It seems to be a good use of this column once a year to summarize what I learned from the buyer breakout sessions at our annual Select Traveler Conference. At these sessions, I ask group travel planners various questions about their current trips.
• On the issue of travel interests in light of international terrorism incidents, the responses were mixed. Some attendees said their more affluent, more highly educated customers were planning to go ahead with travel plans in Europe and elsewhere. Others said their clients were less likely to go this year and were doing trips closer to home. Some attendees said their institutions’ senior managers have curtailed overseas travel temporarily.
• The response to our question about the 100th anniversary of the national parks was universally enthusiastic. All the Western national parks were mentioned numerous times as destinations this year, as were, in a few cases, the Great Smoky Mountains, Big Bend and the Pearl Harbor Memorial. Some are going during peak season; others prefer to avoid the crowds.
• Most of these groups have taken river cruises and plan to do more. Many have done European rivers such as the Danube and the Rhine, both in high season and during the Christmas markets season. There were also several mentions for America’s Mississippi and Columbia rivers. Some have taken their groups on more exotic rivers, including the Nile, the Yangtze and the Mekong.
• A few marketing trends presented themselves: Heightened culinary interests across the world have led some groups to use native foods and drinks from a destination during preview events, as opposed to coffee and cookies. Many referenced seeing younger travelers, from their 40s to their 60s, coming aboard. One respondent said that while customers are waiting later to book, they are selling more trips.
• As for the changing nature of groups, planners indicated that some meals once included are now options but that younger travelers like that. In a reference to smaller, more intimate groups, one planner said the ideal group size today is 15 to 25 for domestic trips and 10 to 16 for international travel.