It surprised me to read today that Bales Worldwide has become the latest independent tour operator to lose its independent status. Virgin Holidays has bought the famly-run operator and I'd be interested to know how much they paid. Bales was always a competitor on the tailor-made side when i was working at Peltours, and had a good reputation. However, they had cut their staff, understandably, over the last year and were featuring so many destinations - very innovative but difficult to focus or specialise. I was also surprised to note that their ATOL license was under 4000 people as the impression was that they were far larger. This is surely an opportunity for other specialists to approach travel agents who do not like Virgin Holidays and take the Bales business for themselves - let's see if anyone takes up the suggestion.......
I note that Egypt is selling very well, so wonder why there is so much Xmas and New Year stock left. Could it be that people are unnerved by the economic crisis or job uncertaintly? Or is it simple economics? Perhaps people feel they want to be at home with family? Whatever the reason, it sems the ski resorts are reducing their prices, in particular the Alps region, and prices to the Red Sea including my old favourite, Taba Heights, are also dropping rapidly. Perhaps the media has persuaded the public to wait for the bargain - and perhaps people will get what they pay for? Whatever the real reasons are, the snow is currently great for skiing and the sun is shining for tanning - let's all hope the bookings come rolling in.
Commence work on setting up a tour operation to the Middle East for an established tour operator with a somewhat exclsuive clientele. Also take time to catch up with Tina and Robert at independent Aviation Group. Robert, in addition to seat-broking, is also involved in their in-house tour operation Visions of Africa. An excellent product to some really exciting destinations and, of course, the chance to see the Big Five. They are members of AiTO, an organisation of like-minded independent tour operators who try to work in a responsible manner, but whose members often have their own agenda (that's life). The principle of AiTO Specialist Travel Agents supporting AiTO member operators is good, but of course often backfires when the client does not always get the best product (there are many non-AiTO operators with outstanding products who do not discount to the public and support independent agents) available, and many AiTO operators undercut travel agents. Today is my wife's birthday, and thankfully I've remembered. Out for dinner tonight and on my best behaviour.
Today I am informed that travel agents are none too confident about the future. I am hearing that discounting in the cruise market is increasing, and regular clients are being approached and poached by certain cruise lines themselves - the practice of tempting passengers to re-book before they complete their current cruise is not new, but nevertheless is frustrating for agents (even if their commission is honoured, they have lost the personal contact). Egypt and Turkey look set to continue to be winners next year and Mexico, all things being being equal, will recover. The true winning operators and agents will be those that can provide innovation and embrace it. Find something different that the market will embrace - it must be something the public wants rather than you creating and then trying to sell to them - and promote it. the winners will be those who dare to be different. Those who don't will gradually fade away, I fear. Had an excellent Lebanese meal tonight night in London W1 and found that I was the only non-fluent Arabic speaker - it's ironic, we like to encourage the Brits abroad to try the local dishes, yet when abroad visits us.............
Have a meeting scheduled with my solicitor at Freemans Solicitors in Duke Street in London W1 at 10am today. Don't want to be late and arrive at 8.55am. Decide to wander the shops - let's face it, Oxford Street is blessed on that score. Wander Debenhams and John Lewis, as can not aford even to window shop in Selfridges. Run a contract from a potential client by Howard Freeman and learn, quite categorically, to run every contract by him - some real banana skins in there. Visit Travel Bulletin offices afterwards, and see Simon, Rob and Jill - lovely people, all very good at their jobs, though Simon has a few too many gadgets such as a recorder-like instrument that makes a loud train whistle noise - while I am on a call on my mobile! Have lunch with lastminute.com down at Victoria and really enjoy it - have worked with them for a long time and want to stay in touch - a great brand that has developed into a real lifestyle organisation, but at the expense of holidays in my opinion. Return to Oxford Street to buy the wife's birthday present that I could not bring myself to buy earlier, but now fear her wrath more if I don't buy it. Babysitting tonight so will read TTG (Travel Trade Gazette) to Emily for bedtime story (she is 3.5 years old).
Been catching up with friends again - catch up with Sabina Shaida of Mosaic Holidays. a great tour operation run by a woman with drive and passion and absolute conviction to her company. I know that one of my former Peltours colleagues, Yasmina, has joined Mosaic and wonder how she is getting on - she will be fine. Sabina is off to the Travel Counsellors Conference in Manchester this week - I like Travel Counsellors but always found the actual conference was very expensive for suppliers to attend and they never got to be with the Counsellors apart from at the Pow Wow - always seemed like suppliers were kept aside and away. Don't know how it is nowadays but sure I'll hear all about it. I have to say, they have some outstanding professional people woking for them. That reminds me, spoke to Helene Kirkham last night - pre Travel Counsellors, she worked at Travelcare and accompanied me on a Fam Trip to Taba Heights and Cairo - oh, they were the days!
Met with an old friend today who runs an impressive travel operation. Slim, neat and professional - I know, you are thinking it sounds like the author of this blog - but no, it was this travel operation. Looking to expand, there is some mutual business to be conducted here. They also have some very high profile clients - who we see on TV regularly. Must put my proposal to them instead of writing this blog.
At this time of year, tour operators scratch their heads, sales and marketing personnel are called into the MD's office and everyone looks to everyone else. Why are sales so slow? It is early December, everyone is saving for Xmas and New Year, some are lucky enough to be going on holiday over the festive period, Eid has just passed, Chanukah approaches, and the dark nights and freezing mornings are upon us. Surely we should be able to sell some holidays is the question.....well, look at the bargains to be had and you'll see why there is such difficulty to shift capacity. You can currently buy: 5* Egypt £259 half board Red Sea, 5* Turkey £259 all-inclusive, 4* Gambia £299 BB, 4* Canada £389 R/O - need I go on? One day the public may have to pay real prices, but I don't see it happening in the near future, at least not without a number of high profile casualties on the way. as for if the holidays are protected, who cares?
Catching up with the trade press, and often read with dismay the letters that people write. No point whinging about an agent that hasn't paid on time - it has always happened, and always will while ABTA has its Code of Conduct the way it does. If it is not ABTA, and is part of a consortium which runs a Trust fund, that is all well and good, but the chances are that the operator has to offer credit of 2 or 4 weeks. And yes, if an agent takes the money on the operator's behalf, of course the operator has a contract with the client - how strange for someone to accuse operators of not understanding that the agent is acting as the tour operator's agent. It is no different now to 20 years ago - that's why they are called agents, no? I speak to Hisham Mahmoud of Kirker holidays today - he has just returned from Granada (Spain) with his wife for the wek-end - nearest we got to there was Coronation Street on Granada.
The all Blacks are at Twickenham - I am not. However, with the TV on, the kids out of the house, and anything breakable safely stowed, i am settling in for the game. Englan put on a good show, but never really loook like scoring tries - the Kiwis quite the opposite. I have quite an affinitiy to the all Blacks as went travelling around New zealand and Fiji on my honeymoon - arranged meticulously by Neil Basnett of Tana Travel. Rotorua is one of the plces that stood out for me, and i was intrigued by the Maroi culture, the gizas (not Egyptian and not the cor blimey ones either) spouting out from the ground, the smells - a truly unique experience. We enjoyed a Maori experience while there and I was "chief" whatever it was - took me back a little to my repping days - and had to receive the Haka (somewhat less scary than the 17+ stones of Richie McKaw and Co, however). New Zealand is truly a stunning country, the flora, fauna, wildlife, forests, lakes, waterfalls, the people - if it is not on your "to do" list, put it on there.