Conexión October

Here’s the Conexión Florida article for October.

There have been changes in tourism here along the Northern Gulf Coast. They are subtle, but you may have noticed them all the same. Those changes are going to continue, too.

First of all, remember Snow Birds? They come from the northern states of the USA and Canada, where it gets cold in winter. Traditionally they come to our part of the world for at least part of the winter. It used to be that they would arrive just before, or just after, Christmas and the New Year—and stay between a month to three months. The birds are great for the area because they bring us tourist dollars during what has always been a slow season. They keep many of the restaurants open, and by extension, keep jobs going throughout the year. Many of the snowbirds consider this as much ‘home’ as they do their summer bases up in the north. I once spoke to a couple of winter visitors who said they felt the birds actually lived here, but just spent summer ‘up there’ to get away from the heat!

Read the rest of the article here

 

Conexión September

Here’s the Conexión Florida article for September.

One of the great things about being in the Tourism Industry is that you work with people who like to travel. So much so, that they often move to take up new jobs, frequently in other parts of the world. As a result—providing you keep in touch—you’ll find that you have friends in many far-flung places. I bring this up because I recently received a newsletter from a lady I had worked with about 18 years ago. We were both working in the United Kingdom at the time, but she is now based in Ireland, and as you know, I’m here in the USA. Anyway, Katherine had written an article called “8 Reasons to Choose a Career in Tourism” and it got me thinking…

Read the rest of the article here

 

Conexión Florida – August

Here’s the Conexión Florida article for August:

I’m not only hooked on traveling, I’m hooked on watching travel programs on television.

I’m not talking about the shows that are trying to get you to book a vacation with the sponsor, but the real behind the scenes, genuine and authentic versions.

There’s been a great series over the past couple of years called ‘Amazing Hotels – behind the front desk’.  The concept behind the series is that a chef and a restaurant and hotel critic travel to various hotels around the world and actually work in them.  Well, I say work in then but really, it’s a case of shadowing various members of staff in their day-to-day tasks. While this is happening, they gain insights into not only how those hotels work, but what the front-line workers think about the industry and the effect that tourism has on their lives.

They’ve featured huge spectacular hotels in Singapore and Dubai, safari lodges in Africa, small and very expensive hotels in remote parts of South America and very remote lodges in Iceland. Over the past two years they’ve visited a wide variety of extremely different locations. Without exception they’ve found that working in the hospitality and tourist industry has had a profound effect on the local workers and……….

Read the rest of the article HERE

Conexión Florida – July

Here’s the Conexión Florida ‘Let’s Talk about Tourism’ article for July…

About 20 years ago, it was predicted that workplace automation, the rise of the internet, and the ability to work from nearly anywhere would lead to a massive increase in leisure time. And as a result, we would see an increase in tourism worldwide. This was predicted to be good for everyone: more travel, more vacations, and a better-funded tourism industry with well-paid jobs for all… Well, the result has happened, and world tourism is at an all time high. However, the reason for that increase was not really as predicted.

Certainly workplace automation, computerization, and the ‘always on’ mobile Internet have had an effect; but the boom has come from other areas. The rise of the Boomer generation was the first driver. Those born after WW2 through 1964 have come to retirement age across the world. They may not actually retire completely…….

Read the rest of the article HERE

Conexión Florida – May

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……..

Read the rest of the article HERE

Conexión Florida April 2018

Here’s our Conexión Florida Tourism column for April.

Last month we discussed how tourism developed and how it contributes to local economies. Over the past few weeks there have been some developments to tourism here on the Northern Gulf Coast that I thought you’d find interesting.

Tourist Development Tax (TDT), commonly known as Bed Tax, was set up to be paid only by tourists and to fund the promotion of tourism in the areas where it’s collected. Now, you may think that that just means it can only be spent on advertising a destination, but that’s far from the case. Bed tax, certainly in Florida, can be used for a whole range of projects. This ranges from providing life guards on beaches, creating museums, running convention centers, developing artificial reefs, building beach access, repairing beaches where weather or tides have caused erosion, through, of course, marketing a destination.

As TDT can generate substantial amounts of revenue, it has attracted the attention of some legislators who would like to use it for non-tourist related uses, for example paving roads in non-tourist areas for example. Consequently, proposals have been put forward in the Florida Legislature to change the rules.

Read the rest of the column HERE

Conspiracy theory?

Okaloosa Island Beach

I received a comment recently from a visitor who was asking if there was a ‘coalition of local Hotel/Motels that controlled prices during the summer season’.  The gentleman thought that as rates were as low as $120 in the winter season and as high as $600 in the summer it must be a plot to rip off tourists.  His suggestion was that such summer prices were beyond the resources of less affluent travelers and that such rates would discourage visitors from out of state.

Naturally I told him that such collusion was illegal and was very much discouraged within the industry. The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association actually read out an anti-collusion statement before each meeting just to make sure that everyone is aware.

