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Travel Agents

 August 20, 2009
The Latest ALTOUR Index Says...

 In a market still led by European travel, exotic destinations are on the rise for U.S. travelers' itineraries. Europe continues to track at 84%, while exotic destinations rated in the top three for the first time at 36%, in a three-way tie for second with the domestic U.S. and Hawaii. This is according to the latest 2009 ALTOUR Index, a bi-monthly survey conducted by ALTOUR, one of the largest and most respected agencies catering to the high end of the market.

Adventurous travelers head first to South America, which, at 71%, has maintained the top spot among exotic locales since the ALTOUR Index began in June 2008. It is followed by Eastern Europe, which posts its highest ranking yet at 43%, and South Africa at 33%. "Clients are looking for Central and South America rather than Asia and Africa, due to lower air fares and less travel time, and dollar strength against local currencies"" said ALTOUR agent Barbara Lieberman of White Plains, New York.

FIT has replaced sun/sand/surf and all-inclusive resorts as the strongest land travel category, with 22% of agents reporting demand higher than at this time last year. Sun/sand/surf falls from first place to third, with only 4% reporting high demand, while all-inclusive resorts hold on to second place at 16% (down from 26% in May). Escorted tours continue to flat-line, with no agents reporting high demand for the third survey in a row.

"European FITs lead the pack with our clients, who continue to fly and are willing to spend. They are, however, demanding deals for every aspect of their stay," says ALTOUR Founder Alexandre Chemla.

In the cruise market, luxury sales are more resilient than premium and mass market sales this summer, with 26% of agents reporting higher demand than this time last year vs. 17% in May. Mass market cruise sales, on the other hand, are down considerably since the last survey, with only 6% reporting higher demand compared to last year vs. 28% in May.

Explains Lieberman, "The luxury lines have lowered their rates sufficiently and are including ground excursions, making them competitive with the mass market."

Overall, however, cruises are trending lower than at this time last year across all categories.

Advance bookings continue firmly in the 30- to 90-day range, at 65%, accompanied by an uptick in the longest-lead bookings of more than 180 days (from just 6% in December 2008 to 15% this July). Some ALTOUR agents are seeing longer-lead bookings in cruises in particular, which they attribute to special promotional offerings in 2010. Shorter lead bookings, on the other hand, continue a downward trend.