March 13, 2017
By Maria Lisella
Spanish-speaking clients have always traveled, but the last two census reports have people really taking notice of this growing market. Beyond their sheer numbers (50.5 million Hispanics in the United States, 16% of the total population) is the fact that they tend to travel in groups—families and friends and affinity groups, just as interested in sports as they are in religious travel to Europe.
But perhaps the news of the day is that where once they migrated to Spanish-speaking agents only, insiders say that is no longer the case.
Recently the National Tour Association (NTA) identified those of Hispanic descent as the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, likely to represent more than half of all population growth in the U.S. for decades to come. They spend a whopping $5.66 billion annually on travel. And nowadays, when Spanish-speaking travelers plan a vacation, they go the same routes as the rest of us: they surf, they read, and they look for a travel agency that understands what they want, no matter what language they speak.
“We are seeing more and more Spanish-speaking clients going to traditional English-speaking travel agencies requesting tours because perhaps there may not be a Spanish-speaking travel agency in that area,” says Marcos Roelm co-president of tour operator Petrabax. When an English-speaking agency has a Spanish-speaking customer, he said, tour operators can and do positon themselves as the bridge, while agents earn the commission.
“When there is a language barrier, they call us and we speak to the clients in their native language and explain the product to them.” Often agents call while the clients are in their office, says Roelm, who estimates 85% of Petrabax’s bookings come from travel agents.
But even more often, language is not an issue at all. Lisbeth Acuna, who has been working side by side with her father and family members at Copos Blancos Travel in uptown Washington Heights, NY, notes that the language barrier is often a generational issue. “It depends on the demographics of the clients; Millennials are bilingual and will go anywhere, but older people want Spanish-speaking guides throughout and need a guarantee.”
Marketing consultant Lisa Skriloff, editor of Multicultural Travel News agrees that often, “being multigenerational, Hispanic family travelers will typically have the younger generation do the translating when working with an agent who does not speak Spanish.”
Where are Hispanics traveling to?
At Petrabax, where Hispanics comprise 50% of the clientele, 70% are traveling to Europe, 20% to the Middle East, and the remaining 10% to Asia, Africa and Oceania.
Since Copos Blancos is located in a Dominican neighborhood, the majority of its clients visit the Caribbean, while about 20% book travel to Spain.
Petrabax began in Spain in the 1970s as an inbound operator for Spanish-speaking clients from Central and South America who wanted to travel to Europe on Spanish language tours. Today, its escorted tours of Europe, the Middle East and the Asia are specifically tailored to Spanish-speaking travelers who live in the U.S. as well as for travelers from Mexico, Central and South America designed for escorted group travel conducted exclusively in Spanish.
Source: Travel Market Report