This week’s musings, reflections and observations about travel affiliate marketing…

1. I think Mexico City’s bid to resuscitate its flailing tourism industry by offering free travel insurance to tourists is a terrific idea, one that should be copied by other travel destinations that have likewise been crippled by tourists’ fear of swine flu or other safety related situations.

The Tourist Assistance Card, as the program is officially called, offers tourists staying at any of Mexico City’s 460 registered hotels medical coverage not only for H1N1 flu associated illness, but also includes free access to general medical and dental care assistance should travelers be taken ill while on vacation, and provides lost luggage and delayed or canceled flight insurance, legal assistance in the event of robbery as well as coverage for repatriation services.

Mexico City typically hosts some 3 million annual visitors, with American travelers accounting for about 80% of the total influx.  However, since the H1N1 outbreak was announced in late April, Americans have stayed away in droves, fearful of contracting the virus.

As a result, hotel occupancy rates dropped as low as 25% at some of the major Mexican beach destinations (Mexico City occupancy rates bottomed at 10%), while many flights from the US to Mexican were nearly empty.  Although hotel occupancy rates have rebounded somewhat in the last month or so, overall tourism demand remains down, and many travel suppliers continue to offer deep discounts to lure travelers back.

TravelDividends thinks travel affiliates can reap sales and revenues gains in their summer and fall Mexico City vacation programs by leveraging and incorporating Mexico City’s novel marketing approach into the travel affiliate’s own marketing campaigns.  What do you think about our notion…?

2. Given the terrorist attacks that struck Majorca and northern Spain last week, I think Spain may need to take a page out of its former colony’s playbook and offer a similar insurance plan to help prop-up the struggling Spanish travel industry.

The bombings, which have unsurprisingly been attributed to the Basque separatist group ETA, left 2 dead on one of most popular tourist resort hotels in Spain’s ‘Riviera’ last Thursday and another 64 people injured, including several children, a day earlier when a car bomb exploded outside a police barracks in the mainland city of Burgos.  Spanish authorities shut Palma de Majorca’s airport and the port for several hours in an effort to prevent those responsible from escaping in a measure which caused widespread disruption to tourists vacationing on the island.

These bombings have put another huge damper on an already reeling Spanish tourism market, as the effects of global financial and credit market meltdowns were extracting a significant toll in the world’s second largest travel market.

According to the Spanish Ministry of Industry and Tourism, international tourist arrivals have dropped 11.4% thus far this year, and a good portion of the slump is attributable to the collapse in visitors from Britain.  Brits account for one in four visitors to Spain, but because of the economic downturn in the UK combined with the weakness of the British Pound against the Euro, the number of UK originating travelers is down some 16.6%.  The tourism sector accounts for about 11% of Spain’s jobs and GDP, so a drop in international visitors of this magnitude has huge and ugly consequences on the Spanish economy.

Despite the unfortunate ETA problem, in our opinion Spain remains as one of the world’s best vacation destinations.  Blessed with great climate, natural beauty (whether beaches, countryside, or mountains), marvelous cuisine and many travel suppliers who are big proponents of the travel affiliate channel (like Barceló Hotels & Resorts), TravelDividends thinks Spain can be a great product for travel affiliates looking for international destinations to sell.

If your current travel portfolio includes travel packages to Spain, flights to Spain, or Spanish hotels and resorts, we’re very interested in hearing your views both about the Spanish travel market and what impact the recent economic and political events may have on your business.

3. I think Richard Branson should once again be applauded for his extraordinary vision and remarkable ability to glean business opportunities from (and summarily capitalize on) consumer trends barely perceptible to most others. Last week, Sir Richard engineered a $100m funding deal with Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments for the further development of Virgin Galactic, the company he founded to commercialize space travel.

According to published reports in various UK newspapers, test flights on The White Knight, the spaceship Virgin Galactic has built to carry passengers on journeys into the earth’s sub-orbit, could start this year and last into 2011, when the Company hopes to start commercial flights.

There already is a sizeable waiting list of would-be astronauts; to date, Virgin Galactic has reportedly taken around £17 million in deposits, and approximately 250 people have already paid deposits for the expected fare of £100,000 for a two-and-a-half hour flight.  British physicist Stephen Hawking is among the initial group of ‘paid-up’ astronauts, and a further 85,000 people from around the world have also registered their interest in Virgin Galactic’s proposed space flights.

Given that many of Branson’s companies offer affiliate programs (for example, here’s the link to Virgin Atlantic’s travel affiliate program), TravelDividends believes it’s only a matter of time before travel affiliates will be selling space tours…do you agree?

4. As the theme of today’s ‘Things I Think I Think’ post is international (and space-related), I think the most appropriate way to end my commentary is to suggest our readers check-out an amazing video that has been sweeping the European travel trade the last several weeks.   If you ever wondered how airline flights look from space, then click here.  What you’ll see is a stunning display of all of the large aircraft flights undertaken around the world during a 24 hour period, condensed into a 2 minute video…simply stunning!  But don’t take our word, see for yourself.

Till next week, thanks for visiting our blog!