Agents in West Report Earlier Bookings

TravelAge West survey suggests last-minute travel trend may be changing

By: M.J. Smith

Travel agents in the West say many clients are booking trips ahead, reversing the last-minute trend that has bedeviled agents and suppliers alike for the last two years.

A TravelAge West survey, conducted by NTM Research, found that 49 percent of all respondents said more customers had made early travel plans during the past month.

“We are experiencing much more confidence with overseas destinations and clients have started to discover that last-minute planning doesn’t work. The desired properties are full or the desired room types at the desired properties are full,” one agent commented.

Another said: “Both leisure and corporate booking windows are a little more in advance than they had been this time last year. Corporate booking is usually less than one month in advance.

“Leisure booking is more like six months in advance in many cases.”

Thirty-nine percent of the respondents said there had been no change in booking windows while 13 percent said windows had been even shorter in the past month.

In contrast, almost 40 percent of respondents said clients during the preceding six months had been booking an average of two weeks to less than four weeks before travel.

Eleven percent said the average window was a week to less than two weeks; 2 percent said the average was less than a week.

The e-mail survey, conducted from Oct. 9 to 13, questioned 18,000 agents who read TravelAge West.

A total of 362 agents replied, for a response rate of slightly more than 2 percent., an agency with offices in the South Bay, Los Angeles and Santa Clarita Valley, said earlier this month that its clients already were booking March vacations.

“It’s a combination response to getting aced out of travel first-choices during the summer, the lack of availability of resort destinations for winter break, and an optimistic view of the future that has people making travel plans in advance,” Eric Maryanov, All-Travel’s president and founder, said in a statement.

Maryanov said that airline reservations, especially for travelers who wanted to use their frequent flier miles, were proving to be a challenge.

“They may find great hotel deals and availability, but become stuck trying to fly to a destination,” he said.

Even The Wall Street Journal took note of the trend recently, reporting that last-minute decision makers may be surprised to find that many high-end Caribbean and Hawaii resorts are already filled for the coming holiday season.

Agents responding to the TravelAge West survey were invited to add their own comments. Some of those messages were:

Supplier ‘Training’

"With the way suppliers are discounting at the last minute, it has trained the customer base to wait until the last minute. Many people now, with the Internet, just figure if they can’t find the deal, they just will wait until another time when they can find it."

"As long as cruise lines, hoteliers and tour operators are willing to discount last-minute bookings well below the rates paid by people who plan and pay well ahead of departure, people will continue to wait for the last-minute specials. This is especially true when the rules of those specials do not apply equally to the people who have paid early. At least, the cruise lines should offer the difference in shipboard credit to the person who books and pays well in advance of the departure date."

Client Indecision

"Customers, in sales, are still booking less than a week ahead and making a lot of changes ... causing quite an increase to the original airline fare."

"It seems more than ever, my passengers need explanations of what booking, reservations and ticketing means. Just because the reservation is made, they think they have a ticket."

"Weekend get-a-ways are much more last minute than any other package. No one is planning too far ahead on air only."

"We seem to be dealing with the two extremes. Either the client wants to go right away or they are planning over one year in advance. The old four to six-month window seems to be a thing of the past."

Positive Signs

"I have booked two family groups for summer 2004 to Alaska and an incentive cruise group for April 2004, so feel like people are beginning to plan ahead more than in last two years."

"Barring any more wars or outbreaks of diseases such as SARS, etcetera, I think the booking window will at some point over the next 12 months increase closer to what it was prior to Sept. 11."

"The addition of more 'any reason' insurance policies have added to the advance-booking window time."