Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

NEW YORK -- Travel agency executives closed the books on a solid 2018 and are looking to another 12 months of prosperity, they said last week during Travel Leaders Group's industry outlook panel at the company's new headquarters here.

"We had a great year in 2018," said Becky Powell, president of Protravel International. "The good job market kept people traveling really across all sectors."

The past year saw double-digit growth in cruise sales, for example, Powell said. That growth was buoyed by the number of expedition ships available today, an attractive option for cruisers who dislike larger ships, as well as smaller, luxury ocean and river ships positioning themselves more as "floating hotels" instead of cruise ships.

John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Network and Leisure Group, also called out 2018 as a particularly good year for cruising.

It was also another strong year for the resurgence of travel advisers, Lovell said. As evidence of that, he pointed to the company's Agent Profiler online lead-generation tool. Referrals grew 25% in the past year.

According to Cindy Schlansky, co-president of Tzell Travel Group, the robust economy factored into the agency's success in 2018. Weather-related surprises, like the eruption of Hawaii's Kilauea volcano, also highlighted the importance of working with an adviser in consumers' eyes.

Schlansky expects "the renaissance of the travel adviser" to continue into 2019.

Powell said 2019 is "as exciting as '18," adding that "consumers are looking for brands they trust," especially in light of recent high-profile security breaches across industries.

She said she feels Protravel is well-positioned in that it has a strong brand that engenders trust. Powell predicted 2019 will be a strong year for travel.

Lovell said he is particularly excited about world cruises. Travel Leaders Network just last week sent more than 450 guests on a Holland America Line world cruise, the network's 30th with the cruise line. And that's just one brand, he said. The product is selling well.

The next 12 months won't be without challenges; Lovell pointed to a recent slowdown in travel, likely caused by stock market volatility in December, and possibly by the government shutdown. Echoing Powell, he also said cybersecurity concerns will be another challenge in the year to come.

Clients want to know what Travel Leaders Network's partners are doing with their data, he said.

Powell said data security is top of mind.

"It is a constant area that we have to stay on top of that we never had to think of before, but we're doing it," she said.

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