Summer vacations today are no longer about sun, sand, and beaches. Nowadays, taking a long break during April and May means a lot more than fleeing the mundane. The present-day vacationer is looking for an immersive experience that would give him or her a new lease of life. However, this does not imply that they have completely ripped up ‘fun’ bits from the package.
“Nowadays when we think of summer vacations, it’s not just about visiting a hill station or traveling to a coastal belt. It has become more of a summer filled with adventure, fun and more of a family affair. People want to explore new destinations and break the monotony of visiting the same destination for every holiday season. Travelers expect destinations to be multi-faceted rather than being famous for one attraction alone. Planning well in advance is the priority for a stress-free vacation,” says Narendra Prabhu, GM at Signature Club Resort.
What travelers today are looking for is a connection — a strong bond with the surroundings, interaction with the locals, and savoring the rustic culinary flavors of the destination. This means they are less likely to seek a recommendation from a travel agent for food, attractions, and other activities. Moreover, with the surge in online booking sites, travelers are well aware and informed of the destinations and attractions, owing to which dependencies on travel agents have significantly fallen. No thanks to hostels and homestays, hotels are also losing their clout.
In such a scenario, how does a travel agent or a hotel sell their services to the customer? Smart travel traders go by the adage: “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Many have realized that selling a holiday package today demands that they stay ahead of the customers. This requires travel agents to be travelers themselves. The process involves understanding the nitty-gritty of the destination, undergoing the hardships that a traveler may face during the course of the journey, and discovering the unknown and the unexplored of that particular destination, including the lifestyle of the locals and the traditional culinary delights that the locale has to offer.
By now, every smart holiday curator has realized that it’s not just about the destination, it’s more about the experience. “Indian holidayers are looking for experiential and activity-oriented holidays. It’s becoming real fun and challenge to create itineraries which entice the traveler of the 21st century. With more disposable income in hand, they are open to luxury travel and spending more number of nights,” says Richa Bajaj, Assistant Manager, Panache World, Bangalore.
Besides the clichéd summer vacation packages, travelers are now looking at themed tours. For instance, the Game of Thrones location tour in Croatia and Ireland is gathering momentum. Harry Potter tour has always been a hit in Great Britan, while New Zealand flaunts the exclusive Lord of the Rings tour.
While France and Germany have always been popular destinations during the summers, travelers are also beginning to look at the lesser explored Spain and Italy. Cruising through these destinations are in vogue.
Thanks to short haul direct flights and ease of visa, Asian countries like Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia have stolen the top spots for summer. “For mid-upper to the upper-class household, summer vacation trips have become a dual purpose trip that enhances their experience as a couple and family and also serves as the solid bonding time, which otherwise is curtailed in the urban work/study demands. As a regional sales office in India for the Far East Hospitality group, we see an upsurge in Indian guests at most of our hotels in Singapore and Asia Pacific region. This year, our special focus is the newly opened 4-star Village Hotel at Sentosa and upcoming 5-star The Outpost Hotel and 5-star Luxury The Barracks hotel, also in Sentosa Island. Indian tourists love to enjoy the attractions at Sentosa Island but have been missing some of it because of expensive hotels inside Sentosa Island,” says Manas Sinha, Director, ISA Tourism Pvt Ltd.
Be it short haul or long haul, the challenges of selling packages and hotels are aplenty. “The main skills that an agency or a hotel company must possess are excellent relationships with their clients, value-for-money products to offer in the market and thorough knowledge of the products they are selling. That would ensure that they not only sell their product offering in the most professional manner but are also able to handle post-sale issues if at all any of them do transpire, ” says Mamta Pall, Group Director, Outbound Marketing Pvt Ltd.
Travel trade is a competitive space. With too many hotels and travel agencies doling out similar packages, how can companies gain a competitive advantage? “The ability to inspire and influence is the key,” explains Maninder Singh, Head – Sales & Marketing of Namastedwaar, which offers wellness tourism.
“The agents should have excellent communication skills and the ability to inspire and influence people. A big part of the job includes meeting many different, interesting people, which requires versatility. This will mean that your job never becomes monotonous. This also means that you will need a measure of tolerance and the ability to deal with the unrealistic expectations of certain clients,” says Singh.
For Tuhina Sen, Manager- Leisure Sales, Vacations Exotica (Balmer Lawrie), gaining a competitive advantage is all about offering the right mix of what the customer needs.
“Nowadays, people are less loyal to companies and are always looking at value-for-money trips. Secondly, people are not just looking for touristy things on tours. They want to connect with the locals to do the local things. Hence not just the price but itinerary and inclusions also matter. Overall a good product mix is essential for promoting the summer vacation packages. We are focusing on new destinations for summer vacations, which are not yet very popular yet exotic. Right collaborations for effective pricing and, of course, referrals work for us,” says Sen.
A summer destination should have an attraction that connects the traveler well with summer, like a water theme park or a beach. “It’s almost impossible for every hotel or a resort to have such facilities or attraction that is connected with summer. If in case one plans to promote summer attractions, cost implications are very high and in most cases, it’s financially not feasible. Customer segmentation becomes a herculean task because we are looking at a high volume of customers with varied spending capacities and developing packages that will suit every segment is an impossible task,” says Prabhu.
Signature Club Resort is trying to collaborate with vendors who can provide new and innovative water games and activities that can be organized in their swimming pool. The resort is drafting packages that will attract kids of age group 10 – 14 yrs., because they influence the decision of finalizing a destination. The resort is also designing retail packages for weekdays, which will suit all segments of customers.
When offering summer vacation packages, it’s important to understand consumer behavior and what triggers them to go on a holiday. Today, people have begun to celebrate special occasions at exotic locales. Be it a birthday party or kids’ graduation ceremony, parents are open to gifting destinations and experiences. Both travel agents, as well as hotels, are ramping up the digital marketing strategies to reach out to more travelers. But nothing beats a personal touch, says Tarakeshwar Singh, Director, Jet Setters Ltd.
“Promotional cost has become exorbitant. Newspaper ads have gone beyond our reach. Social media is still awaiting the level of confidence and trust and other than the Metro/Urban class. Consumers in tier 2 and tier 3 cities believe in more of personal interaction and recognition,” he says.
Selling summer vacations is no mean feat. Be it a hotel or travel agency, innovation and creativity is the key. Always stay ahead of your customers. Have a thorough knowledge of your customers, and be transparent about the rates.