Hot Off The Press
The introduction of a new ship, in this case ms Koningsdam, provides a reason to re-look at the whole fleet, according to Mark Kammerer, vice president international marketing and sales with Holland America Line.
ms Koningsdam will have its inaugural cruise in April next year and the ship includes a number of new features, many of which will be rolled out across all vessels in the fleet ‘where it is structurally possible’ over the next three years.
Seattle based Kammerer and Sidney based director of sales Tony Archbold were in Auckland over the weekend to coincide with the first visit of HAL’s ms Noordam, which has sailed down from its Alaska duties and is embarking now on an Australasian summer season.
Nearly 50 travel agents took the opportunity to view the vessel on Sunday, and enjoy a lunch on board, before ms Noordam set off down the coast. Members of the team from New Zealand representative Francis Travel Marketing were on hand to show the agents around.
Agents heard that along with a US$300 refurbishment ($40m will be spent on the fleet’s suites alone) Holland America Line is rebranding with the tag line Savor the Journey and is also adding more indepth content to assist agents in selling the product.
‘We have a new partnership with the media company AFAR,’ says Archbold, ‘which has local writers based around the world producing content.’
He says the coverage will span 400 ports and include 8000 recommendations for restaurants, walks, museums, events and more.
‘Agents will also be able to personalise their clients’ experience by using the Holland America Line website.’
With online travel now a US$1 trillion industry, there’s enough room for online travel agencies (OTAs) and hotels to work together to achieve maximum occupancy, says Tracey Foxall, area manager hotels New Zealand, Booking.com.
‘If you’re looking for maximum occupancy then there’s no doubt that direct bookings are crucial. But, are you always going to get 100% of your guests directly? No way. There’s no way that you can efficiently market to a global audience to fill your properties – so, OTAs have a space to fill in the market.
‘Are they there to replace your direct booking? Absolutely not. Can they be part of an overall strategy to achieve maximum occupancy? I think so.’
Speaking at last week’s Maximum Occupancy conference in Auckland, Foxall points out that 20% of all direct bookings come following a visit to an OTA website, and 52% of travellers will visit brand’s website after seeing a listing on an OTA.
‘It’s not a case of either or… it’s about customer reach – people want 24/7 customer service, and ease of access.
‘Where a lot of hotels go wrong is that their websites are not optimised to sell rooms. They need to look at who they’re designing their sites for – not just customers but Google search bots.
‘Web content needs to be relevant and unique to increase Google rankings… but I also see problems with many sites using too much text and overcomplicating things.’
Adrian Caruso, managing director Fastrack Group, says a poor website is the most common way for hotels to lose bookings to OTAs.
‘For hotels it’s all a matter of the website – it needs to be thought of as the main portal and brain of the business.
‘Hotel websites often don’t convert bookings for a number of reasons. Most commonly through lack of mobile responsiveness and visual appeal.
‘Also, ease of access, booking and payment are crucial for the customers.’
Caruso says it’s ‘quite easy’ for hotels to regain business from OTAs.
‘All it requires is a fully responsive website, which will lead to a higher conversion rate. A bit of spend for search engine optimisation, ad campaigns and social media campaigns also go a long way.’
Following a successful first outing in New Zealand, organiser of the Maximum Occupancy accommodation conference, Adrian Caruso, Fastrack Group, says the event will definitely be back in Auckland next year.
‘Maximum Occupancy happens every year in Australia, and there has been a growing demand to bring it across the ditch – there is a real need for a conference which addresses important issues and trends in the hotel industry.
‘Our agenda really looked at some of these issues and trends indepth, which people wanted and needed to hear and the response was great.
‘We will definitely be back next year,’ he says.
A variety of speakers took to the stage at Crowne Plaza Auckland on Wednesday, updating the 156 attendees on issues such as technology, branding, staffing, automation, data, OTAs and guest experiences among other topics.
‘We had the right type of people attending, from key players in the industry to smaller operators… I think it gave a wake up call to everyone in attendance that hotels don’t just sell boxes, it’s a lot more than that.
‘I’m confident that what’s been addressed here will have a flow on effect throughout the industry – that’s what it’s all about.’
YOURTravel has opened its new travel shop at 16 Maclean St Paraparaumu Beach, having been web based since 2007. The company is now looking at options for the expansion of YOURTravel shops in the lower North Island.
