We all travel, and rare amongst us are those who do not look forward to the final click of the suitcase and the arrival of the Uber at our door – for we know that adventures lay ahead. How did you book your last vacation? With another click – this time of the mouse? You may be missing out on the advantage of developing an intimate relationship with your travel agent. Alongside our dentist, doctor and tailor the trust we place in the hands of our travel agent remains amongst the most valuable and enriching in life.
We turned to one of Kuwait’s favourite – Jumbo Travel’s Managing Director Marie Anne Benedetti – to have her lift the curtain on the state of the current travel market in Kuwait, to learn this year’s top destinations and what are her travel essentials.
How has Kuwait’s travel sector evolved over recent years?
The evolution of Kuwait’s travel sector has shifted from the traditional holiday activity structure of shopping and dining in the cities into more adventure and experience driven travel for small groups of 8 to 12 people. This is highlighted especially amongst the youth who want to explore new destinations and take numerous short travel breaks.
The trend is also diversifying in terms of travel spend, duration and destinations with more interest in wellbeing, spas and religious tours. A wide range of activities – as well as combining a human touch where clients look for places to go and volunteer and help lesser fortunate areas and villages in various countries – which gives them great satisfaction and a sense of crosscultural exchange.
What has been the impact of the arrival and wide scale adoption of high-profile online booking sites? How does a bricks-and-mortar agency counter this? What’s your added value?
Well, while there is no doubt that the emergence of multiple online travel agents (OTA) constitutes a direct competitive aspect to traditional travel agencies. They will most likely divert a significant amount of the market share. In terms of added value of a bricks and mortar agencies? The personalized human touch: travel agents provide customers with their expertise, advice and guidance. Having an interlocutor who knows you and whom you trust in case of amendment, cancelation and emergency while abroad is a plus. It gives comfort to the traveller who feels safe. Until they face a situation, often, customers are unaware of the difficulties involved in contacting someone when travel services are booked online. Most importantly, bricks and mortar travel agencies are not more expensive than OTA.
Where are 2017’s hot destinations?
For summer: UK, USA – Los Angeles in particular, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Austria, France, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Sarajevo, Spain, Turkey and cruises in the Mediterranean and the Arctic.
For winter: Cape Town in South Africa, Brazil, Thailand, Zanzibar, and Tanzania.
For spring and autumn: Japan and Seoul in South Korea
Have the recent travel restrictions to the United States impacted bookings to that part of the world?
The tourism agency NYC & Company revised its 2017 forecast to predict a drop in inbound international travel to New York City, with 300,000 fewer visitors compared to 2016. It would be the first drop in visitation to New York since the start of the recession in 2008.
It’s difficult to really measure the impact as of now but for summer, most of the flights to the USA are fully booked even on the Gulf carriers. Emirates have, however, reduced the frequency of flights to the USA.
What are travellers looking for in terms of the balance between extra comfort and lower fares?
Between lower fares and extra comfort, I would say the overall trend is towards lower fares for the flights, but customer won’t reduce their hotel and accommodation standard. VIPs and high spenders still prefer luxury, but are price conscious.
Where are you looking for future growth in the travel industry? Where will we be holidaying in 2018?
The luxury segment will grow, OTAs will pop up like mushrooms. South America is the next attractive, trendy destination. Russia will host the FIFA World Cup in 2018, so we can expect big numbers for Russia next year – that is also an unexplored destination from Kuwait.
Marie Anne’s personal recommendations
What are the essentials you’ll never travel without?
– A book
– iPhone to listen to music and take photos
– Travel kit of beauty products
– My perfume
– Small notebook and a pen
– Hand sanitizer
Japan / New York /Myanmar
Where is next on your list to visit?
Korea and Antarctica
Any key travel tips for summer 2017’s vacationers?
Respect the traditions and rules of the country you visit – be generous and flexible. Keep a copy of your important documents (passport, driving license etc)