By Caroline Brown, commercial director at Shearings Holidays

There’s no doubt that many travel agents and tour operators are facing a tough market, but in the face of that, market sales of escorted tours seem to be remaining buoyant.

We believe there are many reasons for this, including value for money and stress-free travel – which is particularly evident in the popularity of all-inclusive tours.

As a specialist provider of travel for the over-50s we see great opportunity for agents to capitalise on the baby-boom generation as retirement brings more free time and money.

The tastes of this demographic are increasingly adventurous and we have seen increased demand for escorted tours to destinations, such as Vietnam, Jordan, China, Morocco and Cambodia.

As well as growth in the popularity of more exotic tours, we have seen a 73% year-on-year increase in bookings for Shearings’ premium Grand Tourer escorted tours, showing that despite the economic downturn, luxury tours are a popular option.

All of these trends are good news for agents, who should seize opportunities to sell higher-value products, and therefore increase their earning potential.

Another trend we are seeing is for themed tours, often focused on a particular event that can then be integrated into a longer holiday.

We have had particular success this year with trips to Floriade, Holland’s horticultural expo, which is held once every 10 years.

We are offering a range of short breaks and river cruises, and demand has been so strong that we’ve had to add three coaches per week to the programme.

We’ve already sold 93% of our capacity for our four-day weekends and recently added a seven-day Floriade & Valkeburg itinerary.

Agents should use these events to fire the imagination of customers and encourage them to book.

Other popular themed options in current programmes include the Verona Opera Spectacular, which takes in the Verona Opera Festival.

This is an example of a great escorted tour formula, as it combines a unique event with city sightseeing and relaxing in the Italian countryside.

Closer to home, another event that always proves popular is the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, a Scottish event featuring performers from around the world.

In a difficult market, it can be easy to get caught up in sales in the here and now, but you need to future-proof business.

Take a step back and think long term. Talk to your preferred touring suppliers, and anticipate popular events taking place later this year and next, to promote to customers and encourage repeat bookings.