Travel companies warm to sales on Black Friday, Cyber Monday

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International Expeditions is offering savings as part of its Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions.
International Expeditions is offering savings as part of its Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions.

For the travel industry, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the holiday shopping season have evolved from a vexing consumer distraction into one of the most important travel booking periods of the year, and the industry has expanded promotional strategies accordingly.

"Cyber Monday is the most popular booking day of the year across our company," said Eric Gavin, chief sales and marketing officer for Salamander Hotels & Resorts. The company has been offering post-Thanksgiving promotions for several years, but Gavin said bookings started to increase substantially at its properties about three years ago.

Camille Olivere, senior vice president of sales at Norwegian Cruise Line, said bookings made in response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions are "right up there in the top-performing days that we see throughout the year."

And upscale operator Abercrombie & Kent said it typically sells out of the trips it features during its Cyber Monday holiday sale, which according to Stefanie Schmudde, director of product development and operations, "has proven to be a very successful way of encouraging aspirational travelers to trade up to Abercrombie & Kent."

Those kinds of results say a lot about holiday sales considering that prior to 2010-2011, most travel companies weren't offering Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals at all. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and Cyber Monday, three days later, have traditionally kicked off the period reserved for purchases related to holiday season gift-giving. But it wasn't until recently that travel companies decided to throw their hats into the ring.

"The time between Thanksgiving and New Year was typically slow for the travel industry," said Steve Cox, executive director of International Expeditions. "You wouldn't typically send brochures or sales emails because of the time people spend out of the office, the influx of retail promotions and the general distraction of the holiday season."

But since coming out of the Great Recession, Cox said, "Black Friday and Cyber Week sales were a way to get the phones ringing."

Expedia gave away 2 million Expedia+ Rewards points ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, said John Morrey, Expedia's vice president and general manager.
Expedia gave away 2 million Expedia+ Rewards points ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, said John Morrey, Expedia's vice president and general manager.

This year, International Expeditions is offering savings ranging from free air to $2,000 off per person on its 2018 Peruvian Amazon, Galapagos and Cuba programs for bookings made between Nov. 27 and Dec. 8.

Travel companies across the spectrum report that consumers immediately responded with interest to the travel industry's early attempts at getting in on the spending frenzy, but they seem to agree that the booking momentum has really taken off more recently.

There are several factors to which they attribute the growing popularity of booking travel during the holidays, including the fact that travel itself has become a much more popular holiday gift option.

John Morrey, vice president and general manager of Expedia.com, said, "We did a study this year that showed 94% of teens would rather receive a trip as a gift over a new toy or game, and we've seen other research [showing] that people find more fulfillment and happiness in experiences over material things."

Expedia ran its first major Black Friday sale in 2011 and added Cyber Monday deals in 2015. Morrey said that consumer engagement in those deals has grown every year since.

As Black Friday and Cyber Monday travel deals have become more commonplace, families gathering for the holidays have also come to incorporate them more into the travel-planning process, which has further fueled the effectiveness of the promotions.

Cox said that "with the growth of multigenerational travel, the holiday season has grown to be a time when spring break and summer vacations are being planned. It makes sense to be in front of grandparents, moms and dads as they make these plans."

In several short years, post-Thanksgiving travel deals have evolved from a nonfactor into something consumers have come to eagerly anticipate, according to those travel companies that have carved out their piece of the holiday sales bonanza.

"We have had many customers ask through the years if we would be running any specials over the holiday weekend," said Lisa Stice, vice president of global online marketing for Benchmark, which is offering promotions at two dozen of its resorts and hotels in the period between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Benchmark is among the companies that are seeing the benefits of extending the promotional period beyond the typical day or two to give travelers more time to seize on the specials.

"We noticed an uptick when we began offering the sale for a longer time frame. We now do 'Cyber Weekend' rather than just Cyber Monday," said Stice. "This grew out of ... the customers asking us to extend our sale."

Along those lines, Expedia this year gave away 2 million Expedia+ Rewards points to new and existing Expedia members ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, enabling customers to use those points on holiday travel sales, Morrey said.

Nor are the specials available only to consumers. Travel professionals, too, are seeing offers come their way. The Travel Institute this year is launching its third annual Season of Savings promotions on Nov. 27 to kick off five weeks of specials on its travel professional resource offerings, such as certifications, membership and training.

As for how much all the holiday season travel deals impact the popular, long-standing post-New Year booking period, most travel companies say the start of the year still accounts for substantial sales.

"January is going to have a natural spike in interest and activity, but that is normally a more gradual and sustained increase in volume," said Marty Seslow, vice president of marketing and sales for Gate 1 Travel. "Black Friday is relatively unique, as we are able to dramatically increase activity for a significantly more concentrated period."

As for whether the recent deluge of deals the industry has been churning during the holidays risk diluting their popularity and effectiveness over time, Expedia's Morrey, said, "The more deals that are out there, the better it is for travelers."

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