Here’s the Conexión Florida ‘Tourism in the Gulf’ article for May.
Why do you go on vacation? Certainly, it is to rest and recharge your batteries. According to a multi-lingual friend of mine a phrase like “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is used in many different cultures, so getting away from your usual routine is certainly a good reason to go on vacation. Here on the Northern Gulf Coast it’s usually assumed that our visitors come for the beach. After all our beaches are beautiful! Ask the tourists and that’s what they’ll probably tell you, but if you delve a little more deeply, the answers become more enlightening.
How many of our guests actually spend all their time on the beach? Relatively few, if truth were told. They come for the food, the shopping, and yes, the experiences. They come for the beach lifestyle certainly, but there’s much more to that than lying on the sand.
Tourists to the Gulf Coast are pretty much three main types: families, millennials (born between 1978 and 2000) and boomers (born between 1946 and 1964). The last two types are the largest traveling groups and they tend to arrive not only during the school vacations, but throughout the year. Both groups are looking for experiences. They want to do things that they can’t do in their day-to-day life, and they want to share that experience on their social media with friends……..
It’s Fall and so we’ve begun our traveling season. We tend not to escape from the Gulf Coast during the summer months. Yes, it can be hot and humid (although that doesn’t worry us too much) it’s more as Jimmy Buffett would say “You can’t reason with hurricane season”. The tropical wind event season isn’t over yet, but we’ve passed the peak and with forecasting the way it is these days, you seem to have a week or so warning of any tropical unpleasantness.
My chief researcher and frustrated travel agent (Beth, the First Lady) suggested that we escape to the Northern Georgia Mountains, where her family once owned a mountain lodge. The Development chosen is Big Canoe, a huge property about an hour or so north west of Atlanta. A simple seven hour drive from the coast.
We’ve rented properties before and have gone through property management companies and have also become familiar with VRBO and HomeAway. This time Beth found an ideal property through Airbnb. I’ve written about Airbnb in the past and have followed their progress over the years, but we’ve never actually used them.
The search and booking process was simple and very efficient. We were looking for somewhere that was suitable for the two of us and our two Smooth (short haired) Collies. Airbnb matched us up with a great property and the booking was made. As things happened we subsequently received an offer from American Express (who appear to work closely with Airbnb) which resulted in our extending the stay to take advantage of the offer. Yes, advertising obviously works!
As part of the booking we were put in touch with the owners, a charming couple (Cindy & Joe) who also own a bed and breakfast in Gainsville, Florida. Obviously they’re immersed in the hospitality business and their B&B (The Magnolia Plantation – http://www.magnoliabnb.com/ ) looks like its certainly worth a visit. As things transpire, they also own a Collie, so a mutual bond was established. That’s certainly something that can happen easily with the Airbnb type system, and the personal owner/guest relationship is rather more difficult with more traditional ways of renting. It does seem like a beneficial thing.
Simply put, the property is exactly as described and so far the exercise has been great.
While sitting relaxing I was reading an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (thanks once again to the Researcher-in-Chief) about how vacation rentals are being challenged in the North Georgia Lakes area. It’s something that appears to be happening in other parts of the USA and the world in general.
In the Georgia Lakes area, the move is being driven by Georgia Power who own most of the land around the lakes. They are invoking clauses in the leases of properties that are offered by the power company. These are usually 15 year renewable contracts, although according to the AJC, some of these properties have been in the leaseholders families for generations. Families have rented out their homes through rental companies and realtors, and later through VRBO/HomeAway and now Airbnb. The no-subletting clauses have been largely ignored in the past, but now Georgia Power has decided to change their policy. Regrettably some leaseholders who may be second home owners in the lakes or who have inherited the properties feel that the only way they can keep them is if they fund their upkeep through short-term letting.
Certainly Georgia Power have done a huge amount to keep the area pristine and very attractive. Their aims appear to be to avoid the region becoming an overcrowded tourist ‘resort’ area. That’s a very laudable policy.
The move against short term rentals, particularly of the peer-to-peer variety like Airbnb is not restricted to the Georgia Lakes. Many cities, resort areas, states and cities across the world have taken against the growing trend. The reasons appear to be many and varied and range from worries of over-tourism, through to the disappearance of affordable accommodation for locals. Cities like Barcelona and Venice have become places where locals, who service the tourist industry, simply can’t afford to live. Even if they could, property owners can get a substantial income by ‘buying to let’ and therefore the stock of property for permanent residents dries up.
In other case, the move against short-term rentals is driven by competitors in the accommodation markets – hotels, property management companies etc., who don’t like the change in the way business is done. You can’t really blame them, but then it may be a case of adapt to changing fashions or die.
Lastly there are are the folks who having moved into an area, perhaps to retire or to buy a second home, rather like the idea of being ‘the last newcomer in the village’, and wish to call an end to further arrivals.
I’m not judging all of these motives as they’re valid reasons, and I can identify with the emotions. However, there are consequences to not thinking through the whole process.
