Last-Minute Web Deals Keep Travel Industry On Toes
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Back here in the U.S., imagine trying to plan a party with very few RSVPs. That's a bit like what the travel industry's been going through. Many travelers are waiting until the last minute then going online to get the best possible deal.
As Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck reports, that's caused last minute bookings to skyrocket.
NINA KECK: It's not surprising that people wait to book their ski vacations. After all, they want to make sure there's snow. Cape Cod resident Walt Kaplan is taking a lunch break at Killington Ski Resort in Vermont. He says that's definitely true with his crowd.
Mr. WALT KAPLAN: A lot of friends of mine that come up and ski for two days or so, theyll wait until the last minute and make sure that there's snow up here. You know, theyll call up here and find out what is or check the Internet, and then they head up.
KECK: Killington's spokesman Tom Horrocks says that's been the norm for a while. But he says what surprised him this year was that even holiday travelers waited.
Mr. TOM HORROCKS (Spokesman, Killington Ski Resort): Traditionally, the Christmas holiday season was that time where people would book preseason. They'd book that vacation back in October. Now we're seeing a lot more short-term bookings, you know, of people booking seven days out. We saw that this year, 25 percent of our bookings were booked seven days prior to arrival for the holidays.
KECK: And it's not just the ski industry holding its breath hoping people will come.
Ms. JEN MEYER(ph) (Basin Harbor Club and Resort): We were very lucky we have this very large ratio of returning guests each year. We knew they were coming and then all of a sudden, you dont know if they're coming.
KECK: That's Jen Meyer of the Basin Harbor Club, a lakeside resort in Vermont. She says most of their guests return year after year and traditionally they book their stay for the next season shortly after leaving. But starting in 2008, many guests waited six to nine months to rebook, which Meyer says forced the resort to completely rethink its business model.
Ms. MEYER: You know, we staff almost a one-to-one ratio in midseason and so that was definitely a challenge for us to relook at that formula. So that when the folks do come, and if they all show up, you might be operating with less but they're not going to see that.
KECK: The travel industry has taken several big hits in the last decade: First, after the 2001 terrorist attacks, and again, after the economic meltdown in 2008. Both times the industry lured travelers back with drastically lower prices. Now, many customers expect those kinds of deals and are willing to wait to get them.
Don Montague heads MMG Worldwide, a marketing firm that specializes in the travel industry. He says the frenzy to offer last-minute deals had been a Catch-22 for many destinations.
Mr. DON MONTAGUE (Chairman/CEO, MMG Worldwide): It's tough. It's tough when youre looking at an empty cruise ship or youre looking at an empty resort not to provide those discounts.
KECK: But now the travel industry is pushing back. Montague says most resorts and cruise lines are recalibrating their pricing so that early bookers do get the best value.
Scott Milne of Milne Travel American Express says if youre flying to your destination booking early may also be smarter.
Mr. SCOTT MILNE (President, Milne Travel American Express): The airlines have taken a lot of seats out of inventory. There's a lot of planes that are grounded. There's a lot of flights that were flying in 2008 that are not flying in 2010.
KECK: Which means you could snap up a last-minute bargain on a cruise or a ski trip only to find there are no cheap plane tickets left to your destination. No matter when you book, travel experts say the best deals still go to the most flexible.
For NPR News, I'm Nina Keck in Chittenden, Vermont.
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