14 June 2006

America not popular, and they know it

This has been an ongoing theme for a little while now (see Are America's Surly Doormen damaging Tourism? and Florida not as popular as before ) and I notice Jeremy Skidmore has been writing about it again in the Telegraph...

But I was surprised by the open and heartfelt style of this official statement emailed to me today by the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA)...

The following is a statement by Roger Dow, President and CEO, Travel Industry Association of America, on the latest survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project revealing that “America's global image has again slipped and support for the war on terrorism has declined even among close U.S. allies like Japan.”

“Pew’s latest survey sends a stark message: America’s image is in crisis. Our nation is increasingly viewed with distrust. The implications – economic and diplomatic – are considerable.

There are major issues impacting our global standing, such as the ongoing fight against terrorism and conflict in Iraq. But solutions do not need to be limited to these areas. In fact, we need to find a different way to present ourselves to the world – one that goes beyond the headlines of the day.

We embrace Under Secretary of State Karen Hughes’ recent call for enhanced ‘people-to-people’ communications. It is the American people who represent the best of America – our ideals, spirit and way of life.

Unfortunately, the American people are underutilised in the battle of ideas.

Travel and tourism presents a unique opportunity to empower the American people to do what they do best: represent America. The more international travellers that come to the U.S., the more ambassadors we create for our country. Studies consistently show that people from other countries who visit the U.S. leave with a significantly higher opinion of our nation and our people than those who have never been here.

But, like public opinion of the U.S., our share of the expanding global travel market continues to decline – more than 36 percent in the last 15 years.

It is time for policymakers to embrace travel and tourism and recognise its potential to boost our image around the globe. When it comes to improving America’s image, there is no substitute for experiencing our country.”

If you look at the Pew link, you'll see that 'Favourable Opinions of the USA' in Great Britain have dropped from 83% in 2000 to 56% in 2006. No wonder he is alarmed.

Kaliningrad specialist surfaces

Old submarine in Kaliningrad
Hmm. I've got slightly mixed feelings about this one now.

Yesterday I got an email, which rather put me on the spot because it precisely hit the Achilles' heel in my business model.

The main revenue stream for Travel-lists.co.uk is from review fees - if you think your site should be listed, you have to pay us to evaluate it. But the site 'mission' is to be an authoritative directory of all the best companies and organisations in their field, and nothing turns me on more than finding really good little specialist travel companies that I can tell our visitors about. (Especially if they are comparatively unknown. In a way that justifies the site. The search engines are useless in this respect. It is the very reason why I created Travel-Lists in the first place). So Travel-Lists.co.uk is not built from submissions. The vast majority of listings are hunted and found by me.

Despite explaining on the site that we only take site suggestions formally (through the review fee system) I get a continuous trickle of "hi there" emails bypassing the system. Ninety-five percent of them look as if they 'might possibly' be interesting and are dumped in a holding file which I rummage around in from time to time (about once every three months), but every now and then I get one which IS interesting. And that leaves me in a difficult position - torn between the need to earn a living (in which case I should ignore it and stick it in the dump folder. Maybe they'll get the message or get tired of waiting and pay to get reviewed) and the delightful urge to tell all our visitors about this amazing little company we've just discovered.

The email I got yesterday from Sally Chambers of Baltics and Beyond (with some genuine queries about being listed in Travel-Lists) was definitely one of those. There are quite a few UK tour operators who feature the Baltic States, but not many who specialise in activities and discoveries away from the capital cities, and I'm only aware of one other operator that takes travellers to the forgotten Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad.
So there was no contest. The urge to tell readers won hands down and I immediately phoned Sally to find out a bit more.

This morning, when I had finished updating the relevant lists on the site, I opened my emails... and that nice feeling dissipated. Travmedia, a leading travel industry press distribution service, is circulating a press release from Sally about the launch of Baltics and Beyond to all the travel journalists in the UK. Baltics and Beyond has not so much gently 'surfaced' as performed a full, out-of-the-water, Samu-the-killer-whale-style body breach!
Suddenly my sense of exclusivity has been wiped out.

It's not an emotion I'm proud of - and I'm pleased for Sally that her new business will, I'm sure, get lots of publicity. Wait till the weekend newspaper travel sections come out! - but I rather resent other travel media getting 'my' story.

02 June 2006

Florida not as popular as before

Interesting item in Travelmole about the collapse of a travel agency specialising in the USA, and Florida in particular.

"The Florida market has been really tough for a while now" says the owner, and the article continues... 'Many operators, including First Choice, have recently reported a slump in bookings to Florida, as families look for an alternative to theme park holidays.'

I'm sure there has been a slump, but I wasn't aware there has been a mass movement away from theme park holidays. The market may have come slightly 'off the boil' recently with fewer new parks and rides opening (actually there have been some terrific rides opening recently in the USA, like Goliath at Six Flags over Georgia, and The Voyage at Holiday World and Splashin' Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana... just not at the well-known parks in Florida), but theme park holidays are generational - families go when their kids are in the age bracket and when they stop the next, younger families start going.

No, I think the reason has a lot to do with the perceived (or real) welcome, hassle and privacy issues involved in travelling these days to the USA. As I've suggested before Brits are getting less enthusiastic about unwelcoming officials, lengthy immigration queues, inquisitorial security checks, the risk of having their baggage forced open for inspection unless they remembered to keep it unlocked, and the requirement for 34 pieces of passenger information including credit card details and phone numbers to be transmitted to American officials prior to arrival.

I'm sure the response of many British families is 'why bother? Let's go somewhere else'.