Natural disasters, the economy and political unrest have continued to affect our lives in the past year but for Lindsey Ueberroth, president of Preferred Hotel Group (PHG), one sector will rise above it all as the travelling public’s saviour: the travel agent. In alluding to President Obama’s comment that travel agents had been replaced by online sales, Ueberroth made it clear that PHG’s GDS bookings had continued to sell well in the last year. “I don’t care what anyone says, travel advisors will never go away, that business remains strong,” she told Travel Daily yesterday. “When things go bad in the world [and we are abroad], travel advisors are worth their weight in gold. People started to travel independently but when we’re in trouble, people want to speak to a travel advisor”. Indeed the last year has been 70% full of travelling for Ueberroth, who took the role of president a year ago and has since met with hotels and trade partners across the globe to get a feel for the hotel market. So what did she find on her travels? “The Asia market is still progressing rapidly as is the Middle East and Africa, despite the problems,” revealed Ueberroth. “Europe and the US are slowest in hotel development but it’s picking up and moving in the right direction. We are coming out of a two year slump but the future will depend on the economical and political situations. I’d like to believe that in a year we’ll be back but markets will continue to grow during that time”. In the UK specifically bookings and sales have increased with room nights up 5%, despite an average daily rate increase of 11% in July. Bookings across the group in its last fiscal year (July 2010 to July 2011) were up 11%, with consistent growth across all PHG’s brands in both city centre and resort style hotels. With more than 800 hotels on its books, including new additions in Mongolia, Vietnam, Tunisia, Rwanda and Angola, PHG has also pushed into niche markets with the launch of Preferred Family, Preferred Pride for the LGBT market and a hotel collection for baby boomers (65+ market). It also took the step in switching its central distribution platform from Pegasus Solutions to Sabre Hospitality Solutions, which Ueberroth said has resulted in “a marked change in internet bookings”. Its other technological change has come in the form of its Next Generation of Quality Assurance (IQA), which is in its roll-out stage and includes consumer reviews alongside regular audits. “We found that with all the online activity and social media, consumers are the bets mystery shoppers, so we have created a tool to give hotels real-time scores with third party audits,” explained Ueberroth. The continuous compilation of reviews will take in around 22 sites including TripAdvisor and YouTube so that hotels can see the information on a dashboard and respond to clients.