These three hot destinations—California, Florida and Nevada—offer your clients more than the conventional travel opportunities. According to the experts we spoke to, visitors to these destinations are seeking out unique experiences and veering off the beaten path to the unexpected.
Nature in Nevada
Nevada, best known for its Vegas casinos and canyons, has been having a tourism boom the past couple of years. “The year began strong with a 4.8 percent increase in visitation for the first quarter over the same time period last year,” says Bethany Drysdale, CCO for Nevada Division of Tourism. “The rural counties jumped 25 percent. Most of our focus is on the rural areas of the state, so that shows great impact on what we do to promote tourism to rural areas.” She also notes that the same level of growth is expected for 2017, pointing out that, “Travel trends indicate that people are continuing to book long weekends and close-to-home getaways. [Additionally], we have increased air service to Southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Boise and Chicago.”
Chris Moran, public relations specialist for the Nevada Division of Tourism, adds that visitor volume overall continues to rise, and they’re seeing a continued interest in the state parks, noting that from January to September 2015 about 28 million people visited Nevada’s state and national parks, which is a 12.3 percent increase from the previous year (2016 numbers were not available at press time). “It’s worth noting that travelers are going well-beyond the city limits of Las Vegas to discover more of what Nevada has to offer,” says Globus’ channel marketing manager Vanessa Parrish.
“Many of your clients will be familiar with Las Vegas and Reno, which are amazing destinations, but if they take an extra day to discover what’s beyond city limits, they’ll find beautiful recreation areas, historical sites and charming old towns,” adds Moran. “From the vibrant, glitzy nightlife in Las Vegas to the deep well of history at Hoover Dam and the ‘Loneliest Road in the USA’ to the Nevada side of the crystal blue waters of Lake Tahoe and the red rocks of the Valley of Fire, Nevada offers travelers a plethora of diverse experiences. It is a state with a little something for everyone,” points out Parrish.
“People know that they can visit Nevada and really have any sort of experience they want. That is attractive to travelers domestically and internationally,” says Drysdale. “Our ‘Wild West’ persona is additionally attractive to international visitors. Gambling is legal in 48 U.S. states; it’s no longer the primary reason a majority of travelers come to Nevada. Dining, entertainment, adventure, and sightseeing at the famous landmarks such as Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, and Lake Tahoe, are the primary draw for visitors. Resort casinos are able to offer inexpensive rooms, fantastic dining, shopping, entertainment of all sorts, and easy access to the landmarks, so our casino properties are a draw, but for everything they offer beyond gambling,” she adds.
“While in Las Vegas, there’s so much more to do than walk the Strip, see a show, shop and gamble—all of which are enticing activities on their own,” says Parrish. “Some of our favorite Las Vegas-centric excursions include taking a helicopter flight to Grand Canyon, enjoying rafting in the Black Canyon, visiting Valley of Fire State Park, or taking a spin around the High Roller Ferris wheel. On one of our tours, the 15-day Western Explorer (from $ 4,339 pp), we take travelers to old town Las Vegas to the Mob Museum. On our 9-day Northern California’s Finest tour (from $2,456), we introduce travelers to Virginia City, NV. Here, travelers are invited to step back in time to learn the history of Virginia City and how mining created this town. On this tour through history, travelers will meet historical characters, take a trolley tour—complete with scandalous secrets—see a Victorian Mansion, the Opera House and Red Light District. They also visit the Ponderosa mine. For an outdoorsy getaway, we recommend the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge (also a part of our Northern California’s Finest itinerary). In this unique desert oasis, travelers are introduced to a rare ecosystem that’s home to nearly 30 species of plants and animals that don’t exist anywhere else on earth.”
California reported 263.4 million total person-trips for 2015—at press time, 2016 numbers were unavailable—214.5 million of those being leisure bookings. What this means for you is that there are plenty of booking opportunities to make in 2017. According to Cathy Donahue Parrott, product manager of the West Coast, National Parks and Southwestern United States for Collette, “The state is absolutely exciting, it has a positive vibe and it is not pretentious. You can visit Hollywood and feel 100 percent comfortable in your surroundings, not out of place.” A few travel trends to keep in mind, according to Donahue Parrott, is that, “Guests love to indulge in culinary and try wine. There are a plethora of walking food tours in San Francisco, and Collette offers one at the Ferry Building. We have also seen that people are fascinated with historic trains and California has so many historic journeys in all areas.” She adds that, “There are a lot of local farms that guests love to visit. The smaller wineries can be a real treat because the owner is on site, making for a more authentic experience. Local interaction always makes the experience more special and adds value.”
“Our 8-day Pacific Northwest and California tour (from $2,249 pp) takes our guests through the Redwood Forest and ends with a 2-night stay in San Francisco. It is one of our bestselling west coast tours. The 9-day Treasures of Northern California tour (from $2,629 pp) visits some of the state’s all around best and most premier highlights. This tour is slightly updated every two years to keep up with the trends and is in the process of changing for 2018,” she adds.
But that’s not all there is to discover. “It’s a huge state and every single area has tons of highlights,” she points out. “For instance, guests can choose from the major popular cities like San Francisco, Napa, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles or San Diego. They can go the scenic route and visit Yosemite, Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Park, the Redwoods, Muir Woods and so much more.”
Florida Beyond the Theme Parks
“You name it, Florida’s got it. And in a very favorable climate to boot. From the 1920s on, Florida has had a reputation for really entertaining the tourists who make their way to the deep South,” says John Stachnik, president, Mayflower Tours, Inc. And according to VISIT FLORIDA, for the first two quarters of 2016, Florida has reported 57.376 million visitors, proving it’s still a popular travel destination.
Reports by VISIT FLORIDA indicate that 41 percent of tourists come for the beaches, and, perhaps surprisingly, culinary and dining experiences come in second at 34 percent.
“The big parks will continue to get millions of visitors a year. What many frequent visitors have been finding out is that there is life beyond the Magic Kingdom and other spectacular venues. More and more people have taken to exploring the off-the-beaten-track attractions and are glad they did,” says Stachnik. “If you haven’t been to the Space Museum at Cape Canaveral you should do it. Or Pensacola’s Museum of Naval Aviation. The west coast (i.e. the Suncoast) of Florida deserves to be visited. The sparkling city of St. Petersburg with its coming-to-life downtown area awaits. I don’t have enough ink to name all the fabulous things there are to see and do here.”
Stachnik suggests Mayflower’s 8-day The Backroads of Sunny Florida itinerary (rates start at $1,549) as being a big draw for Midwest travelers. This itinerary visits Homosassa Springs and Tarpon Springs, and spends three nights exploring the Crystal River area while staying at the Plantation on Crystal River.
Agents, keep in mind that when booking travel to Florida, some weeks may be very crowded, as Stachnik mentions. “It helps to be sensitive about the seasonality of Florida. If you don’t have to travel here Easter week, so much the better. Thanksgiving week is another crowded time. Study the season and arrange your clients’ travels accordingly. Prices and availability follow a classic supply and demand pricing metric.”
Mayflower Tours: mayflowertours.com
Nevada Division of Tourism: travelnevada.com
Visit California: visitcalifornia.com
VISIT FLORIDA: visitflorida.com