Not only that but to actively jointly raise prices would take away the element of competition that drives the tourism industry.   I’m not saying such practices haven’t happened, but it doesn’t seem logical.

In fact I think there is a case here in Northwest Florida, and in other very seasonal destinations, where the low rates of winter are actually subsidized by the higher summer rates.  Accommodation providers suffer from a difficulty in employing enough staff for the summer peaks. They don’t want to loose good year round employees by laying them off during the winter so in many cases use the profits generated in the summer to keep everything running during the winter.   I think that applies to many restaurants too.

Basic economics would indicate that the law of supply and demand is working well.  Winter rates are low to encourage whatever business can be attracted.  Summer rates are high because there is a finite amount of stock and a limited amount of time when the majority of tourists can be here – essentially Memorial Day to Labor Day, although with schools breaking later and returning earlier that window is getting shorter.

Ideally our tourist season would be spread out allowing for a greater spread of rates. That would also encourage year round employment and less of a scramble for high season staffing.

All of us in the industry know this.  If there is any collusion it’s to try and encourage tourists during the periods outside of the peak summer months. Various attempts have been made to rename this as ‘the best season’. That’s fine as a customer facing branding exercise but within the industry we must call the seasons what they are: low, shoulder, peak and (July 4th week) Super Peak.

Of course by attracting tourists in April, May, September and October we’re in danger of alienating our locals who consider these periods of perfect weather and low traffic as ‘their own’ and reward for putting up with gridlock traffic and no restaurant space in June, July and August. Not to mention Spring Break – so I won’t mention it.

A similar situation exists in Europe where school holidays (vacations) govern package holiday and flight prices.  Another case of supply and demand.  Airlines and tour companies have been accused of artificially raising prices during the vacations making travel for families beyond affordable.  Some parents in the UK have been taking their kids out of school in term time to get lower prices.  They are fined by the schools, but just factor the cost of the fines into their vacation costs.

The solution?   Many little things I fear, each of which would have a small result but the culmination would be sizable.

  1. Encourage the school systems to stagger their break periods.  Some do this, but not enough.
  2. Work with school systems to stop shortening summer breaks. 
  3. Go after markets that have different school vacation periods – Canada and Europe for example.  UK Schools don’t break until July and don’t go back until September. They also have longer ‘half-term’ breaks in October and November and around Easter.  Our weather in those times is perfect for the Northern Europeans.
  4. Expand our marketing to those sectors that aren’t governed by school timetables.  Millennials, younger boomers, empty nesters, the list is almost endless.
  5. Actively promote lower rates outside summer. Many do this already.
  6. Strengthen weekend break and short break marketing, out of high season, to places like Atlanta, Birmingham, Tallahassee and new markets thrown up by the likes of Allegiant Air and Southwest.

We also need to have some regional agreement on marketing.  Continuing to market as just South Alabama, Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, etc., etc., and ignoring the fact that for some marketing a regional approach is more effective can be counter productive.  Some work is being done in this direction and should be applauded and encouraged.

Of course we also have to get the message out to our visitors, like the gentleman who contacted me, that the reason the prices are high in the summer is exactly because we attract so many tourists at those times. Far from being put off they come anyway, and that lets us put up prices, subsidizing the less busy seasons.

As I say, basic economics.   …..or perhaps there is a conspiracy that I haven’t been told about!

Conexión Florida March 2018

Here’s our Conexión Florida article for March.

Don’t you just love tourists? Well, we probably should as not only do they provide income directly for many of us here along the northern Gulf Coast, but also contribute a huge amount in taxes to our areas. More than that, whenever we travel to a new area either on vacation or to visit friends and family, we take the role of tourists ourselves.

The first real tourists (as opposed to explorers, adventurers and other less desirable world wanderers!) were the children of wealthy families in Europe in the 1700s.  To keep them out of trouble and hopefully provide them with some classical education, they were sent off on what was termed The Grand Tour………….

CLICK HERE to read the whole article.

Pretentious?

I was flicking though a newspaper the other day, the UK’s Daily Telegraph, and article caught my eye – ‘Why it’s cool to be a tourist, not a pretentious traveler’ (Read it HERE). It got me thinking….

Tourist, Traveler or Visitor?

Firstly I have to confess I wasn’t physically flipping through a newspaper made out of crushed up trees, I was reading the on-line version. I suppose therefore I was simply bothering a bunch of electrons, but that added to pondering as to how our perceptions have changed.

For example, does reading an on-line newspaper make me less of a reader? When we were actually reading a ‘paper’ paper, our eyes would fall on stories that wouldn’t immediately be our target interest. That expanded our reading list and maybe we found opinions that we didn’t agree with, or subjects that weren’t initially in our wheelhouse. It did give us a wider knowledge and leave us open to new thoughts and opinions. It broadened our view. These days we tend to select our interests and have the electrons present us with just what we expect and with which we are comfortable. Maybe we sit in a little bubble of our own making? Only exposed to our own interests and views.

