US outbound strikes back

THE US outbound engine is revving up once again, after having suffered heavy blows in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, with several buyers at the PATA Travel Mart 2012 reporting a surge in bookings to Asia.

“Traffic from the US is bouncing back. Rosier economic prospects, coupled with mounting trade with Asia and air capacity increases of around 30 to 40 per cent between Asia and the US, have played pivotal roles in bolstering the US outbound sector in the last 12 months,” said M Zaki, travel consultant with RZ Travel US. The California-based firm recorded a 100 per cent rise in booking volume from the US to Asia so far this year, compared to 2011.

Russell Oquist, president, MG Tour Company US, said: “Generally, more Americans now have a bucket list of destinations. They’ve seen Europe and South America, so Asia is the next stop naturally.” The California-based company has seen bookings to Asia rise by 20 per cent since the start of the year, relative to 2011.

China and Indochina, particularly Myanmar and Cambodia, were experiencing the strongest uplifts, US buyers pinpointed.
Oquist said: “China has long been a must-see destination for US travellers, but Myanmar and Cambodia have just gotten on the to-do list, and consequently, there’s been a dramatic upswing in bookings there.”

Swe Swe Myint, managing director, Legendary Myanmar Travel and Art, observed: “As the US gradually lifts sanctions to Myanmar, US travellers have started to flow in. Some 70 per cent of our tour bookings are now made by US travellers, compared to 30 per cent last year.”

So far this year, double-digit growth from the US to Indochina has been recorded by Khiri Travel, said Cambodia general manager, Jack Bartholomew. “Cambodia now features in 80 per cent of our tours…We envision the upward trend to Cambodia will continue into 2013, as there’s so much pent-up demand.”

Statistics from the US Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, however, revealed that US traffic to Asia rose by only nine per cent between January and July.

Some observers suggested that this inconsistency could be attributed to the fact that the bulk of growth from the US to Asia derives from the upper-middle to luxury-end of the market, which comprises a small proportion of the US outbound market.

New York-based Wendy Clayton, vice president of sales of Remote Lands, which has seen a 300 per cent hike in bookings in the last two years, said: “The top-end never really took a hit in the 2008-09 crisis and business is now better than ever. In fact, we are now receiving 10 times more enquiries than we did last year and we’ve seen a rise in forward bookings.”

While generally optimistic about the future prospects of the US outbound market to Asia, some buyers had doubts about how long this recovery would last, particularly for the budget to middle-end of the market.

Said Oquist: “The US market is fragile. Most US travellers are timid, and any perceived threat to security, whether from a terrorist attack or a health scare, could deter them from travelling altogether.

“Nonetheless, travel consultants who deal with the higher-end of the market need not fret as much as US travellers in the luxury spectrum tend to be more experienced, and are less likely to cancel trips just because of an unconfirmed threat.”

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