When it comes to leisure travelers’ preferences these days, “better
late than not at all” may be the message a preference that experts
say travel agents need to prepare for now more than ever.
That’s because the most recent findings from a top industry
association indicate that a significant number of intended
travelers are planning to book their trips late this summer.
More than 80 percent of travelers said they will take at least
one leisure trip this summer, but 41 percent of those same
travelers said they haven’t yet made specific plans to do so,
according to the new survey from the Washington-based Travel
Industry Association of America.
“That number is quite high since we’re pretty much in the summer
season right now,” said Andrea Stokes, director of marketing and
international research for the TIA. “We were shocked by this
Both the TIA and industry insiders say myriad factors are
contributing to the trend.
Many Americans who have jobs are working harder to keep them,
and are too time-pressed to plan a trip far in advance, experts
say. And that lack of job security has resulted in many travelers
being reluctant to book longer trips, or big trips six months or
And there are numerous online resources to help travelers find
appealing packages at the last minute. The key phrase, “last minute
travel” in a Yahoo! search gets 91,500 matches.
All signs indicate that travelers’ last-minute planning has now
become incorporated into the travel culture.
“It’s not really about the one, big trip anymore, it’s about the
shorter but more frequent ones,” said Stokes. “Those who are in the
business of travel need to realize that it’s the three- to
four-night package that the consumer wants, and often on very quick
The most recent TIA survey findings confirm those revealed in an
earlier TIA-released poll: No less than 64 percent of leisure
travelers say that they’ve planned at least one last-minute trip
within the past year, and more than one out of four of those
travelers say that they’ve planned all of their past year’s
pleasure trips at the last minute.
This new and growing behavior in traveling is generating a wave
of change in business practices.
“We’ve seen this trend even before Sept. 11, which changed
everything when it came to travelers’ habits,” says Gail
Fitzgerald, vice president of sales and marketing for the Mirage
resort in Las Vegas. “We can blame ourselves for that, of course,
by offering these last-minute deals. But it’s the airlines too.
“These days, generally, we’re seeing 30 to 40 percent of our guests
booking within three weeks of the trip, although that’s subject to
change depending upon, for example, the time of the year.”
Later this year, the Mirage (www.mgmmirage.com) plans to provide
a dedicated Web site for travel agents, on which they can get the
latest on last-minute resort deals.
Of course, many destination resorts are attempting to counter
the trend by offering great deals on longer stays, which are less
subject to last-minute bookings.
The Villas Allure resort on Isla Mujeres, Mexico, has recently
offered seven nights for $299 per person, the best offer that
owner/GM Michael Whitacre felt comfortable with.
“I regularly receive e-mails for arrivals two to three days
out,” he says. “I am offering this rate to hopefully spur some
interest and stretch the booking curve out a bit longer.”
Agent Chris Russo, owner of Travel Junction/Travel Partners in
Denver, says that of the three to five packages that he and his
agents book a day, 60 percent are made with 30 days notice or
That’s up by around 10 percent from a decade ago.
“It is sometimes scary to see what kind of business you have on
the books for the future, but then it all rolls in within 30 days
or less before departure,” he says.
Pleasant Holidays, a Westlake Village, Calif.-based
leisure-travel-package company, said it is seeing a 20 percent
increase in last-minute travel bookings this year over last, and a
40 percent increase compared to five years ago. Pascale Gherardi,
chief operating officer and vice president of Island Destinations,
a Larchmont, N.Y.-based upscale tour operator to the Caribbean,
Mexico and French Polynesia, is seeing a 30 percent increase in
last-minute bookings compared to last year.
“We probably receive one a week,” she says. And she says agents
should be aware that they can land value-added features in a
last-minute package for their clients VIP treatment, room upgrade,
late checkout times.
“The room would not have been sold if it weren’t for the
last-minute booking, so why shouldn’t the client get an extra
something for it?”