YOURTravel’s Lee Amor says there seems to a trend back to ‘bricks and mortar’ based travel agents.
‘Within the Kapiti area there is a large percentage of age 50 plus residents who prefer to do their bookings on a ‘face to face’ basis,’ says Amor. ‘It appears that with the huge volume of travel/hotel information now available on the internet more and more people are getting unsure as to what and where to book.’
Amor says that having an experienced travel agent that is able to guide them in the right direction through the mine field of information and suggest alternative travel options that the client may not have thought of, seems to be driving a growing number of people in the Kapiti region back to shop based travel agents.
Since the doors opened recently, YOURTravel has recorded an exceedingly large amount of enquires and firm bookings. The company specialises in guided tours and cruises world wide.
YOURTravel golf tours to Thailand and Vietnam are proving especially popular with golfers keen to experience some of the best courses in the world in these destinations.
Amor says that during a recent golf famil organised by Tourism Authority of Thailand he had the opportunity to play on six different courses in Hua Hin, Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya. ‘These were without question simply stunning, immaculately presented courses.
‘Among Thailand golf’s secret weapons are the amazing caddies who coax, guide and instruct you just what to do in order to achieve the best results.’
One of the key issues facing hoteliers is a reputation that the industry in New Zealand is unideal to work in, says Wim Ruepert, area general manager NZ, InterContinental Hotel Group.
‘This impression needs to turn around if we want to sustain a high level of service across the board.
‘We need to make the industry more attractive again. We need to appeal to high school and tertiary students, local communities and harness some of the local talent out there.
‘Part of this is our duty – to create a working culture that produces passionate and engaged employees.’
Sally Attfield, hotel sector manager TIANZ, says people need to see the industry from the outside as sexy and exciting, and agrees that the answer lies in staffing.
Meredith Ryan, hotel development manager Bolton Hotel, adds that now, more than ever, staff need to be trained to be authentic and sincere; ‘the positive environment needs to be created from within’.
Taking part in a panel discussion at Auckland’s Maximum Occupancy accommodation industry conference, the hoteliers also identified a number of other issues currently facing the industry.
With a trend towards automation and ‘manufactured experiences’, the hoteliers agreed that New Zealand’s point of difference is it’s ability to provide authenticity.
‘You start hearing stories about widespread automation going on across the industry, and I think we need to be very careful,’ says Adam Cunningham, managing director Raconteur and national president Hospitality NZ.
‘We have an opportunity to present genuine experiences to a worldwide audience. Automation is always going to happen, but we need to absolutely focus on providing authenticity, not a pre-packaged tourism experience.
‘If we don’t take the time to create a buzz around our points of difference, we will suffer and get lost in the world of automation.’
About half of the international visitors to New Zealand still use inbound tour operators for travel.
Research conducted by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) and the Tourism Export Council New Zealand (TEC) has revealed between 40 and 55% of international leisure visitors use inbound tour operators and distribution channels to book travel to New Zealand. ATEED and TEC surveyed Inbound Tour Operators (ITOs) to help determine the value the sector provides to the Auckland economy. Respondents were asked questions around spend data for Auckland, length of stay in itineraries and lead times for various international markets.
Based on the research findings, the ITO sector is worth an estimated $139 million to Auckland in terms of revenue from international visitors. ATEED manager tourism Jason Hill says despite the increase in the use of digital marketing and online purchasing for travel over the years the research has shown that the ITOs remain a vital link in the travel distribution channels.
Chief executive of TEC Lesley Immink says this kind of research has provided the organisation interesting market intelligence and given a great understanding of the value of inbound operators. ‘It’s quite clear that there’s still a large proportion of the international leisure market who prefer to use ITOs, particularly the more niche and high end international visitors,’ she says.
Other findings were:
- On average 28% of an ITO’s total NZ revenue relates to consumption of Auckland product;
- Estimated 487,000 (or 77%) or ITO customers spend at least one night in Auckland;
- 87% of ITOs promote Auckland as part of their itineraries;
- 72% of ITO business is done direct with wholesale agents;
- 51% were group bookings, 31% FIT – others, up to 6% were education, MICE and cruise
- 40% of group bookings were series tours with 60% ad hoc groups.
