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“Europe’s still a favorite. In the U.K., we’ve seen a resurgence. It is one of the destinations that is up for us right now,” said Jennifer Halboth, director of marketing for the Globus Family of Brands.
Recently a lot of media attention has been focused on a weakening U.S. economy, and it might seem that travelers are shying away from a European vacation because of a declining dollar or that Europe is quickly being priced out of the U.S. travel market. But even as the dollar sinks against the pound and Britain is fast becoming one of the most expensive destinations for American travelers, U.S. visitors are simply becoming more savvy on how to spend their money overseas, and they are looking to agents who know where to cut costs.
“We’re doing a lot of work trying to make people realize that Britain isn’t as expensive as it seems,” said Paul Chibeba, media releations executive at Visit Britain. “There’s a perception, because of the pound-dollar situation, that Britain is going to be out of a lot of people’s price range, and it’s really not with money-saving tips.” Tom Armstrong, corporate communications manager at Tauck World Discovery, suggests agents look to escorted tours.
“Agents looking to give their clients the best possible value to Great Britain this year should definitely highlight the cost savings of escorted tours,” he said. “Many tour operators finalized pricing on their European itineraries last summer, when the dollar was much stronger against the pound. Tour operators who have held their prices are basically allowing guests to enjoy Great Britain this year, at last year’s more favorable exchange rate.”
Brian W. Stack, managing director of CIE Tours International, agrees.
“Everything is included on escorted tours hotels, meals, transportation, sightseeing, entertainment and more,” he said. “Once a deposit is paid, clients can be reassured that they won’t have surcharges or added expense when on vacation.”
According to Globus, so far bookings to Britain are up this year, and there are many ways that Americans can visit Britain without breaking the bank. Halboth said that the key is being informed about the most value-added tour packages, knowing where to find the best deals and being able to give clients tips about where to find cheap eateries, low-cost lodging options and free festivals and events without missing out on commission opportunities.
“Our coach touring products actually shine in tough economic times because we essentially offer transportation, accommodation, sightseeing and meals in U.S. dollars,” said Wiseman. “For 2008, we are not surcharging our prices & We have 33 itineraries for Great Britain and each of them represent excellent value per day.”
Agents should advise clients that tour packages offer clients a great bargain since operators are negotiating in bulk, which is definitely the case at Tauck, where Armstrong estimates clients can save up to 40 percent.
“The buying power of tour operators lets us negotiate better rates with hotels and other suppliers,” he said. “We estimate that someone duplicating one of our itineraries on their own would spend up to 40 percent more than they would by traveling with Tauck.”
Fixed spending is another way in which escorted tours provide clients with value. They know how much they are spending each day because they have paid for everything in advance.
“Agents should also remember that, on an all-inclusive tour, their clients will know in advance what they’ll be spending because they won’t have a lot of out-of-pocket expenses to pay for in pounds,” said Armstrong. “And, of course, with almost everything included in the tour price, agents are making commission on meals and a whole host of other trip components that they wouldn’t otherwise, so selling a tour is a win-win for agents and their clients.”
That said, which packages offer the best value to clients determined to travel to Britain?
According to Trafalgar’s Wiseman, while they run specials year-round, their core product is where clients find the most value.
“We operate an entire Costsaver touring program which is specifically designed to appeal to customers on a budget,” said Wiseman. “And when we can offer Great Britain vacations including transportation, accommodation, sightseeing and meals for under $200 per day, the core message in our product is a fantastic incentive for agents.”
Wiseman also noted that commission rates on land, as well as 10 percent on air, combine together to make a great package for agents.
At Tauck, Armstrong recommends their England, Scotland & Wales itinerary 14 days, from $5,440 per person, plus air.
Stack said that any of CIE’s U.K. tours are a good value because, since the dollar is so weak, buying an all-inclusive tour which includes flights, transfers, meals, places of interest and accommodation means savings.
“If you divide the dollar cost by the number of days, you will see that the daily rate is a good value,” added Stack.
Globus’ Halboth believes that, despite a sluggish U.S. economy, Britain has an advantage by being closer than other European gateways and, therefore, more attractive to Americans interested in traveling for shorter lengths of time.
“I think that you can do shorter trips to the U.K. than some other destinations on the continent,” she said. “You can get over there for seven or eight days and do a lot and see a lot, and the flight is not as long.”
She added that Globus also offers a variety of packages that will give travelers, especially first-timers, a good overall experience in the country.
