RIT Vacations goes further afield in the UK
Strong post-COVID consumer demand for holiday travel to the United Kingdom is driving new tour program developments and staff additions at Royal Irish Tours in Toronto. Meanwhile, a more regular use of the name RIT Vacations or just RIT – for instance in the brochure copy – confirms an expansion in the content and number of programs being offered.
Specifically, there is a shift away from a focus on “Irish” in the name, as the company’s destination menu broadens across the UK to include more England, Wales and Scotland.
For example, the company formerly devoted about 80% of its tour programs to travel in Ireland, including Northern Ireland. But as the overall travel product content has increased, the proportion of Irish programs has slipped to about 60%, with about 30% of the total RIT product roster now based on itineraries and attractions in Scotland. That leaves some 10% devoted to England and Wales.
“Ireland will always be our number one, but the UK is definitely growing,” says Jonathan Sargeant, director of sales for Royal Irish Tours. Given these percentages, the biggest future potential for RIT lies with England and Wales, he said. But meanwhile, it is Scotland that is reaping the greatest benefits from travel bookings by RIT. And the staff at RIT in Canada has doubled since 2019.
“They’ve been selling Scotland for a long time, and I’ve seen their growth, moving from group tours to offering products for FIT clients as well,” said Keith Campbell, the market development manager for Visit Scotland. “They are not only selling their group packages but also developing bespoke trips. They’re one of our key tour operators in Canada,” Campbell told CTP’s Ted Davis in Edinburgh during a recent RIT fam trip to England, Wales and Scotland.
“Scotland has really taken off for us in the last couple of years,” confirmed Sargeant, who noted that two new tour programs that explore lesser known parts of the Scottish countryside have been introduced for travel in 2024.
New tours serve sustainability
These new tours take travellers further afield, to less travelled regions of the country, says RIT.
For example, the Scotland North Coast & Islands tour is a really in-depth tour of the northern regions and islands of Scotland that most operators don’t cover, said the RIT sales director. It takes in the Isle of Harris and the Orkney Islands, and has three nights in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides).
“Bookings are going okay for the new Scotland tours,” said Sargeant. “It’s our first year selling them, so it’s always a challenge to get the message out there about them. The key messages are that these tours are different to what we have offered before, and they are also different to what any other operators are selling. So, we are excited to bring these new products to agents and their clients.”
These programs also happen to be a good fit with the tourism goals set by Visit Scotland, which seeks to spread the economic bounty of tourism to lesser known parts of the country. And that in turn also serves to support a mission of sustainability, whereby tourism resources are more evenly utilized and revenues distributed – for instance, by travelling in the off-peak season months.
“This is incredibly important, and our key focus as a tourism organization is how we can build tourism to the less visited destinations in the country,” said Campbell. “It is really important that we focus on the regional and seasonal spread to ensure that all Scotland is benefiting from the value of tourism as an economic driver. So working with RIT, we are helping to identify trade-ready product by Scottish suppliers who are willing and ready to work with tour operators who have itineraries that focus on these other parts of Scotland. And RIT is absolutely at the forefront of providing that offering to their clients, which is great.”
More UK expertise
Helping RIT to blaze these new holiday trails in Scotland, as well as England and Wales, is Darlene St. Louis, a well-experienced wholesale buyer of tourism products across the UK, with about 23 years on the job in Canada. She joined RIT in Jan. 2023 as the UK product buyer, and is responsible for operating all the UK coach tours as well as building relationships with suppliers in the UK, ensuring they have the best rates, knowledge and inventory available to meet consumer demand, says RIT. She is a “big addition to the team,” said Sargeant.
“RIT brought me in to take all their UK products from the DMC (destination management company) and control that in-house as direct buys,” said St. Louis. “I buy direct every component of every tour. My knowledge and passion for all of the UK is what drives me to create tours and I have never needed a DMC.” She emphasized that there is less control of each element of a tour – for example hotels – when working through a DMC. Her method requires a lot more work, but the result is fewer problems and less client complaints.
St. Louis developed the two new Scotland programs that were added to the RIT product roster for 2024. In addition to the Scotland North Coast & Islands tour is the Scottish Borders program, with both running for seven nights. Both are on sale now and the North Coast & Islands tour has so far garnered the most interest of the two, she said. Two new tours in England and another in Scotland and possibly Wales are in the works for 2025, said St. Louis.
Additional Seats? Yes Please!
An increasing capacity in airline seats to the UK also plays a key role in boosting arrivals, said market development manager Campbell. These are especially welcomed as airlines extend their flight schedules out of traditional seasonal time frames, and offer flight options during some low season months.
“These are having an impact for sure,” said Campbell. “The numbers are harder to gauge because Canadians also come north to Scotland from other points in the UK, but direct connectivity is one of the best ways we have to encourage Canadians to visit Scotland.”
These air routes are a catalyst for that.
Air Canada has incrementally ramped up its air capacity to Scotland in the recent past. Their service between Toronto and Edinburgh initially operated from June to September, but this year ran from June to January. The extended service operated daily during the summer peak and will continue three times weekly into the winter season until Jan. 8 2024. It is scheduled to return in the early spring of 2024, with exact dates TBA. “We’re working with them to extend that to a year-round service,” said Campbell.
WestJet has just announced that it will continue its schedule of non-stop seasonal flights from Calgary to Edinburgh, which was launched in May this year and ran until October with three flights per week using a B787 Dreamliner. And it has announced that two new routes to Edinburgh will also start operating in the spring, with flights from Toronto and Halifax. This marks the first time that Edinburgh has had a direct flight to Halifax.
Air Transat is the only carrier in Canada to offer a year-round service to Scotland, and those flights operate between Toronto and Glasgow. Air Transat has a codeshare deal with Porter Airlines, so that passengers on the Air Transat flight can reach Toronto from other points in Canada on one ticket with seamless connections, including baggage transfers and passenger protection in case of delays.
Year-round flights to Manchester are another example of Air Transat committing to full-year services to UK and European destinations. The Manchester flights operate five times per week in the summer and three per week in the winter. “We are trying to move away from seasonal flight schedules as much as possible,” said Laura Albrow, an account manager for Air Transat in Toronto, who was also on the recent RIT fam trip to the UK.