A five day canoe safari in Botswana and the chance to ‘walk in Mandela’s footsteps’ are among the new options in Adventure World’s 120 page Africa brochure, arriving with travel agents tomorrow.
The African book is the first of four Adventure World publications agents can expect over the next fortnight –South America and Asia & India will land on their desks next week, and Canada & Alaska a week after that.
General manager of Adventure World NZ, Dave Nicholson, says the brand has listened to feedback from the trade and is now giving agents the tools they need to better sell its extensive product.
‘Our 2016 brochure collection acts as the perfect starting tool to guide clients through seemingly complex destinations. Because we tailor make, people can pretty much do what they want. There is total freedom and flexibility and no restrictions on what people book.’
Nicholson says the Africa programme is a mix of popular itineraries and experiences along with a large selection of new options, detailed on a flyer that agents will receive with the brochure.
‘We have some new itineraries based on the Nat Geo Lodges and we expect those to be popular and we also have a desert experience with Extraordinary Namibia, a Saruni Experience featuring Samburu National Park, and a cycling trip in the Cape and Winelands of South Africa to name a few. Active travellers can also ride in Kruger and Drakensberg.’
Top sellers include Handpicked Kenya and Tanzania, Gorillas through the mist, Chobe National Park (three days, two nights), and Handpicked Oman.
The future of the New Zealand cruise market is more explosive than most people realise, says president and chief executive Azamara Cruises, Larry Pimentel.
Following New Zealand’s biggest ever cruise season in 2015, Piementel says the Kiwi market is primed for major growth to continue over the next three years.
‘New Zealand’s growth and interest is going to be in the character of its organic and natural beauty. But from a shipping perspective, this growth will be embellished by China.
Pimentel says China’s growth in terms of new capacity is ‘like nothing ever seen before’.
‘The growth of the Chinese market is so massive that it will begin to bring more and more ships down to Australia and New Zealand.
‘Ships will be relocating to New Zealand from 2016 through to 2018 as it’s a case of too much, too fast for China.
‘As well as brand new ships, New Zealand will be seeing some of the most advanced large ships they’ve ever seen in the country’s history.’
He also says that this increase in New Zealand’s market will present new opportunities as well as challenges.
‘The main challenges will be infrastructure, namely port facilities and docking locations. The government and community will need to stay ahead of that if they want this piece of tourism business.
‘As for opportunities – so many things happen when you embark a cruise. There are pre and post stays, which include spending on taxis, rental cars, local hotels, restaurants and bars. This is just a small look at the economic benefit of increased cruising.’
The International Air Transport Association’s (IATA’s) desire to set standards and provide a richer experience through intermediary channels has been applauded by a leading GDS.
However, Damian Hickey, vice president Asia Pacific and global sales strategy air commerce with Travelport, says much of what has been talked about by IATA in the past two years has already been addressed by his company.
Hickey says that IATA did not do a good job initially on communicating what NDC was about and did not engage fully with the wider industry.
‘I think there was confusion about what NDC actually was. Now it has been made clear that it is a standard and it is about distributing to travel agents in a richer way, to meet the demands of business today rather than the way business was done in the 1960s.’
He says Travelport as a key intermediary has been working on solutions and has the ‘same philosophy’ as IATA, but works on quicker timelines.
‘We are already down the road – we have a solve for it. Three years ago we asked, how do we give the same experience through the intermediary as consumers can get by going direct?’
Hickey says Travelport came up with solutions such as its Travelport Merchandising Suite.
‘Agents want access to the widest range of product possible but they want it in their normal workflow. They don’t want to have to go to another website, or make a phone call, or send someone an email. They need to be operationally efficient.’
He says the Merchandising Suite fulfils that, letting agents look at rich content and branding.
‘We launched it into the market a year ago and we have about 125 real customers. Full content is there and it’s live.’
He uses the Singapore Airlines’ new premium economy product as an example. ‘Agents can look at the route between Auckland and Singapore, find a premium economy fare and look at images, including the new product. It is all there.’
‘At the end of the day this is about giving the consumer a choice. They can choose to go to their favourite High Street travel agent, or to a website or do it on their mobile. They are entitled to have a consistent experience no matter what they choose.’