Experts say luxury travel will bounce back the fastest

LATTE questions four leading travel advisors on their C19 travel business prospects

A sample audience of some of Australia’s most prominent travel advisors are steadfast that the luxury travel market will be the first to recover from the coronavirus crisis.

This week, LATTE reached out to a select group of advisors seeking their feedback on their client’s future travel sentiment as restrictions on intrastate travel around the country begins to be uncoupled, ahead of the expected easing of interstate movements in the coming weeks.

Our respondents included Penny Spencer, Managing Director of Spencer Travel; Anthony Goldman, Joint Managing Director of Goldman Group; Nick Page, Managing Director of Oasis Travel, Carole Smethurst, Managing Director of Bicton Travel and Deb Long, Owner/Manager of Weston Cruise & Travel.

Domestic opportunities in 2020

Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Questioned as to what destinations they are observing interest from clients in the second half of 2020, domestic markets unsurprisingly (given the inability to travel abroad presently) were the focal point.

“Northern Territory, Mornington Peninsula, Noosa, Byron Bay, Western Australia, Broome – we also have a lot of interest in The Ghan and the Indian Pacific,” Penny Spencer said. Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Darwin were proving to be hot for Spencer Travel.

Sunshine Coast’s Nick Page said domestic travel would be first on his clients’ radars. “Being in a familiar environment, being able to speak the language and having first-class medical facilities on hand are going to be important to most people as we start to travel again,” he said.

Destinations where Oasis Travel – a member of the Traveller Made luxury community – can create unique product in outback regions such as the Kimberley, Arnhem Land and Kakadu were likely to be favoured by Page’s customers.

Perth-based Carole Smethurst said there was little interest in “any travel” in 2020, but was hopeful that the unbuckling of Australian interstate travel may change that perception.

“Sadly I think most travellers have been unlikely to use an agent for domestic travel. It will be interesting to see if they start to after major frustrations trying to contact airlines for cancellations and refunds,” Smethurst said.

Deb Long said the Kimberley coastline, rail holidays and South Australia’s wine region and Kangaroo Island (once it regenerates from the bushfires) and the Queensland islands were hot, and there’s already interest in Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island.

“We will be suggesting short trip, such as Uluru, Great Ocean Road, Blue Mountains, Garden Tours in the Highlands and Sydney harbour cruising,” Long said.

Goldman Group was beginning to see growth in client enquires for domestic, as well as trans-Tasman travel in anticipation of the mooted “bubble”.

“The remainder of 2020 will be all about Australia, New Zealand and with some travel luck, Fiji and some South Pacific Islands,” Goldman told LATTE, suggesting Tasmania and Western Australia would be popular.

“There is so much to explore in Australia to begin with. Destinations our clients have never considered are now on the agenda and we are busy collating information and offers for this market. We are lucky Australia is such a beautiful vast country to explore with so many different experiences,” he said.

“There are so many clients that would have missed their annual Europe experiences this year – that wine and food experiences will be popular. A taste of France and Italy in Australia!”

Limited interest in 2021

Cape Kidnappers, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

The luxury travel specialists said bookings for 2021 are only now starting to trickle in.

Page said that most activity for 2021 is geared towards rebooking clients’ cancelled trips rather than new business at this stage, with Patagonia Oasis Travel’s most popular region.

The sentiment was echoed by Goldman who said there had not been a lot of forward travel bookings into 2021.

“Of course as the travel bubble widens, we will see this increase over time. Slow and steady is the key here. Delivering the right information at the right time is important. Europe has been at the centre of our travel destinations – and this has to return sometime in 2021. Also, a family trip to Phuket will return no doubt,” Goldman remarked.

Spencer told LATTE: “Everyone is asking about Europe but also cautious. New Zealand is now being asked about, as has the Northern Territory.”

Long says European river cruising, Africa, Kimberley cruising, Scandinavia and Vietnam are on clients’ radar.

Smethurst says Europe has always been strong from the west coast and is expecting that to continue in 2021. She added that Bicton Travel has recently taken some new bookings for next year in the luxury cruise market, including a Seabourn voyage for late March between Auckland and Sydney.

Small ship cruising to surge

Seven Seas Explorer
Seven Seas Explorer

Speaking of cruising, the advisors were adamant that luxury small ship cruising would increase in favouritism among travellers going forward.

“My personal feeling is that the luxury market, including cruise, will bounce back strongly. The clients in that demographic are definitely getting itchy feet,” Smethurst said.

Weston Cruise & Travel’s clients are seeking European river cruising, small-ship cruising in the Mediterranean and Scandinavia and expeditions to Antarctica.

Scenic Eclipse is still flavour of the month,” Long said.

Goldman forecast river and expedition small ships would rebound the fastest, adding that luxury cruise ships with 500 passengers and under will see good forward booking interest soon.

Referrals aplenty

Sydney-based Spencer and Goldman both told LATTE the enquiries they have received during the COVID-19 travel crisis were from existing clients, as well as a number of new referrals.

“We’ve received a lot of referrals from people that want to use a travel agent moving forward post-COVID,” Spencer remarked.

Goldman added: “Travel advisory will be king as we move to a post-COVID travel environment. Good advice from a professional is critical. Our existing clients are in contact with us, sharing their plans – and we are seeing some initial referrals.”

Engagement

Social media has been the key tool to remain engaged with the travel agency’s clientele. Facebook and Instagram posts, EDMs and emails, as well as traditional phone calls, were named as the primary activities used.

Page said Oasis Travel is working on a series of EDMs to be ready for when the markets “realistically start to open again”.

Long said her team are calling clients for a chat and following up with an email; “keeping things personal”.

Views on luxury travel moving forward

“Luxury travel will rebound the fastest. No doubt about it. Our clients know how to travel – and are experienced and knowledgeable [about] the risks and advantages of travelling to different parts of the world. They will continue to make informed choices – and we will support our clients and work with them to book their future travels,” Anthony Goldman.

I think people are going to be desperate to travel and if they have the money they will continue to do it in luxury,” said Penny Spencer.

I think it will come back strongly, when it comes back, just differently. The whole concept of “luxury travel” is ever-evolving, it is not just about five-star hotels, gold-plated taps and luxury vehicle transfers. Travellers will be looking differently at travel options and working out what is “their own idea of luxury”. I think the more niche, individual FIT travel style will appeal much more than a group tour (even a very high-end luxury group tour),” Nick Page.

“I believe luxury small ship cruising and also small group tours are going to be in demand for the years to come. I also think rail will take off, and of course many of the lodges and boutique hotels (both luxury and unique) offering experiences – whether it be pampering, local culture or health & wellbeing.” Deb Long

Lead image: InterContinental Hayman Island Resort – Beachouse

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