ITTN’s Neil Steedman was initially unimpressed by this year’s Holiday World at the RDS Simmonscourt – but by the end of the trade morning had discovered enough to change his mind.
On driving into Simmonscourt the €7 parking fee for public visitors raised my eyebrows and the veerryy slow registration process (even when I had pre-registered), coupled with no catalogues, did not improve first impressions. My initial quick sweep around all the stands (excluding home holidays, caravans, sweets, etc) also revealed a few empty spaces and nothing in particular caught my eye – except for the large and bright Trailfinders stand that awaited the public rush to begin later at 1.00pm.
Over 80 million tourists visit Spain each year, and more than two million of those are from Ireland. No doubt Spain, which again had the biggest stand this year, will continue to be Irish holidaymakers’ top destination in 2019.
While Andalucia, the Balearic and Canary Islands, and Costa Daurada will be their top regions to visit, Teresa Gancedo was also promoting the north of Spain for a different family holiday this year: “The flights from Dublin to Santander have been extended to all-year-round and the ferry route from Cork to Santander makes this option more accessible to people in Munster.”
According to Teresa: “To travel to Spain is to experience sun, superb food, hospitality and joie de vivre, and yet it is also to discover the country’s rich heritage of monuments and sites.” Note that “superb food” came second in her list, so it was not surprising to find that ‘Spanish Gastronomy Tasting’ was on the lunchtime menu with seafood paella, tapas and Rioja red wine.
There were, of course, numerous other tourist boards exhibiting, but what always surprises me is how few of them use the opportunity presented by the show’s organisers to showcase media releases in the press room.
So full marks to the Polish National Tourist Office, whose releases promoted Polish cities such as Lodz (named as one of the best value destinations to visit in 2019 by Lonely Planet), Kraków (the 2019 European Capital of Gastronomy Culture), and Wroclaw (the former EU Capital of Culture and the ‘Venice of Poland’).
The Slovenian Tourist Board also offered story ideas for 2019, including the launch of Julian Alps: A Trail Through Diversity, a new 280km circular hiking trail that will start at the state border between Slovenia and Italy in Ratece, before continuing past the spring of the Sava Dolinka in Zelenci and beneath the hills of Vitranc to Kranjska Gora.
BFTK, the Budapest Festival and Tourism Centre, was promoting the Budapest Card, which provides visitors with free services and discounts from 10% to 50% on attractions, cultural highlights and sights. Seven cards range in price and duration from €21.99 for 24 hours up to €62.99 for 120 hours – and travel agents / tour operators get a 20% discount or commission from the gross retail price, depending on the arrangement.
With only 11 exhibiting this year (including two who participated on tourist board stands) airlines were more noticeable by their absence than their presence.
Bláithín O’Donnell and Bernadette Goldsmith were highlighting that Air Canada’s daily Dublin-Toronto flights will be operated by an A330-300 from 1st May with Economy Class, Premium Economy, and Signature Class cabins, while the three times weekly Dublin-Montreal service and four times weekly Dublin-Vancouver summer services, operating from 24th May with Air Canada rouge B767s, will become, from mid-June to mid-October, Air Canada Mainline services using A330 aircraft with Economy Class and Premium Economy cabins – the latter with 165° recline seats.
Over on the WestJet stand, Louis Gosselin explained the rationale behind the switch of ex-Dublin flights from St John’s in Newfoundland to Halifax in Nova Scotia: “Halifax is a hub where arrivals can connect to a wide range of flights or rent a car and quickly drive to Canadian and US destinations.” The start of WestJet’s Dreamliner Dublin-Calgary service in March will enable even more onward connections – “including Vancouver and a fast, one-stop service from Dublin to Las Vegas, with through baggage and US Immigration clearance in Calgary.”
At Turkish Airlines Onur Gul and Alper Sean Hackett (and lots of travel media!) were looking forward to the launch of the airline’s three times weekly Dublin-Istanbul-Bali (DPS) service on 17th July 2019 – and going daily from 8th August 2019. Turkish Airlines already serves 306 cities in 124 countries, more than any other airline, having just recently recommenced a service to Sulaymaniyah in Iraq.
The ever-growing strength of the cruise market was demonstrated by the presence of 19 exhibitors, Among these were Silversea Cruises, Princess Cruises – who teamed up with J Barter Travel (Travelnet.ie), and first-time exhibitor Jetline Cruise Ireland.
Amanda Middler was promoting the fact that Silversea’s guests will explore over 900 destinations in 2019, more than any other cruise line. Standout experiences for 2019 include a number of upcoming voyages in the spectacular Kimberley region.
Not surprisingly, the biggest and most prominent cruise stand was that of Royal Caribbean International, which also had the most inventive exhibit at the show – a five-minute virtual reality ride in a ballon over Perfect Day at CocoCay, the cruise line’s new private island in the Bahamas that opens next May. (See separate interview with Ben Bouldin.)
Irish Ferries and Stena Line, but not Brittany Ferries, were exhibiting, with Dermot Merrigan and Marie McCarthy proudly showing off Irish Ferries’ new ship, the W.B. Yeats. “Bookings for Dublin-Cherbourg are going well, despite us coming a little late to market,” said Dermot. Meanwhile Stena Line was on the ‘counter attack’ promoting its Rosslare-Cherbourg service.
The ‘big three’ tour operators of Sunway, Topflight and TUI were all present, as were several others, including American Holidays, Concorde Travel, Hayes & Jarvis, Joe Walsh Tours, The Travel Corporation, Tour America, and Wendy Wu Tours.
John Booty was busy promoting Wendy Wu Tours to China, Japan, India, and Southeast Asia, as well as the recently introduced escorted tours to Central and South America, and is soon to release details of this year’s special offers for travel agents.
Other exhibitors who caught my attention were Balmoral Resort Florida and Himalaya Seekers Treks & Expedition.
Balmoral is a holiday home resort that opened in 2017 near Orlando (15 minutes from Legoland, 25 minutes from Disney World). The 189 holiday homes, each with private pool, were built and are managed by the Feltrim Group, owned by Irishman Garrett Kenny. A new expansion includes a 120-room hotel and private international school – and opening mid-2019 will be a Ronaldo R9 Soccer Academy.
First-time exhibitor Dipesh Babu Subedi, Managing Director of Himalaya Seekers, worked for a large trekking company in Nepal but set up his own operation three years ago “to offer a more personalised service that tailormakes treks and tours”. The company also offers 20 treks from four to 24 days duration, as well as four packaged tours: a honeymoon, heritage and culture, bird watching, and a 12-day Bhutan & Tibet tour.
So by the end of the trade morning I had discovered enough of interest to leave the RDS in my usual (!) happy frame of mind.