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US operators offering low deposits to tempt bookers

Operators are using low deposits to boost forward sales to the US, despite a high level of enquiries.

The trade reported buoyant enquiry levels for the US but admitted there was “nervousness” about booking due to challenges in the market, including negative headlines in the media about job cuts.

Deposits are traditionally reduced in January and February but many operators, including USAirtours, Newmarket Holidays and Funway, are offering £99 per person deposits in the current late sales period. Funway’s July ‘deals’ brochure also has savings of 65% for bookings made this month (page 22).

USAirtours chief executive Guy Novik said: “People are being much more cautious, ringing around and doing a lot more price-checking.

“Job security should be high but negative news about people losing jobs is making people nervous.

“Traditionally, the industry offers reduced deposits in January and February, [but now] we are seeing these deposits being kept low to tempt people to book in a soft market.

“The weak pound doesn’t help; that’s pushed up the price of the ground element.”

USAirtours reported its overall sales to the US to be about 5% down despite its Florida villas business running 7% up.

Gold Medal’s product manager for the Americas and the Caribbean, Ross Sinclair, said the operator was performing well in a challenging market environment. “Our numbers are fairly good considering the market,” he said.

“Gold Medal is holding its own, while some are feeling the pinch in a challenging lates period.”

The operator, which offers deposits of £99 year-round, said year-on-year bookings were up by 4% to Florida and 15% for the Deep South.

UK visitor numbers to the US rose by 4% to 4.7 million in 2018, following a 2% dip in 2017. The US National Travel and Tourism Office forecasts UK arrivals to rise by 2% this year and 4% in 2020, with the five-million figure to be hit in 2021.

Deep South and California outpace other parts of US

The trade has reported mixed fortunes for US destinations, with New England, southern states and California outperforming Florida and eastern seaboard cities.

Tom Waite, Kuoni’s US product manager, said the operator saw US sales rise 10% in 2018, and the south and New England are selling well in 2019, but Florida is flat.

“Self-drive itineraries and multi‑centre holidays are definitely on the increase with customers wanting to explore more,” he added.

Lee Evanson, sales manager at Trafalgar, said the Deep South is a “perennial bucket-list favourite”, and sales for its Tastes and Sounds of the South itinerary had nearly doubled so far this year, compared with the same period in 2018.

Richard Forde, Newmarket Holidays’ head of trade sales, reported strong growth for the southern states, California and New England.

Claire Hazle,  marketing and e-commerce director at Cosmos, said: “Our most popular tours are in the south and in the national parks. Improved gateways into the south have also helped the region’s accessibility.”

‘America’s diversity of holidays makes it a resilient market’

US operators claim the wide range of holidays in the country makes it a resilient market despite some Britons’ concerns about Brexit.

Sarah Lax, purchasing manager at Virgin Holidays and chair of the Visit USA Association, said: “Demand for and interest in the US is still significant. The Great American West attracts affluent UK travellers who are resilient in their holiday plans, no matter what the economic or political climate.”

Richard Forde, Newmarket Holidays’ head of trade sales, noted a “strong bounce-back in sales” since 2018, which was affected by a Trump backlash and Brexit.

However, the operator’s eastern city tours haven’t recovered as well as other destinations and bookings remain on par with 2018.

Claire Hazle, Cosmos marketing and e-commerce director, said North America is its top-selling region, and demand is stronger for 2020.

Destination features from our US-themed issue:

Highlights of Charleston, South Carolina

Wine, wildlife and wilderness in Washington State

History, heritage and music in Atlanta, Georgia

US sporting experiences in Anaheim

Exploring Chicago’s neighbourhoods

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