Travel 2015: The Top Tours Operator Stories of The Year
Photo courtesy of Thinkstock
Whoosh! Where did that year go? The way of all years, no doubt, but it was not just another year. It had its own personality. For tour operators it was overall a good year. Business has been growing as the economy has been building back gradually after the crash of ’08 and consumer confidence has increased.
For Africa it was a time of slow recovery from the damage of the Ebola scare last year, which really only affected a small part of West Africa, but the fear of it devastated tourism throughout the continent. The Middle East was ravaged with war and the tourism industries in the region were just hanging on, hoping for better times.
But violence from war and terrorism abroad and in America our own peculiar brand of random lunatic shootings and domestic terrorism has taken its toll on travel by undermining the confidence of travelers and their faith that they’ll be able to leave home, take their trip and return safely. In the vast majority of cases they can, but it is that infinitesimal probability of trouble that keeps many people homebound.
Rewind back all the way through 2015, back to December 2014 when President Obama announced that he had reached an agreement with the government of Cuba to move toward normalization of relations between the two countries after more than half a century of a trade embargo. That move set the stage for one of the top stories in travel for 2015. If you include only the news that had a positive effect on the travel industry, Cuba would have to be the top story.
Obama’s announcement made Cuba one of the biggest stories for 2014 as well as for 2015. Cuba has been one of the biggest stories in the tour industry for years, well before Obama’s move toward normalization, as more and more tour operators have moved into the arena.
Obama had made a series of smaller moves toward liberalization. Initially Obama’s moves had only the effect of reversing the actions taken by the Bush administration to close off travel to Cuba. Obama’s actions tended to return the regulations on travel to Cuba to something more like what they were under the Clinton administration.
In travel industry reporting, Cuba remains more of a tour operator story than a destination story because the destination is not really open yet. Cuba is still under a trade embargo by the U.S. The travel that is done to Cuba by Americans is strictly regulated by the Department of Commerce. Americans still have to comply with strict requirements to follow a full schedule of people-to-people activities in order to earn the right to travel to Cuba under the trade embargo.
It is still challenging to try to travel to Cuba independently for an American. It’s a tour operator's market. Cruise lines are also getting into the market, but to the extent that they are taking people ashore, it is still a tour operation that they are offering.
Obama’s actions so far to open Cuba have been taken under his authority as president, but the president does not have the authority to remove the embargo. That must be done by Congress, and as long as Congress and the President are at loggerheads, it’s highly unlikely that any such action will take place.
Still, even without removing the embargo, the relaxation of requirements under the current people-to-people regime has already expanded the volume of travel by Americans to Cuba substantially and has greatly broadened the options for ways to travel to Cuba that are open to Americans.
Cuba will no doubt continue to be one of the biggest stories in travel for a long time to come. Stay tuned.
Apple Leisure Group Cuts Business Ties to Trump
In July after the Republican frontrunner for the presidential nomination made a series of derogatory statements about the generic category of “Mexicans,” the Apple Leisure Group, one of America’s largest travel companies announced that it would no longer do business with companies owned by Donald Trump.
It had only been a couple of years since ALG was acquired by Bain Capital, and investment company made famous because one of its founding partners, Mitt Romney, was the Republican presidential nominee on 2012. But ALG CEO Alex Zozoya, himself a Mexican, said it would be “almost unethical and immoral” for his company to continue to do business with someone who was publicly insulting Mexicans as a group.
The decision was “not political,” said Zozaya. “This is just a business decision because certainly these open remarks are really upsetting a lot of people. And we won’t support them and we will do anything in our power to support the feeling of our own people and our partners and friends. That’s the approach we’re taking.”
Zozaya said the decision was not an action against Trump but something “we can for ourselves, to be congruent with our principles and consistent with our business partners. That involves the Mexican government, the Mexican people, the Mexican banks, the Mexican entrepreneurs and businessmen, and our labor force in Mexico. Just in Mexico we have more than 10,000 employees.”
Russian Airliner Crashes in Egypt
Bad news came in bunches toward the end of the year as if all the horrible incidents were racing to get in before year’s end. On Oct. 31 a Russian airliner crashed in Egypt. As of this writing it is still controversial what brought the plane down. The Egyptians are saying it could not have been a terrorist bombing. The Russians are saying it was. ISIS claims responsibility. All have their reasons for saying what they are saying. If it is terrorism, obviously it hurts Egypt’s reputation as a safe destination and thereby deals another blow to that country’s beleaguered industry, which feeds a large proportion of its population and has taken far more than its share of hits in recent years.
Russia would surely rather it be Egypt’s fault than faulty Russian technology or homegrown terrorism. ISIS, of course, would gladly claim “responsibility” for anything horrible and disruptive, enhancing its image of power and furthering the effects of its acts of terrorism. We may never know the truth of what brought down the plane, but we do know the damage it has done to an already suffering travel industry.
Russian planes are no longer flying to Egypt, and Russians were some of the most intrepid tourists in Egypt, who kept visiting even when people from almost all other countries stayed away.
Peter Long, the chairman of TUI, possibly the largest travel company in the world, said the Egyptian resort town Sharm el-Sheikh is now “a ghost town” and TUI canceled its flights to the area as well, though it has taken a huge loss for doing so.
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