This article was published in the Northwest Florida Daily News on Sunday, March 11, 2017.
When you go on vacation, how do you get advice on where to go, stay and what to do? Do you visit a travel agent or look at ads in magazines or on television? It appears (surprise, surprise!) that the way we get that information is changing.
I’m a picture taker. I hesitate to say photographer, but I’ve been taking photos since I was 7. I’m not sure if I travel to take photos, or take photos because I’m a traveler. Instead of joining a photography club, I’m on a number of online forums that seem to have taken their place, and I’m amazed at the number of posts that start off “I’m going on vacation, can anyone tell me where to go and what to see?” They’re not just asking about photographic opportunities, but looking for wider suggestions, and from people who are neither friends nor, apparently, experts.
We just spent a long weekend in New Orleans, which is one of my favorite cities. It’s totally unique. I was first introduced to NOLA in 1972 as a young travel agent on a U.S. tour (seven cities in 10 days!). Being taken to Bourbon Street as a 20-year-old was quite an eye-opener. Luckily my wife lived in New Orleans for quite awhile and really is “local,” so we’re not exactly tourists when we visit at least four times a year.
The city is a real case study for tourism, joining an historic center with a mix of cultures plus being a living, thriving business hub. It has nearly year-round tourism, although the local businesses are only too aware when they have fewer tourists. The Crescent City is known world over for Mardi Gras (or Carnival, as the locals term it) which is both a blessing and a curse as it attracts enormous numbers of tourists. Those tourists tend to consider partying an Olympic sport, which adds a whole new level to tourist management. Natural events like Hurricane Katrina also have put an added strain on the city, and its recovery from a tourism point of view has been nothing short of remarkable.
The great thing about NOLA ………
An old joke in the ‘80s and ‘90s was “ I bought a video recorder that was ‘so simple, a 5 year-old could program it’. I ended up having to get my 5 year-old to program it as I couldn’t’.”
That five year old is now likely a Millennial generation adult and is having a major disruptive effect on the whole of the tourism industry.
The Millennial generation now comprises around 25% of the US population according to the US Census Bureau and they travel a great deal. PhoCusWright reports that 71% take at least one trip of three nights or less, 42% travel internationally (compared with 28% of older travelers), and they are twice as likely as older generations to take longer trips of 14 nights or more.
The Millennial generation also travel differently than previous generations in that they don’t always stay in hotels. They stay with friends and they use services like Airbnb. They don’t always use taxis, car services or rental cars – they use Uber and Lyft.
Unlike previous generations, they may take more trips but spend less. They are more connected, with 90% owning a smart phone – compared to 57% of older travelers – which 66% use to shop or buy travel. They use a wide variety of sources for their research and booking from OTAs, review sites like TripAdvisor and of course peer advice shared through a whole raft of social networking.
According to Samantha Worgull of ‘Hotel News Now’ and PhoCusWright, Millennials tend to book at the last minute with 23% booking less than one week before departure.
They seek experiences and want to share those with their peers and families through social networks. Experience is the whole raison d’etre for their traveling. No matter if this foodie, eco-tourism, adventure or pure excitement. The simple fact is that this group want to do more than lie on a beach.
To return to the old joke about video recorders, those same adults who sought advice from their children are now Boomers and are again seeking advice from their Millennial offspring. They want to where and how to buy their travel. They want reassurance that Airbnb or Uber are safe.
Marcello Gasdia, senior analyst of consumer research at PhoCusWright said during a recent conference “Millennials have been the trend setters, they are the ambassadors of technology.”
So, this is the disruptive influence the Millennial generation is having on the whole tourism industry:
They book late
They look for value
They seek experiences
They share their trips with others
They research intensively
They influence older travelers
How does this affect the traditional providers of tourism products?
For airlines and hotels the loyalty of the Millennial traveler cannot be guaranteed. Many fewer are members of loyalty programs, 22% compared with 41% of older travelers. The inference is that they may not trust the advertising and promotion of established companies blindly. They are more likely to take advice from friends and independent reviews, and change their booking habits accordingly.
Travel agents as we knew them are largely a thing of the past, particularly in the USA. In Europe and Canada the situation is slightly different but certainly the old style travel agent is dead. In their continuing quest for value, On-Line Travel Agents (OTAs like Expedia) are well in the mix to seek bargains and value. Anything that is not an ‘experience’ like a conventional hotel room or condo becomes a commodity, to be booked wherever the best deal can be found – preferably at the last moment.
