A street market in Jodhpur, India // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): Paro Taktsang in Bhutan // © 2016 iStock
Asia’s tourism boards agree — now is an especially good time to be traveling to Asia. And many tour operators echo this sentiment, citing steadily increasing demand and higher inbound sales for their Asia product.
We talked to five top tour operators to get their insight into traveling to Asian countries, in addition to tips for travel agents who are looking to expand their bookings to Asia.
What are your top-selling Asian destinations?
Cox & Kings - Renee Van Drent, destination manager for Asia and the Pacific: With its strong infrastructure, efficient and high-tech bullet train transportation and luxury resorts from top to bottom of the island, Japan is one of the hottest destinations in Asia. Tokyo alone has more three-star Michelin restaurants than Paris and New York City combined. The ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) experience throughout the country provides a taste of tranquility in an itinerary, along with the relaxation of the thermal hot springs.
G Adventures - Benjamin Perlo, managing director for the U.S.: Our current top-selling destinations in Asia are Thailand, India, China and Tibet. But some of our fastest-growing trip destinations over the past year have been Mongolia and Iran, whose sales are on par with India, China and Tibet combined. These two countries are fast becoming major players in Asia and contributing significant revenue to our overall sales.
GeoEx - Kristina Tuohey, managing director for Asia: Our roots in Bhutan go deep. We took our first group there in 1985, and more than 20 members of our staff have traveled to the kingdom. As a result, we have strong connections and access, and are constantly updating our information.
We offer a fairly varied program in India and have arranged group and custom trips well beyond the typical northern route, into the south, up north to Ladakh and beyond.
We’ve really seen a great demand for Japan in the last 18 months. I believe Japan’s appeal is that it is viewed as a safe destination, but still “foreign” enough to qualify as an adventure, which can be daunting to manage on one’s own.
Globus Family of Brands - Vanessa Parrish, channel marketing manager: Some of our top-selling tours include Globus’ Treasures of China, offering an 11-day tour from Beijing to Shanghai. This is a popular tour because of the many sites and activities travelers get to experience. Our most popular Asia vacation on Monograms is Best of Japan, from Tokyo to Kyoto, experiencing a perfect blend of ancient cultural sites and cosmopolitan wonders — plus a ride on the bullet train.
Pacific Delight Tours - Charmaine Lau, operations manager: India and Southeast Asia have been strong sellers for 2016, while our tours to Japan have grown significantly. China continues to be one of our primary focuses with river cruises on the Yangtze, as well as tours combining China with Japan driving the most interest.
What are the most-often requested types of travel?
Van Drent of Cox & Kings: We seem to have a little of everything. Active/adventure travel has been popular lately — recently, we handcrafted a journey for a father-son hiking trip on Mount Fuji with a specialized mountain guide. Culinary journeys have also been extremely popular in Southeast Asia, where we will arrange for guests to visit a local market with a chef to buy the necessary ingredients to create delicious regional dishes alongside the chef in his or her kitchen. Multigenerational travel is always more popular during the summer months due to school holidays.
Perlo of G Adventures: Our Classic tours — which combine top must-see-and-do highlights of a destination with local, immersive experiences — have typically been our best-selling trips to Asia. However, our most rapidly-growing trip style to Asia among these is currently our new line of National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures tours. This is likely because, for the first time, travelers can travel with an iconic brand such as National Geographic at a much more accessible price point, while at the same time learning about some of the world’s most fascinating places and contributing to National Geographic Society’s science, exploration and storytelling.
Tuohey of GeoEx: For Asia, it’s primarily cultural touring with an emphasis on insider access and special experiences (festivals, cooking classes, specialty guides, etc.). Also certain destinations — such as Tibet and Bhutan — lend themselves to more active adventures, from daily hiking to extreme trekking, which also makes up a core part of our business.
Parrish of Globus Family of Brands: We see a strong blend of guided sightseeing with our Globus and Cosmos brands, as well as our independent travel on Monograms. Our family of products truly has something for everyone, whether they are looking for a more off-the-beaten-path experience in Myanmar onboard the Avalon Waterways 36-passenger Suite Ship cruising down the Irrawaddy; a fully escorted tour in bustling China; or a more private sightseeing experience in Japan with Monograms.
Lau of Pacific Delight Tours: Our top-selling independent tours strike a perfect balance between covering all of the essential must-see architectural sights with experiential offerings, through which guests can truly immerse themselves within the cultures of their destination. Culinary programs are also extremely popular, especially in destinations such as India that enjoy a global reputation for gastronomy.
How can travel agents better sell travel to Asia?
Van Drent of Cox & Kings: Keeping up to date with the new luxury hotels that are opening throughout Asia helps build a cohesive itinerary and enables that level of guest to take in more remote spots throughout the area.
Perlo of G Adventures: Given the relative affordability of travel in most parts of Asia and the strength of the U.S. dollar, many tours in the region practically sell themselves. However, a few other advantages that travel agents in the Western U.S. should consider promoting to their clients include: the proximity from the U.S. West Coast; the sheer diversity of Asia’s many cultures and landscapes — coupled with its ancient, storied, history — all comingling in relatively compact areas; the relative safety of Central, Eastern and Southeast Asia; the lesser rate of Zika virus; and the food, which is spectacularly interesting and affordable.
Tuohey of GeoEx: There are a few things worth emphasizing about travel to Asia: easy access from the West — more and more routes are opening up; it’s a safe destination; and there is such a variety of experiences — active/adventure, beach and R&R, cultural touring, festivals, cuisine, textiles and art, religious threads, landscape and wildlife. There’s really something for everyone.
Parrish of Globus Family of Brands: Travel agents can better sell Asia by experiencing it for themselves; the best storyteller and sales person is always one who can bring the destination to life through first-hand experience.
In addition, it’s important to make clients aware of the many destination and tour options available in Asia. It’s a vast continent with a wide-variety of cultural experiences. We also recommend gathering testimonials and feedback from those clients who have traveled to Asia and getting them to share their experience at a travel night, on the agents’ social media sites or in a short video. Inspiration is a wonderful way to sell a vacation or destination.
Lau of Pacific Delight Tours: As travel agents, your knowledge of their destination will help ensure their safety and satisfaction. You need to reinforce that point when counseling your clients and make sure they know you will be an asset in their corner should they have any questions or concerns before or during their travels. It’s also a good strategy to focus on a particular niche or geographical region, in order to establish yourself as a specialist who clients can count on to provide insights they wouldn’t easily find on their own.