Some 2017 Crystal Ball Gazing At The Ensemble Conference
A look at how next year is unfolding – hot & not so hot spots

by Vanessa Lee

Doug Rollheiser from Roblin Travel & Vanessa 

Mary and Ronny Tereshyn 5-10 Travel.

Paul Dorgan of Big Five with Ronny & Vanessa

Cathy Scott & Vanessa

I’ve just returned from a busy 10 days on the road where lots of great business was being accomplished. First stop San Diego, a great city and host this year for Ensemble’s conference. Over 5 days agents and suppliers alike worked and played hard and certainly the event’s "Power Up" theme seemed to be relevant.  And as always at Ensemble, I get to connect with loads of my great and long-standing industry friends. It’s one of my “must attends”.

I had the opportunity to speak with several travel owners and front-line advisors as well as suppliers and get some perspective on their crystal ball gazing for 2017. I was interested to see what sales look like for ‘17 and the trends people are seeing. I always find this kind of dialogue provides a well-rounded and thoughtful view of what might be ahead for us.

I spent time with Jackie Coulson and Rick Baron of Tauck, a venerable and well-respected brand with an excellent ‘past guest’ program for their river ships and also, of course, their excellent tours. Rick told me that North American itineraries continue to do well and that with the 100 th Anniversary of the U.S. National Parks in 2016, the interest generated to travel closer to home has certainly been high – and continues. Also “Back to Africa” is a mantra at Tauck now as the continent is becoming very popular again and bookings are looking very good. Another positive point Rick emphasized is that, “for 2017, this is the 2 nd largest EBD year in recent memory, only 2nd to 2015”. So that is also a sign of early and positive interest for next year. However he and Jackie noted that both river and the Med are soft. Which is sadly no surprise to me given the ongoing issues in Europe at present.

Ron Dawick, and I go way back. The owner of both Adventure House Travel in YTO and Sea Courses in YVR, has a positive spin on ‘17 for the most part too. His agencies do a lot of big groups that book far in advance so he has experienced issues with 2 cruise lines who pulled ships out of the Med  for ‘17 and will be sailing them closer to home. Despite these challenges, Dawick was able to keep the groups on these cruise lines – but on different ships. Good save there but with a lot of extra work of course!

Ron says he finds, “some pax are putting off decisions to travel until the last minute or are making more of a spur of the moment decision.” But, these same clients are still spending the same kind of money on their trip even though they’re booking closer in. So it’s not about the cost – it’s obviously more about “should we go?” In short, Ron feels that business is relatively buoyant although the CAD continues to be a negative aspect.

Paul Dorgan of Big Five – and a familiar face to pretty much everyone in Canada - also agrees that Africa is back big time. Zimbabwe is an up and comer and Tanzania, South Africa and Botswana are all looking good. 50% of Big Five’s Top 10 destinations are now in Africa in fact and Chile, Peru and Argentina are also very strong.

Long time travel agency owners Ronny and Mary Tereshyn of 510 Travel are always in the mix and have such a great and positive attitude about their business. They won the Ensemble award for largest sales increase year over year which is certainly noteworthy, and I congratulate them.

A company near and dear to my heart is Avalon Waterways along with their wonderful MD Patrick Clark. Naturally we caught up and Patrick told me that “the recent TV campaign in the U.S. has had bookings surging”. Avalon also just won Cruise Critic’s award for best staterooms and suites on the rivers. I agree with that – love the beds that face the long, high windows providing such great views.

The Rhine is doing very well for 2017 on all 3 of Avalon’s ships and Patrick projects that they will be over 70% sold  by December (just where they need to be).  The Mekong is also booming – with load factors in the 90’s. Good stuff there and again interesting to see which markets are surging and which are not – with France being an issue across the board.  

From SAN I flew on to MSY where I spent time with French America Line and was able to do a quick site inspection of their brand new (refurbished) and charming riverboat ship the Louisiane. More on that brand and ship in the next column – but this is a winner and ideal for a variety of group types – including both charter and large group opportunities. 

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