The last minute tourist is still looking for the destination experience, the tour (hopefully not conventional but personally led by a local!) or activity will probably be left until arrival when the weather and local area has been checked out. Tour and activity booking specialist TripShock! confirm that most of their bookings are made after a guest arrives in the destination. Where does the Millennial tourist find the information? Again, peer advice or advice of a local. Local tourist boards (CVBs, Chambers of Commerce and similar organizations) are seemingly trustworthy sources, particularly in areas where the likes of TripAdvisor or Expedia do not have much content (Virtually everywhere except places like Orlando, New York or Las Vegas!).
The problem with local tourist organizations is that on the whole they further refer visitors to individual tour providers for follow up. Given the attention span of website visitors, they want to get advice and book there an then, not have to make lists and do even more research.
Experience from tourist organizations in New Orleans shows that if they offer advice and reviews and then enable on-site, immediate booking it results in more bookings for local businesses, happy tourists and a bonus of commission payments to the tourist board.
Disruption is a current buzz-word, but the Millennial generation has disrupted life in the tourism industry worldwide. Not only by their different travel habits and use of technology; their search for ‘experience’ and value, but also their influence on the other generations of traveler. Particularly the Boomer generation. The important factor with this group is that they have more opportunity to travel and have a higher disposable income. They also learn fast when it comes to technology.
The Boomers also learnt, back in the day, to listen to their offspring……
I recently celebrated yet another birthday. They appear to come alarmingly more frequent. As a kid I used to count the birthday cards but now count, with amazement, the number of good wishes I receive via social media. The greetings come from the world over as my friends and family get spread further and further.
In the old days of course, one had to make a great effort of keeping a birthday book, buying a card, the correct value in stamps and remembering to put the card in the mail. These days, thanks to technology, we’re reminded automatically and all it requires is to post ‘Happy Birthday’ and to add an emoji or an imaginative sticker, gif or what have you.
That’s not to deride the process as I for one really (no, honestly, REALLY) like to wish my friends the best on their birthdays and appreciate being able to do so easily and across the world. The technology is a huge help to my memory and I love (thank you Mr Zuckerberg) being able to maintain contact with contacts from school, various workplaces as well as family, wherever they may be.
However I digress from what I intended to write.
I also received messages from a number of businesses that want my business. Starbucks for example. I’m a gift card spending , app using, loyalty card carrying Starbucks follower and of course they have my birthdate. So I get the message offering a free coffee. I know that this is an automatic system that just pings off the email, and I know that the free coffee costs virtually nothing. I also recognize that I probably won’t even claim my gift. But it makes me feel good none the less. My ego thinks they really care, even if my marketing brain knows different.
So, tourism people, when that client registered on your website did you collect the birthday information? More to the point, when that traveler made a booking six months out from their travel date did you contact them during those months other than to send them a balance invoice?
Back in the 70s and 80s the travel agency I worked in used to make a calendar entry for all their clients bookings and regularly sent out postcards to the clients saying ‘only two months to your trip’, or ‘are you packing yet?’. We even considered sending postcards from their destination to keep the excitement going. It was a chore, delegated to the office junior, but mighty effective. We also sent out cards after the vacation asking how the trip had been, and later reminding them that as six months had past, they needed another break! The customers loved it and kept coming back.
These days all that information is easy to collect automatically (no need for the office junior!) and scheduling the emails, FB messages etc., requires little or no work. Cheap too – no postcards, stamps, addresses to look up or trips to the mail.
My free birthday gift to all of you in travel and tourism is to make use of your databases. Send out messages reminding people about their forthcoming vacation, thank them for their past trip (no, not the customer satisfaction survey, but a genuine ‘thanks for visiting and we want you back’ message), or even a ‘we’re missing you’ email.
For DMOs, when your collecting likes on Facebook, or addresses in your database, follow up with a message asking if they’ve booked? Send them Holiday Greetings – personalized of course – from The Sunshine State, The Red Fish Coast or wherever you are.
Yes, it’s corny. Yes, the customer knows it’s automatic. But they also, deep inside, appreciate it.
It’s like thanking them for their good review of TripAdvisor. It shows you’re listening and that, behind the technology, you do actually care.
I read an article recently that prompted me to think about how the purchase of travel, and associated products, has changed over the years. More importantly it made me think about how things have stayed the same.
