ASEAN urged to kick off 2003 with big bang

22 November 2002

Leading tour operators have urged South-east Asia's travel trade to focus their efforts on ensuring a good start to the January/February peak season in the UK and European markets.

Lending his weight to the call of Kuoni UK's Sue Biggs to prepare for a big push with aggressive promotions and attractive prices in the new year, Chris May, managing director, Hayes & Jarvis said the industry must be clever in matching pricing with promotion.

"Price and promotion must work together. When things get bad, that's when I spend money. Start spending your money in January and February - that's the peak booking season, that's when the customer decides where to go."

On price offers, May urged suppliers, particularly in Bali, not to do anything till January and February. "If you go out now with a price message, you add fuel to the fire. Don't try to push water up the hill. No matter what you do, you won't get the business back now. Wait till things settle down and then use price and promotions sensibly."

Chris Lee, who will leave the Tourism Authority of Thailand next month to join Travelmood as commercial director, responsible for Asia, also urged suppliers to prepare for January and February. "Let's get ready for that, just as we did after September 11. Be prepared to go in with a big bang in January."

Lee said TAT's 9-11 strategy worked. "We will be up eight percent in UK arrivals in 2002, the results are there."

Where Lee differs from Biggs is on the issue of straight price cuts. The two locked horns last year after September 11 when Kuoni UK pushed for price cuts from Thailand and Lee directed Thai suppliers to hold steady on prices, a directive most followed.

"Price cuts are wrong. After 911, it wasn't rates that got it going, it was the warm and welcoming Thai hospitality," said Lee.

Lee advised suppliers, "Prepare your direct mail, your advertising campaign, your tactical offers. Plan media fams and agent fams. Prepare your plan. Marketing is about preparation."

Lee however is not against throwing in more value and added incentives, a point that Eppo Steenhuisen of Boabab Reizen in Netherlands agrees with. "I am not a great fan of lowering prices, more a believer in long stay incentives," said the Dutch adventure operator.

Steenhuisen said rock bottom prices attracted hit-and-run operators who "come in and destroy your destination and leave when prices rise".

Citing Egypt, which was used by Biggs as an example of how a destination recovered business post-the Luxor massacre with a campaign called "I wish I could be in Egypt" coupled with price offers, Steenhuisen said, "We had a hard time in Egypt when the prices hit rock bottom and it was almost for free. We are finding it hard to get Egypt on the market again."

Meanwhile, May also urged South-east Asia's travel trade to show the same unity as British tour operators in protecting business to the region.

He said the Bali crisis proved how united tour operators in the UK were. "Within a day of Bali, we were all singing the same tune. No one is looking for competitive advantage in this situation."

The same unity, he said, must be shown by South-east Asia and the region must protect its market share in the UK longhaul market. "Hayes & Jarvis and Kuoni operate worldwide programmes. Business to the Caribbean and Indian Ocean has leapfrogged, they are the big winners. But we have to maintain an even spread of business." said May.

He said it was vital the region protect its market share as business once lost was difficult to recover.

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