HomeFeaturesEpisode 1: ITTN Talks To...Dominic Burke of Travel Centres

Episode 1: ITTN Talks To…Dominic Burke of Travel Centres

In a new weekly series, ITTN speaks to members of the travel trade and gives them a platform to talk about industry trends, to celebrate successes and discuss challenges their business has faced, offering unrivalled insights into the goings on of Irish travel agents.

First up, we have Dominic Burke, Managing Director of the Travel Centres consortium.

How has 2024 been for your members so far?  

This year started off very strongly for members — particularly in respect of both cruise sales and traditional summer sun packages but booking activity has trailed off quite significantly over the past couple of weeks and no one’s exactly sure why although there are many theories — credit card bills landing post-Christmas, cost of living rises due to inflation, concern over international crises such as Gaza and the ongoing war in Ukraine to name but a few

What has been your biggest surprise this year? 

There have been no surprises as such other than the fact that cruise sales have been more robust than we would have anticipated and can only attribute that to consumers ongoing quest for anything that represents good value for money which of course cruise does in spades. 

What has been the biggest challenge to your business or for your members this year?  

Staffing issues continue to represent the biggest challenge for many travel companies as lots of experienced staff left (or were left go) during covid and many found better paying or less stressful jobs in other sectors and have decided not to return and it’s not as if our industry has ever had a steady stream of people wanting to join our ranks. There are great career opportunities in our industry but we continue to suffer from the dual challenges of a bad PR image — there is a false assumption amongst the general public that there is no future for travel agents — and the fact that current Travel & Tourism courses are not fit for purpose as the focus, curriculum-wise, continues to be on the tourism/hospitality sectors as opposed to the travel industry. Both challenges need to be addressed in a more coherent and strategic manner. We also need to start recruiting more people from outside our industry who are in possession of some key transferable skills but understand that that is easier said than done. 

Do you have any predictions or are you seeing patterns or emerging trends or destinations for 2024? 

Despite the efforts of some travel publications or online resources to constantly promote new up and coming destinations worldwide, in our experience, things tend to stay much the same from year to year, as far as Irish consumers are concerned. Spain continues to be the number one sun destination out of Ireland with Lanzarote the top-selling destination within Spain. Resorts in Portugal, France, Greece, Malta and Italy are also popular because of a combination of proximity, direct air services, cost and familiarity. Turkey has fallen out of favour somewhat over the past two years but is sure to regain a strong foothold again as the product is so good and represents great value for money although not as much as the devaluation of the Turkish Lira would suggest.  

Much the same conservative status quo exists in the long-haul sector where the gulf states such as Dubai continue to be popular, particularly as winter sun alternatives to the Canaries, whilst Southeast Asian destinations such as Thailand and Vietnam continue to be very attractive for Irish tourists. South Africa is on the rise again due to the weakness of the Rand and represents exceptional value for money. The Maldives are also becoming increasingly popular as a ‘bucket-list’ destination. I would love to see more Irish travellers head over to South America but unfortunately it is not a part of the world that many travel agents in Ireland are very familiar with. Hopefully that will change in time. By contrast, cruising (both ocean and river) is gaining in popularity year by year as more travel agents get to experience the product. 

Are you seeing longer lead times or last-minute requests? 

Traditionally, the Irish market was always three to five months behind its UK counterparts when it came to booking their next annual holiday, but that phenomenon has begun to change somewhat in recent years, particularly with seasoned travellers who take at least one holiday a year and who quickly came to realise that, as the old adage goes, ‘the early bird gets the worm!’  

In stark contrast to that cohort of consumers, you have those for whom the budget is the budget and when they find that there is nothing available that matches their means, choose to wait and wait in the hope of capturing some distressed inventory closer to the actual date of departure, not realising, despite being warned to the contrary by their respective travel agents, that demand exceeds supply these days so there are unlikely to be any bargains to be had by waiting. Those that play the waiting game without subsequent success then find that they have to forego this year’s holiday and then join the ranks of the early bookers referenced above, in the hope and expectation that they’ll capture a good deal for next year! 

On a more personal note, what motivates your travel? New cultures/ sun worship/ exotic cuisine/ places of historical importance/ pure relaxation? 

I’m one of those paradoxical animals in that I relax by doing things so I am most definitely not the lay-on-the-beach type but my better half is so cruising represents a kind of compromise solution for both of us. Having said that, we are both culture vultures and so enjoy the superabundance of history, architecture, culture and gastronomy that are on offer in Europe and particularly in places like Spain and Italy — neither of which we ever tire of. In terms of sheer physical beauty, you can’t beat destinations like Hawaii, The Seychelles, French Polynesia or Saint Lucia to name but a few. 

What is your dream holiday, and why?  

I’ve never been to Japan and Japanese culture and history have always fascinated me, so I suppose an extended tour of Japan and some of its smaller islands greatly appeals to me as Japanese culture is so different to what most Europeans are used to. I remember reading Jame Clavell’s epic novel about feudal Japan — Shogun — back in the 70’s and that started my interest in all things Japanese. We also had a Japanese student stay with us many years ago which only increased that interest in Japanese culture. 

Where is 2024 taking you? 

A river cruise along the Rhone in June, starting and terminating in Avignon, followed by a couple of days touring the beautiful cities of Toulouse, Carcassonne and Aix en Provence and an ocean cruise in December taking in the Seychelles, Madagascar, Reunion and Mauritius. 

Carrie Day
Carrie Day
Carrie started her career in the travel industry in 2014 and has worked in various roles such as Travel Consultant in Canada & Ireland, Business Development Manager and later Industry Sales Manager EMEA at an international tour company. She is also a trustee for the ITAA Benevolent Fund since 2021 and proud member of the AWTE Ireland. Conversations around sustainable travel are welcomed and encouraged!

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