How does this relate to the traveler versus tourist issue? The article pointed out that some folks consider themselves to be more sophisticated than the average and therefore their wanderings were in some way superior to your run of the mill tourist. The ‘travelers’ (actually it was a British article, so they were ‘travellers’ with two Ls!) considered that their experience was somewhat superior to a tourist. Along with the author, I initially thought this attitude was pretentious in the extreme.

As an aside, a number of areas around Florida have names like The Forgotten Coast, The Space Coast, The Emerald Coast etc. There’s one area I’ve always called The Pretentious Coast. Any ideas where that may be?

While it’s true that someone who travels, is a traveler, and a tourist is by definition “A person who is visiting a place for pleasure and interest, especially when they are on vacation”, there do appear to be a whole bunch of different types of tourists.

There are those who visit an area to gain extra knowledge, cultural tourists, eco-tourists, adventure tourists, even health tourists traveling to seek medical attention they can’t get at home. One assumes these all gain something from their experience and hope that they also contribute to the local economy or culture. Certainly the hope is that they do not purposefully detract from the place they are visiting.

There is a type of tourist that actually does little or nothing for either the area that they visit or for themselves it would appear. I’d suggest that these are folks that travel to a destination but then behave just as they would at home or possibly even behave in a way that wouldn’t be accepted at home. These would be the ones that bring everything with them. They experience nothing of the local culture, and contribute little to the local economy. They may be the ones that just come to party uncontrollably, ending up in jail, hospital or worse.

Now, each to his own and I wouldn’t dare to suggest that what one person finds fun is the only way, but it does strike me that there are various levels of tourism. Some are more desirable to a destination than others. I’m sure The Machu Pichu Tourist Board wouldn’t target bachelor or bachelorette parties, but on the other hand would Panama City Beach expect to receive too many groups studying the works of da Vinci?

Without a doubt some travelers get more out of their experience than others but would we term them Travelers as opposed to Tourists? What’s wrong with being a tourist?

A dilemma for NOLA

A recent article in a newspaper, The Economist, highlighted the changes that are happening in New Orleans. The Crescent City is local to Northwest Florida in that its only a four hour drive away and the culture (Mardi Gras for example) and cuisine of the City, and Louisiana in general heavily influence the Northern Gulf Coast. It can be said that Northwest Florida is closer in temperament an culture to NOLA, than it is to the rest of Florida. Orlando, which many international travelers see as ‘Florida’ is after all a six hour drive away and shares little in culture with the Panhandle.

The gist of The Economist article, which you can read HERE, is that the Mayor

An authentic experience?

and administration is attempting clean up the city’s act. New Orleans is famous for (admittedly among many other things) the free wheeling nature of the French Quarter in general and Bourbon Street in particular. Over recent years the French quarter has become a center for Bachelor and Bachelorette parties. Most of these at some stage gravitate towards the bars and music joints along Bourbon Street where they seek out the ‘genuine’ flavor of the old city.

Now the Mayor, understandably, wants to make sure that visitors are both safe and legal. There is a backlash against the cleanup with the slogan ‘Bourbon Street not Sesame Street’. As the article points out, some of the workers in the area question just how illegal the activities actually are and offer the suggestion that by changing the place, people may be put out of work or worse, moved into activities that really are beyond the pale.

Many years ago Bugis Street in Singapore had an equally salacious reputation. During the ‘50s and through to the ‘80s the street was famous for its nightly gatherings of the local transvestite population. It became one of Singapore’s main tourist attractions. Not somewhere one would recommend to your maiden aunt for a visit certainly, but it did contribute much to Singapore’s tourist attraction. Bugis Street is still there but was cleaned up during the ‘80s and ‘90s and is now one of the places famous for low cost clothes and a tourist attraction in in its own, new right.

From a tourism and moral point of view there can be no justification for illegal activities. However is there perhaps a very fine line to be trod between sanitizing and destroying? What would Las Vegas be without gambling for example.

A few years ago New York City decided to make Times Square more family friendly and threw out the dubious bars and entertainments. It doesn’t seem to have affected it’s ability to draw tourists although I would question if the area, particularly in the late evening is a place for visitors of a shall we say, a nervous disposition.

We visit New Orleans frequently and stay in the French Quarter. We walk around the area at night and although we cross Bourbon Street we tend not linger and never visit the bars and music joints. We know they’re there of course and don’t begrudge their patron the thrill of an authentic experience, providing they know what they’re doing and keep their wits about them.

Would a Disneyfied version of the Vieux Carré still be attractive to its patrons? Would a fake Eiffel Tower still draw visitors? I suppose the fake tower in Las Vegas does, but then Vegas has the gambling too……