NEW YORK -- While the industry is facing some headwinds, executives are largely positive about the resiliency of the traveling public in 2019, they said Friday during a State of the Industry Panel at the New York Times Travel Show at the Javits Center here.

Tauck president Jennifer Tombaugh said a U.S. Tour Operators Association survey from October showed members looked at 2019 with "incredible optimism."

Jennifer Tombaugh
Jennifer Tombaugh

"I think we're all still optimistic, but we're facing some headwinds now," Tombaugh said.

Those headwinds include public perception of destinations after events like the California wildfires and the Kilauea eruption in Hawaii. Extensive media coverage of such events can dissuade visitors even though their impact is on a relatively small area.

"Then, you've got the uncertainty that comes with Mother Nature, that comes with the economy," she said.

There are a number of shining spots in 2019, she said, pointing to growth in small-ship cruising, group travel and European bookings.

Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy said the industry faces headwinds every year. She rattled off a recent list, including geopolitical issues and Zika virus.

But increasingly, the traveling public has gotten more resilient in recent years.

"People don't want to stay home anymore," Duffy said.

Last year, Carnival was still dealing with the fallout of the destructive 2017 hurricane season, which impacted 76% of its fleet. Duffy said the cruise line believes there might be some pent-up demand from consumers who didn't book trips last year.

Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion Travel Group, pointed to a survey parent company Travel Leaders Group conducted in late 2018 as an indication that consumers are planning on traveling in 2019. According to the survey, over 90% of respondents said they would take one or more trips in 2019, and would spend the same or more money on vacations than they did in 2018.

She said she is "very, very optimistic" about the year ahead.

Friedman also noted another trend.

"The fact is that more and more [people] are wanting a career in travel," she said. "Folks love this industry. They want to be travel advisers, and as we see more and more people coming into this industry, it fuels growth for the industry."

Consumer demand for travel is growing, evidenced by AmaWaterways' fleet expansion, according to co-owner and executive vice president Kristin Karst. Three new ships will join its fleet in 2019.

Hotels are doing well, too, although there is a growth slowdown occurring. 

Lindsey Ueberroth, CEO of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, said the year is starting off well and the company is about 12% ahead of where it was last year. Comparatively, at the beginning of 2018, Preferred was 22% ahead of 2017. While that does signal a slowdown in growth, Ueberroth said the company remains "bullish" on 2019.


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