
As for how much and whether the suicide bomb explosion in
Istanbul last week, which killed 10 people, including nine German tourists,
will negatively impact travel to Turkey, tour operators last week said it was
too soon to tell.
Elsewhere in the world
As operators and destination marketing organizations in
Europe continue to fight to rebuild Europe’s reputation as a safe and desirable
place to visit, other destinations have already started the year off with
Paula Twidale, executive vice president of Collette, said
the operator has seen a lot of interest in travel to Canada as well as in
domestic travel, specifically to the national parks, which were expected to see
a boost this year due to all the publicity surrounding the centennial
anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service.
Born said 2016 is looking like a “tremendous year” for
North America, the South Pacific and Asia, with South America also continuing
to show growth. Those destinations, combined, are up more than 20% year to date
compared with last year, he said.
“Within that, I do believe there are some travelers who
have ‘traded’ from Europe plans, but in large measure, it’s more due to the
appeal of those destinations than out of concern for Europe,” said Born.
“For example, if you had a National Parks tour on your
wish list for a while, [there is] no better year than 2016 due to the
Felicity Long contributed to this report.