In a time of political upheaval and global uncertainty, tour operators said they are witnessing a rising demand for travel to Europe. The region is coming back after a tough 2016 in the wake of high-profile terrorist attacks in Europe.
A case in point is Avanti Destinations, whose Europe tours are experiencing a strong comeback this year. “Our European bookings for 2017 are already shaping up quite nicely,” said Harry Dalgaard, founder and president of Avanti Destinations. “Almost every country we sell is doing better than this time last year, including France, which took a real hit after the terrorist attacks.”
Avanti is adding new European destinations to its portfolio, including Malta and Slovenia, and unveiling several new small-group escorted tours in France and Italy.
Dalgaard said the plummet in the value of the British pound has created a mini-boom for travel in England, Scotland and Wales. “The traditional powerhouse cities for us are continuing to show strong sales – Rome, Florence, and Venice in Italy, plus London and Paris,” said Dalgaard. “On a smaller scale, we’re seeing much higher bookings than in the past for cities like Edinburgh, Athens, Lisbon and some of the Greek islands, and for the smaller towns away from major tourist centers in England, Scotland, France and Italy.”
TravelBound President James Phillips said that the company’s Europe bookings are growing, but not at the same rate as other destinations. “The really big growth is coming from Asia, Australasia, Africa and North America,” he said. “All of these destinations are very significantly up year-on-year.”
On the Europe front, Phillips said that Paris is now TravelBound’s most searched destination on the company’s website. Demand for London is strong and demand for Italy is even stronger. To entice travelers to book Europe vacations, TravelBound is peppering the market with incentive offers, he said.
Alexander + Roberts’ Eastern Europe tours are selling briskly. “Advance bookings for both small-group and private travel, are well ahead of last year,” said Bob Drumm, the company’s president. “Our trips in the Balkans, Croatia and Montenegro, as well as Albania, Macedonia and Greece, are very popular for the coming season.”
Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) was able to achieve some growth in Europe in 2016 in spite of a general slowdown in demand. “We saw demand soften for Europe in 2016, but overall we were able to eke out a slight growth in passengers [carried] over the year before,” said Liam Dunch, A&K’s product manager for Europe.
Like many other tour operators, A&K saw some restraint in the marketplace during election period. “Demand for 2017 was suppressed earlier on, but since the U.S. elections we have seen sales take off and we are now pacing up in double digits over 2016,” said Dunch. “I believe that Europe is – and will continue to be – a key destination for the U.S. market.”
Globus Family of Brands Vice President of Marketing Steve Born said the company is seeing gains in its Europe business from the strong value of the dollar not only against the pound but the euro as well. The company is witnessing increases in demand for Britain, Ireland, Switzerland, Eastern Europe, Italy, France and river cruises.
“There’s no better time to take a tour. The strong dollar, along with healthy consumer confidence, is driving demand for Europe,” said Born. “As evidence, the Globus Family of Brands is up 5 percent in Europe over this time last year, and that number has been growing in recent months. We see that continuing, with numbers approaching 10-year highs.”
TERRORISM PERCEPTIONS ARE RECEDING
Tour executives said travelers’ concerns about terrorist events in Europe appear to be diminishing.
“Seasoned American travelers are smart and practical. Favorable currency and pricing, particularly in regard to air fare, trump emotional hesitation in most cases,” said Steve Born, vice president of marketing for the Globus Family of Brands. “While there’s a portion of the population that may be more hesitant, they are typically first-timers waiting for just the right time to take the plunge, and prices are certainly swaying many of them at this point.”
Added Liam Dunch, Abercrombie & Kent’s product manager for Europe: “With the exception of particular destinations, such as France, Belgium and Turkey, I am not seeing it having a large effect. We see France going down, but Spain and Portugal are booming. Belgium is down, but Scandinavia and Germany are up significantly. Turkey has disappeared, but Greece has roared back. Brexit has definitely created renewed interest in the U.K. with historically low exchange rates.”