Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

2018 is proving to be a good year for the travel industry and, with a little over half the year to go, there are still plenty of opportunities for agents to capitalize on consumer desire to travel, with both closer-in bookings for the remainder of the year and bookings into 2019 and beyond.

This Memorial Day weekend was projected by AAA to see the highest number of American travelers — 41.5 million, up 5% from last year — in over a decade. Bill Sutherland, senior vice president of AAA Travel and Publishing, attributed that growth to two factors: the strong economy and increased consumer confidence. Sutherland also said it is the precursor to what AAA believes will be a busy summer travel season.

Travelport, among others in the industry, has also been looking at the summer travel period. Its 2018 U.S. Vacation Survey found that 38% of respondents are more likely to take a vacation this summer than they were last summer. Millennials (ages 18-34), in particular, want to vacation. According to Travelport, over half are more likely to travel more this summer, and they're planning on spending more than other age groups.

Generali Global Assistance's travel insurance division also recently took a look at vacation plans for U.S. travelers. It found more people plan to travel this year — 68%, compared with 61% in 2016.

According to Generali, those travelers' budgets have decreased by a slight amount (1%) to an average of $2,643, but their average trip duration is up slightly to 1.5 weeks.

"After a significant dip in 2016, summer travel has rebounded over the past two years," Generali CEO Chris Carnicelli said.

Ninan Chacko, CEO of Travel Leaders Group, said travel has been strong in 2018.

"Across the industry, we are seeing high demand for travel in most sectors, and we expect those trends to continue through Memorial Day and the summer," he said. "Travel Leaders Group is benefitting from that healthy market."

According to Chacko, Travel Leaders Group clients are interested in luxury travel and stays at full-service hotel properties. They're also interested in international travel, escorted tours and river cruising.

Agents will likely find opportunities in booking cruises, too.

"Cruising overall is very popular this year with travelers," Chacko said. "With 27 new ships coming on line this year, there is a lot of buzz and excitement about cruising."

Avoya Travel is also having a solid year. The host agency reported "record, double-digit sales growth" last year, and last week it said it is on the path to outpace that this year. The network has also seen explosive growth in the number of independent agencies, up 370% from 2016 to 2018.

During a Valerie Wilson Travel event last week held at the agency's New York headquarters, a number of suppliers also indicated healthy growth.

For instance, Marett Taylor, vice president of sales for Abercrombie & Kent, said sales are up "double digits" and that 2019 is looking stronger than any other future year has looked for the tour operator.

Marriott International Luxury Brands also saw double-digit growth, according to Alexis Romer, vice president of sales.

And, indicating the strength of the cruise industry, Regent Seven Seas Cruises had a record reservation day on April 11, when bookings opened for its new ship out in 2020, the Seven Seas Splendor, according to Carol Herron, vice president of field sales.

"That's a really great sign," she said.

Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-president and co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel, said the leisure side of the business is currently experiencing a good mix of bookings. Some are last-minute vacations for this year, while others are bookings for 2019 and 2020.

All indications show it's a good time to sell travel to consumers, who are motivated to take a vacation and have the financial wherewithal to make it happen.
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