Halboth recommends A Taste of Britain, which starts at $1,029 (land only) for six days and includes a sampling of the English countryside, Edinburgh and the Scottish Lowlands. Clients depart from London, stopping in Cambridge, Belvoir Castle and York. In Scotland, clients visit Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford House, Edinburgh and Gretna Green, then journey through England’s Lake District before taking a walking tour in Chester. At the conclusion of the journey, clients stop at Stratford-upon-Avon. Cosmos, part of the Globus Family of Brands, is another option for clients looking to lower costs in Britain. By providing savings on hotels and also by not adding too many additionals, Cosmos is able to offer great value to travelers. According to Halboth, clients have the benefit of escorted travel but more free time and flexibility. Cosmos uses superior and tourist-class hotel options, another way clients can avoid a pricey experience.
Cosmos’ British Panorama, which also goes to England, Scotland and Wales, gives clients a full day in London, walking tours in Cambridge and York, an overnight in Scotch Corner and more. For Beatles lovers, the tour stops in Liverpool overnight, and clients can also explore Stonehenge. The nine-day journey starts at $1,030, which is only $114 per day.
With Globus and Cosmos, agents can take advantage of the Europe Is Still a Favorite promotion, good through May 31. Clients save $100 per person on any Europe air-inclusive booking across all Globus brands.
Despite the value of escorted travel, clients going it alone can still find great savings in Britain. Keeping in mind that a packaged tour isn’t right for everyone, clients can opt for a self-drive tour to save money on travel costs.
Through Auto Europe, travelers can take advantage of a fly-and-drive package from $439 per person, with a three-day economy car rental.
1Car1 offers a $199 all-inclusive weeklong car rental year-round, including the addition of a second driver.
Monograms, part of the Globus Family of Brands, is another way for FIT clients to get additional assistance in a foreign country, according to Halboth. As an alternative to escorted travel, Monograms provides travelers with key features they will need on a trip to make the most of their time. The centerpiece of a Monograms vacation is flexibility.
“I think that Monograms gives travelers more support in international destinations,” said Halboth.
It also adds value.
“[Clients] don’t want to overspend, but they don’t want to under experience,” she said. “Monograms gives clients flexibility while offering a lot of extra value.” Clients receive breakfast every morning, a half-day of sightseeing in London and access to a local host, who can arrange for day tours, evening entertainment like dinner and a show, as well as other Globus optionals. Prices are comparable to those clients would find if they booked themselves, and they have the value-added benefit of a host, as well as not having to figure all the logistics on their own which can be a huge time saver.
“Value is in the eye of the beholder,” said Halboth.
And with Monograms, although it may cost a bit more, clients can maximize the time they have doing activities they enjoy.
Ways to Save
One of the best ways to save clients money, be it during free time on an escorted journey or for those traveling independently, is to have an arsenal of information on low-cost or free events and activities around Britain. And to find that kind of information, Visit Britain is the place to start.
Be a Brit Different, Visit Britain’s three-year, $4 million consumer promotion campaign complete with it’s own Web site, BeABritDifferent.com is designed to generate interest in both traditional and non-traditional activities in Britain. Agents will find information on various destinations around the country, sample itineraries, deals, travel talk and the “Top 11,” which is a listing of the top 11 things to do in different regions of the country as well as other tidbits on traveling and saving money in Britain. Right now, the home page features the top 11 ways to get more value out of your British vacation, starting with a mention of all of Britain’s free activities like the country’s national museums allowing visitors access to the country’s “priceless wonders” for no cost at all.
www.BeABritDifferent.com is also a resource for the latest package offers and other deals and discounts, as is Visit Britain’s own Web site.
According to Chibeba, apart from the Be a Brit Different Web site, the Visit Britain Web site also lists free activities around the country. Agents can find information on activities in every region of the country from the Ellham Valley Vineyards in South East England to Aunt Sandra’s Candy Factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland. There is also a complete guide to free activities in Cardiff, as well as one on London.
Of course, Chibeba also recommends agents visit www.visitbritain.com/agents which is another useful resource.
With the purchase of the Big Bus Tour, clients have 48 hours to cover all of London, from the river to the walking tour to the bus journey itself. With proper planning, your clients won’t need to spend a dime on transportation to see London’s most famous sites. Tickets can be purchased in advance through the company’s Web site and are commissionable to agents. Another all-inclusive pass option that focuses on the country as a whole is the Great British Heritage Pass, which allows entry to more than 550 castles and attractions in England, Scotland and Wales. Passholders not only have free access to these sites, but the pass gives them permission to jump to the front of the line. Clients can choose from a four-day, seven-day, 15-day or one-month pass starting at $56. Family passes are also available.
Clients can also save with city passes, BritRail passes and Oyster Cards for London transit. Recommending local tea rooms, like the Orangery by Kensington Palace where afternoon tea is less than $25, is also a good idea. With all these ways to save, Britain can still be a good deal for your clients.