PHOTO: Going notes that all-inclusive resort companies are continually raising the bar on product offerings – the new overwater bungalows at Karisma’s El Dorado Maroma serving as a case in point. (courtesy El Dorado Maroma)
Mike Going, executive vice president of travel agency distribution and development for The Mark Travel Corp., joined the company in 2006 as chief marketing officer for Funjet Vacations. Going was promoted to president of Funjet in April 2008. Earlier this year he was elevated to the executive vice president position, and now oversees Funjet along with Blue Sky Tours, Southwest Vacations and United Vacations. We sat down with Going to discuss the latest trends in travel, including how world events are impacting such markets as Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii.
With people shying away from Europe, are you seeing some of that demand transferring to destinations closer to home?
We’re happy to say that all our brands – Funjet, Blue Sky Tours, Southwest Vacations and United Vacations – are up on a year-to-year basis both for this year and what’s on the books going into next year. We’re working hard to make it happen, that’s for sure. But there is growth across the brands.
How are the shifts in demand from world events affecting the resort vacation market in Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii?
Demand is there to be had. We’re not getting robust growth – it’s growth we have to go work for. The consumer is looking at a lot of choices, given the things that are happening globally. So if you talk about Brexit, election issues and things that are normally demand-suppressive, I actually think they are creating opportunity for agents. The opportunity is to find that sweet spot for people, because when you look at research it will tell you that the purchase of travel is still outpacing consumer goods. People want to travel, but they are doing a lot of shopping and they need the guidance of a great travel agent to find out what is the right trip for them right now, given their circumstances.
After terror incidents in Europe last winter, operators reported a slowing of demand. It seems as though demand is starting to come back. Is that what you’re seeing?
It seems people are just saying, ‘I’m not going to let an event stop me from traveling somewhere I want to go. I’ll take the precautions. I’ve done the research. I understand what I’m getting into. Let’s go.’ And at the same time soft demand compels good deals to be had, which will light a fire under consumers. So they’ll rationalize the money that they can save and the experience they can get. For the places we sell most – Mexico, Caribbean, Hawaii and domestic U.S. – people in the aggregate want to go. There is growth in those markets in all of our brands.
How are you succeeding in winning market share from your competitors?
I think we’re competing nicely. We have some unique product attributes, when you look at what we bring with Southwest, with United and with the Funjet brand. But this is a year when you have to aggressively price, aggressively promote, and not sit back waiting for it to come.
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You have to get it. We’ve been pretty on-point all the way through the year because we saw this coming early. We’re a very data-driven company. So I think that has been one of the reasons for our success, that we were able to look at our data, get ahead of it and stay ahead of it.
What kinds of changes are you seeing in terms of what people are looking for in a vacation package? Are you seeing more Mexico vacationers who want a more in-depth experience?
I think that is somewhat always the case. There is always a percentage of consumers who want authentic Mexico. There are also people who want to “fly and flop.” There are people who want high-end luxury. And across the board, in Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii, there is that product for everyone.
If you look at the product evolution in most of our destinations, product is being refreshed at a rapid rate and there is also a lot of new product. In the Riviera Maya, Karisma Hotels & Resorts have added palafitos [overwater bungalows] at the El Dorado Maroma. Sandals now has some overwater suites as well. They used to be only in the South Pacific, but now [they can be found within] a two- or three-hour plane ride [for most of the] U.S. population.
What tips can you offer travel agents?
Stay very close to your customer, because your customer is looking at a surprising number of options that may or may not be the right ones. Agent relevance now is high, it’s valued, it’s prized. But you’ve got to have top-of-mind awareness with your customers. So stay very close and listen, and I think you’ll be in good shape.
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A version of this article appears in print in the October 2016 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.
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