Let’s start off with the Georgia Lakes. These properties have been in the area for many years. The building of the actual houses provided work for the locals in the construction and later maintenance industries. Subsequent expansion brought in stores to service the new residents and as short term visitation – tourism – developed, so did the need for restaurants and all the business that service the transients. If the current leaseholders can’t short-term rent their properties, they may be forced to sell them. That will probably drive down the real estate prices, and with no transient visitors, the jobs that cater to them will also dry up. Tax revenue (from both income and sales tax from visitors) will reduce putting pressure on local communities to fund services, which in turn will increase local taxes and the vicious circle moves on. This is sounding more like an economics class that tourism observations!
The same sort of thought process applies to the over-tourism scenario. Tourism was attracted by the, well, ‘attractiveness’ of the destination. Rather like over-fishing which destroys the habitat and eventually the livelihood of the fisherfolk, badly managed tourism eventually destroys both the destination and the very people who rely on tourism for their jobs.
The only scenarios that I can’t reconcile are the actions of competitors who would rather legislate against changes in process (For example the taxi drivers versus Uber and Lyft in may destinations around the world) and the ‘Last foreigner in the village’ scenario. I have little sympathy for either group.
The rest? Well, it relies on compromise and sensible management from both sides. Regrettably letting the market decide, isn’t really an option. Like any good farmer will tell you, land management and animal husbandry over a long period are the policies that will result in a sustainable model for all concerned. The same is true of tourism.
Enough of this. The dogs need walking and we need to go and spend some money in local stores to stimulate the local economy. It’s a tough old life eh?
Back last year we visited Asheville, North Carolina and I wrote about our experience visiting the Sierra Nevada Brewery (See Here) It was great and of course on a return visit this year we felt obliged to go back and check that it was still as good. It was. The restaurant was still serving great food and accompanying it with excellent beer. The store was still selling beer related souvenirs and take-home bottles, six and twelve packs and the ubiquitous Growlers.
We also decided to check out the competing New Belgium Brewery. New Belgium has similar history to Sierra Nevada in that its origin are in the west – Colorado this time, rather than California – and that it was born out of the craft beer movement when beer lovers became disenchanted with carbonated, chemical drinks pushed at us by the big brewers. Similar movements have taken place around the world, notable being the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) n the UK, which subsequently spawned the annual Great British Beer Festival. Suffice to say though that Craft Brewing is spearheaded around the world by excellent US breweries and their beers. However back to New Belgium…..
The New Belgium Brewery is smaller than its Sierra Nevada comrade but none the worse for that. It has a different vibe, just a little more relaxed on the tourism front. The tour is of course free to tempt the faithful to identify even more closely with the brewers. Their maximum number of tour members is 20, but on our tour there were only 5 plus the tour guide, Lucy. Lucy was part of the Brew Team and was certainly knowledgable about the process, history, culture and products. There is a great sense of fun in the organization with employees being given a New Belgium bike after a years service and things like a slide to get from one level of the plant to another – see the photo! New Belgium is an employee owned company and so is unlikely to be absorbed into one of the Big (Chemical Producing!) companies. Unlike Sierra Nevada where the tasting session takes place at the end of the tour, New Belgium indulges visitors with tastings at strategically placed ‘bars’ throughout the plant. The tour ends being dropped off outside the tap room and gift shop (of course) and the Sierra Nevada full scale restaurant is replaced by a Food Truck which is really VERY good.
Which was best? Neither. They are both professional, fascinating and well worth a visit. If you’re going to the area, please try both. Not just from the beer tasting point of view, but to look at how an industrial process has been turned into a tourism opportunity.
Down here on the northern Gulf Coast we have also been absorbed by the Craft Beer movement in recent years. Both the tourists and of course the locals have been calling for something other than mass produced fizzy chemical water. Our large Military contingent along the coast has contributed to this, as they know their beer!
Without too much research you can find 13 craft breweries between Pensacola and Apalachicola. These are virtually all paired with good restaurants and all sell their own beers and the souvenirs aimed aimed at their followers. A good number have formal brewery tours, an I’m guessing that that those that don’t could happily arrange a meet up with their Brewmaster on request.
Of course this is another tourism opportunity for our Destination Marketing Organizations to jump on. The Emerald Coast Beer Trail (I’ll happy donate that title to the cause in exchange for a glass of IPA) could have tourists visiting sites right along the coast. Perhaps some sort of treasure hunt collecting stamps at the different locations, with a prize for getting all of them? Nice Marketing at it’s best and simplest, appealing to Millennials, Boomers and Foodies at the same time. The other thing to mention is this is a year round activity, and it isn’t dependent on the weather.
Just to help out here’s a list of the local Northern Gulf Coast Craft Breweries that I’ve found.
