Travel Daily Media catches up with Sara Ellis, account manager for Texas Tourism, UK & Ireland.
What is your role and how long have you held it?
My current position is that of account manager for Texas Tourism, UK & Ireland, and I have worked on this particular destination since
1 September 2017. I have worked in the travel industry since 1993 and have been in representation for the last 2.5 years.
How have UK visitor statistics compared this year with last?
Texas sales are still strong from the UK and we are still the largest overseas market to Texas and the third largest international market pacing closely behind Mexico and Canada for visitation numbers into Texas.
Texas is a state with a diverse range of experiences and destinations available to the UK traveller so we continue to attract a wide demographic of those seeking something exciting in the US.
Has the tourist office launched any new campaigns?
We are looking closely at some exciting opportunities and ways in which we can continue to promote Texas to the UK traveller and trade partners in 2018, we have some great promotional pieces coming out in the new year which will show many facets of Texan food and culture and the amazing experiences on offer.
What specifically is the tourist office aiming to highlight/promote to UK visitors?
We want to get across the message of how diverse Texas is, each city or area of the state has a very distinct identity and flavour making it the perfect place to get out and explore be it on a tailormade holiday and self-drive tour or an escorted coach tour.
It’s a destination that once experienced you will love and will want to go back time and time again to explore what else is on offer, we have great soft adventure, ranching experiences, amazing arts and culture, history, sports, out of this world food, tax free shopping to make those $’s go further, and all of that topped off with a huge portion of live music, festivals, events and fun to be had in abundance.
Have you noticed any emerging trends with Brits?
The average traveller to Texas will stay at least 11 nights and will visit more than one city or area of the state during this time so the propensity to tour remains strong.
We have seen awareness grow within the UK market of the cruise options available from Galveston, TX.
Another trend that has emerged over recent years is sports tourism thanks to events such as Formula one now being held in Austin and the high numbers that attend the NFL games held in the UK has driven a surge of people wanting to go to the US and experience the sport in its home environment.
Any news on new hotel developments, operators, airlines to the destination?
There is always something new happening in Texas, where do I start?
For 2018 we have the new Gatwick to Austin direct service with Norwegian Air commencing in March, and WOW Air will commence their flights from London Gatwick and London Stansted to Dallas Fort Worth via Reykjavik in May.
We recently celebrated the one year anniversary of the Singapore Airlines direct service between Manchester and Houston. Both great additions to the already fantastic network of direct and indirect services provided to Texas by key UK airlines such as British Airways and United Airlines to name just a few.
Every new route that’s announced makes Texas even more accessible to the UK visitor.
We have a huge number of new hotels opening up across Texas in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Lubbock (the birthplace of Buddy Holly) and historic San Antonio to name just a few of the highlights.
Hotel-wise we are very excited by the opening of the new Fairmont Hotel Austin which is due to open its doors shortly, making it one of the largest hotels in Austin with over 1050 rooms. And the announcement that Richard Branson’s new Virgin Hotel will be opening up in Dallas in 2019.
What’s your advice to travel agents on selling the destination?
That it is a fantastic touring destination, and that each city and area has its own identity and offers the UK traveller a very different experience.
They can experience cities such as Austin with its vast array of live music venues and festivals and of course Formula One, San Antonio with its history, The Alamo and Missions and the lovely Riverwalk area.
Fredericksburg with its beautiful scenery and wine country, Houston for the Space Center, food scene and of course access to the delights of the Texas coastline on the Gulf of Mexico with Galveston, Port Aransas and South Padre Island all just a short drive away.
Cosmopolitan Dallas with its rich arts, culture and entertainment scene, and of course the JFK story; Fort Worth a city rich with cowboys and culture, the Stockyards area is a Texas ‘must do’, then there is Big Bend National Park which is truly the great outdoors and gems like Lubbock, the birthplace of Buddy Holly and Amarillo with its Route 66 association.
What training/incentives are you offering travel agents?
I always look at ways that we can assist and engage the UK travel agents and tour operators, and provide support and knowledge around Texas to help them achieve sales and promote Texas as a ‘must see’ destination within the USA.
Face to face contact plays a huge part in that and giving the people on the front line as such, a contact for help and advice when they need it and a face to go with the name. I like to get out on the road and represent Texas at events such as the annual Visit USA Roadshows, Travel Counsellors conference, Magnificent Agent shows in conjunction with Manchester Airport, and take part in specific training sessions and USA marketplace style days with tour operators and travel agents across the UK.
For training and online sources of information there are some easy links to remember:
The main Texas Tourism website is a great selling tool, with area information, up to date events, and the latest news agents should visit www.traveltexas.com
Texas is part of the Brand USA Discovery online training programme, so agents can sign up for free and use this as a source of information and complete the training on our lovely part of the world: www.usadiscoveryprogram.co.uk
The Visit USA website is a great tool and source of information for Texas, easy for agents and tour operators to view at www.visitusa.org.uk
And of course when the opportunity for fam trips arise travel agent and tour operator partners are always considered, as we are aware the best way to get under the skin of a destination is to experience it first-hand. So we would always encourage agents to go visit Texas and see for themselves!