Industry upbeat on touring sales

The results are in, and they look good! There appears to be general optimism among travel agents selling group touring products, with 90% of respondents to the 2018 travelBulletin/Travel Daily Group Touring Survey saying they believe their sales of tours during the last year have increased or stayed the same.

The survey, which was conducted in late March, saw a stronger response than last year, possibly reflecting an increasing recognition of the potential of the group touring sector for agents. Just 12% of the agents polled said their sales had dropped, while almost half (43%) reported an increase. By contrast in the 2017 survey only about a third reported that their group touring sales had risen.

Key insights from the agents included their perceptions of challenges for the touring sector, with 48% citing negative impacts from the “image of the group touring category”. Others said they were seeing strong competition from ocean and river cruising, while almost a third said there was “too much choice” given the plethora of generalist and niche operators covering the globe. Curiously, others perceived a lack of specialisation or differentiation among tour operators, while some said their clients considered group touring to be an ‘old fashioned’ type of holiday.

The study collated details on the actual tour brands sold by participants over the previous six months, with APT, Trafalgar and Scenic coming at the top of the table, sold by more than half of the respondents. Other popular products included Intrepid, Insight Vacations, Contiki and AAT Kings, with Cosmos, Wendy Wu Tours and Globus rounding out the top 10 in terms of agent sales. In terms of brand recognition, Contiki was the brand most likely to be asked for by name, cited by 82% of respondents. That was fractionally ahead of Scenic and APT with an 81% brand recognition rating, dropping to 69% for Trafalgar, 58% for Insight Vacations, 54% for Wendy Wu Tours and 50% for both Globus and Topdeck.

What’s your favourite?

Similar patterns were seen when we asked agents for their own favourite brands, with APT coming out as the leader, followed by Scenic, Intrepid, Contiki, Trafalgar, Wendy Wu and G Adventures. The tours themselves were the main drivers of this preference, with “excellent product” cited by 68% of respondents as their reason for selecting a favourite. However “excellent service” came in a close second when it came to agents’ most favoured touring brands — significantly higher than “excellent reps” with 21%, “knowledgeable staff” with 14% and “value for money” at 12%.

Other key metrics measured in the poll included excellence in sales representation, training and development, customer documentation and call centre service, with the top five in each category tabulated below:

  • Sales representation: APT (88.8%), Luxury Gold (88.6%), Travelmarvel (87.4%), The Africa Safari Co (85.3%) and Insight Vacations (82.5%)
  • Training & development: Trafalgar (55%), APT (52%), Contiki (48%), Wendy Wu Tours (44%) and Insight Vacations (43%)
  • Customer documentation: Scenic (82%), APT (79%), Abercrombie & Kent (68%), Grand Pacific Tours (66%) and Bench Africa (63%)
  • Call centre service: Asia Escape Holidays (76%), APT (76%), Grand Pacific Tours (74%), Bunnik Tours (70%) and Contiki (70%)

The full report also details agent preferences when it comes to operator support for local area marketing, familiarisations, custom tours, innovation and trade incentives.

Departures a drama

Intriguingly, agents continued to cite cancellations of departures as a key issue they have to deal with. Despite lots of work in recent years to help balance supply and demand, respondents perceived Trafalgar as the worst offender, with 40% of agents saying the operator “cancels tours the most”. Other offenders in this area included Cosmos and Globus, cited by 23% and 21% of respondents respectively, followed by Insight at 18% and Contiki with a 10% rating.

By contrast when asked which operators were “reliable in fulfilling advertised departures” the top rated company was APT with a 73% result. Albatross Tours and Bunnik Tours each achieved a 70% rating in this area, just ahead of Wendy Wu Tours with 67%, Grand Pacific Tours at 66% and Scenic at 64%.

A way to go for CATO

The final section of the survey looked at perceptions of the Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO). Compared to the 2017 survey, little appears to have changed in terms of awareness, with just 37% saying they knew about the organisation. Of those who knew about CATO, we also asked whether they had seen the CATO logo which is now being included on the advertising of many CATO member suppliers. Just 40% of those who were aware of CATO said they had seen the logo — and dishearteningly only 5% of respondents had actually used the CATO website to find suitable product for their clients.

The full 2018 travelBulletin/Travel Daily Group Touring Survey report is available for purchase – for details contact