Long-haul sales remain buoyant in the face of Brexit, Kuoni’s annual industry report has found. Gary Noakes reports.
This year will be “a year like no other for the travel industry”, with booking patterns affected by Brexit but with long-haul sales getting a boost, Kuoni has predicted.
In its annual Worldwide Travel Report, Kuoni said Britain’s exit from the EU will mean bookings spread more evenly throughout 2019 while consumers take time to understand the situation, but that long-haul will be the beneficiary.
The report says demand for Kuoni’s core destinations “remains solid”, with sales to countries including Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and the US up 4%. The operator adds this is because consumers are looking beyond Europe for this year’s travel plans.
Derek Jones, chief executive of Kuoni parent company Der Touristik UK, said: “With a news agenda dominated by the on-going EU debate, many people are looking further afield than they may usually do.”
Kuoni’s traditional bestseller, the Maldives, remains its most popular destination, with Sri Lanka, Thailand, Mauritius and the US following, as in 2018.
The Maldives retains the number one spot for the 16th consecutive year, growing UK visitor numbers by 10% last year. The archipelago will see 20 new properties open in the next two years as well as a new runway in 2019.
Kuoni’s Sri Lanka bookings are 26% ahead of last year, spurred by multi-centre itineraries.
The only mover in the top 10 is India, which climbs two places to eighth. Group tours and tailor-made itineraries are driving demand, with a high number of repeat guests exploring areas including the River Ganges and Varanasi, as well as the lesser known national parks such as Bandhavgarh and Kanha.
Italy is the only European destination to make the top 10, in seventh position, with bookings driven by honeymoons, destination weddings and luxury stays, chiefly on the Amalfi Coast, Lake Garda and Sardinia. The country is among Kuoni’s top three wedding destinations for the first time.
Further down the table, Japan has risen three places to 24, likely spurred by the Rugby World Cup and next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Kuoni’s Japan sales are up 74% and are “set to remain strong” with the launch of the new British Airways Osaka service on March 31. Japan enters the top 25 for the first time, while Spain drops out.
In Africa, renewed confidence about the security of Nile cruises means Egypt has risen seven places to 26; while Kenya rises seven places to 11th with more family and honeymoon bookings for 2019. Kuoni also highlights Ajman in the UAE as a winter sun destination to watch, being cheaper than Dubai.
Kuoni has added Istanbul and Cappadocia for 2019, mirroring other operators in boosting Turkey. Also trending is Western Australia, with Kuoni’s sales up 18%, spurred by Qantas’s non-stop Heathrow-Perth flight, which the operator described as “almost a badge of honour”.
The pillar of Kuoni’s business – 82% – remains couples, but other client types are increasing. The operator said its youngest client in 2018 was three months old and its oldest couple had a combined age of 187.
Kuoni is planning a new programme for single travellers in 2019, while its team of LGBT travel experts have prompted a 34% increase in same sex honeymoon bookings.
The reasons for booking holidays are changing drastically, Kuoni’s research further finds, with 70% acknowledging their motivation had changed.
Nearly half of respondents say the variety of activities, workshops and retreats on offer had prompted their choice of holiday.
Almost three-quarters had been on at least one holiday as an adult where they had had the opportunity to learn something new.
Similarly, 60% of adults said they had learnt something on holiday as a child, with more than half believing this had improved their life as an adult.
One key reason for learning new skills when abroad is that shy and retiring Brits feel less inhibited, with 38% saying they “did not feel embarrassed to try something new” on holiday.
Top of Kuoni’s list of holiday learning experiences is conservation, including coral reef planting and turtle rescue. Photography was in second place, with Kuoni offering tours of Russia and Japan in 2019 following sell-out trips in previous years. Cookery was Kuoni’s third most popular activity, with diving and snorkelling in fourth place. Mindfulness was also on the agenda, in sixth place.
The survey revealed 39% of people chose destinations that provided a learning opportunity and a further 29% said they would definitely choose this on future trips.
A key market segment here is the older generation, with only 29% saying they would feel inhibited when it came to learning something new, compared to 44% of 18-24 year-olds.
Wendy Kenneally, Kuoni commercial director, said: “We’re seeing a thirst for exciting new workshops, classes and excursions not just from the family market but for adults of all ages, from twenty-somethings to those in their seventies who want to pursue their interests, take time out and try something different in new surroundings.”