Pensacola Bay Brewery
225 E Zaragoza St
Pensacola, FL 32502-6048
McGuire’s Irish Pub & Brewery
600 E Gregory St
Pensacola, FL 32502-4153
Gulf Coast Brewery LLC
500 E Heinberg St
Pensacola, FL 32502-4145
The Economist recently published an article about tipping in the USA. The main thrust was that we Americans are as confused about tipping as the rest of the world is confused about our tipping habits. It made me remember an incident that happened to me way back……
I’ve been in the travel industry since Methuselah was a boy, and have been fortunate to have traveled to a great many places, including here in the US. On this particular occasion I was the host to a group in a New York restaurant. A great meal, good service and an enjoyable if not spectacular experience. I left a tip of 15%, which would be considered very good in the UK. Imagine my surprise at being approached by the Maitre d’ who asked what had been wrong with the meal. I told him nothing was wrong, it had been a perfectly good evening. I was told in definite terms that I should be tipping at 20-25%.
In Europe, 10% is pretty much the norm. In some places in Scandinavia, and certainly in New Zealand, tipping is considered an insult, and may result in a tirade from the person tipped – just don’t do it!
It’s true that we should be aware that different cultures around the world expect different behaviors and we should be aware of that when traveling. But should we be as guarded traveling in our own country? Surely a tip is a tip, wherever we are in the USA?
I’ll let you read The Economist piece yourself (it’s at http://ow.ly/xStZ303ZhdX). It’s worth a look if only to add to your confusion.
This also let me to consider something that’s been happening here on the Northern Gulf Coast of Florida, particularly the piece known as The Emerald Coast.
The area has traditionally drawn tourists from the whole of the South East, anywhere within a 10-15 hour drive to Destin, Pensacola and Panama City Beach. The tourists tend to peak during the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day – the ’90 Days of Summer’. This, due to schools breaking later and going back earlier, has been reduced to about ‘The 60 Days of Summer’, but that’s another story. Suffice to say, the market is mainly families who drive in. They are traditional in their approach and the families have in the main, been doing the same thing for up to 40 years. Things are changing though…
The shortening and concentration of the family travel period has opened up the rest of the year to new markets – people who can travel without kids, and at short notice. Primarily Millennials and Zoomers (Younger Boomers, Boomers with Zip!). These groups have different requirements than the families. They want experiences, great food, the ability have what they want when they want it – now. They also behave differently. Zoomers tend to have more disposable income, and Millennials tend to do more physically demanding experiences – although those are both very much generalizations.
The local Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs – Tourist Boards, CVBs etc.) have been consciously aiming their marketing up market. Going after more affluent sector of tourists. Their efforts appear to have worked. For the 30A area (South Walton) this has certainly worked. Their area has been inundated with high spending customers. In fact, let’s face it, they’ve been inundated with all types of customers!
The same appears to be true of all the areas along the Gulf Coast. Tourist Development Tax (Bed Tax) is up across the region, and Okaloosa in the center of the region, appears to have had bigger tax growth than other neighboring DMOs. However, many local restaurants, particularly in the Destin area are complaining that tourists are not spending like they used to. Is this a justifiable view?
I’ve spoken to a number of restauranteurs and to accommodation providers. The later have said that their occupancy has been up, and their ADR (Average Daily Rate) is also up. One hotelier told be he goes out into his parking lot on Memorial Day and checks out the kind of vehicles that are there. He said that this year, there were far fewer trucks and many more upscale SUVs. That would surely show that the income group is probably rising. He also said that on the beach there were far fewer cut-off T-shirts and many more upscale bathing suits. There’s no real science in this approach, but he’s been doing this for many years an he can see a distinct correlation to the amount spent.
Pushing the restauranteurs on if they are actually seeing a decrease or stagnation in the amounts visitors are spending led to a revelation. It’s not the amount of the bill that’s declining, but the amount of the tips.
Tips in Florida generally (in restaurants) have been around 14% for some years. That’s a marked difference from other parts of the US. The North East is closer to 25%. The reason for this is possibly due to the number of overseas guests visiting Orlando, Miami and the other internationally visited areas. Remember that overseas visitors are used to tipping less. Up here in the Panhandle though, tipping has been closer to 20% traditionally. Not too many international guests up here, so what’s going on?
Digging further and doing some research I’ve found that there are other factors in play. It appears that Millennials tend not to tip at the same rate – check out the following articles (http://ow.ly/Xd9u303Zprh. http://ow.ly/26Vo303ZpBs) and try Googling ‘Tipping and Millennials’ and see how much confirmation you get.
It also appears that Zoomers will not just tip at 20% regardless. They modify the tip depending on the service received.
…and it’s not just those groups who are modifying their tipping habits. Locals, family groups and The Military are all reviewingtheir habits, subtly and subconsciously.
It’s not as simple as ‘we’re attracting the wrong people’. It appears we’re attracting the right people, but those visitors are not behaving in the way they used to. Another indicator that the tourism market is changing and it’s changing rapidly.