The article was published by organization Tnooz, which is a global provider of news, analysis, commentary, education, data and business services to the travel, tourism and hospitality industry. A sort of Owen Organization on steroids! It was pointing out how travel marketing has become more frustrating than ever because the cost of acquiring customers in the digital age has become very high. The article can be found here http://ow.ly/swbP304mz1e
Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s I was involved in a company selling long haul travel to people in the United Kingdom. The customers wanted to buy air tickets, accommodation and tours that would allow them to travel to Australia and New Zealand. Naturally this wasn’t an impulse purchase, and certainly in those days, it would be termed ‘a trip of a lifetime’. We found that although the customers would phone our offices and have long, long conversations about their proposed trip, many of them wanted to actually visit us in person. I’m assuming they wanted to make sure that we weren’t going to take their money and disappear into the night! These folks would travel a great distance to see us, often half way across the country. They’d arrive with great folders of information that they had gathered over a period. By the dates of the ads they’d torn out of newspapers, we could tell that they had been collecting info often for some years.
It wasn’t just one or two travelers who behaved like this, it was the majority. I guess that if you’re about to have the ‘trip of a lifetime’ then you would be tempted to take a long time in putting it together. The trouble was, that this was’t in general, a one off trip.These customers were ‘frequent fliers’ with us, although frequent meant once every two or five years.
That didn’t mean that they only travel to our destinations, but went on other excursions in the intervening periods, and presumably they put as much research into those trips as they did with the flights ‘down-under’.
That process all happened in the pre-internet days, when research meant reading magazines and newspaper articles. It required the tearing out and keeping of numerous ads from the travel sections of the national press. Watching every travel documentary they could find was almost compulsory. These customers knew more about ‘our’ destinations than we did.
The internet and the World Wide Web changed all that of course. Instant access to information, price comparison sites, peer reviews and OTAs – on line travel agents, have consigned all that to the dim and distant past. Or has it?
More recently I’ve worked with travel companies and destination marketing organizations who have been grappling with how to best spend their money to acquire customers. A great deal of thought has gone into when and where to place ads. Given the ability to track responses to digital ads and to measure the open rates of newsletters it’s understandable that those in charge of the budgets want to know, definitively, what is working and what isn’t. This is all well and good if we assume that all travel decisions are made on the fly and travelers do the same thing year after year.
Making those assumptions – impulse buys and repeating past decisions – encourages the marketeer to place trackable ads and then cease making ad buys that don’t result in immediate bookings, or at least bookings that can’t be linked to a particular campaign. However we must look at the the way people actually book.
A customer sees a print ad in a glossy magazine that prompts their interest. They ‘file’ that away in their memory either consciously or more likely unconsciously. They don’t remember the phone number in the ad, or the ‘trackable’ URL. While driving they hear a radio ad about the same destination. To be honest it’s unlikely they will stop and write down the phone number or URL and so, that’s just another memory. By some miracle the potential traveler either sees something on-line or maybe even searches for info on their iPad or phone. They may bookmark the info for later or perhaps even respond to the ad for more information. Enter the dreaded cookie that tracks their every on-line move, and suddenly every on-line ad they see is about that particular destination, hotel, airline or cruise. Magic! The DMO, or advertiser now knows everything about them and sends out teasers and newsletters. The success of those original print ads and radio spots is called into question. They did not, as far as the digital marketeer knows, result in a booking so it makes sense to stop that particular channel spend.
Our potential traveler now responds to the email they have received. They may forward the email to a fellow traveler or they may just click on a link. More likely, they’ll just remember the general email rather than the full link to the page they viewed. They’ll then go another device – the work based PC, or a phone or other screen to get more info. Of course there’s no cookie following that move, and they may even be using different email address for each inquiry.
Although as marketeers we may rewarded with the trackable booking, it’s more than likely that the ‘thread’ of the booking is lost numerous times.
Another distraction is the length of time it takes to make a decision. I can’t remember the number of times we’ve seen a destination on a movie or in a magazine and said we must go there – this year’s out of the question because we already have plans but next year’s a possibility or the year after…..
Down here on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico we had the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. The resultant exposure that region the received was the silver lining in that particular cloud. BP were forced to spend millions in the following years. CVBs along the coast worked together to promote the area but more importantly the media (bless ’em!) flooded the airwaves with images of our pristine sugar white sand and emerald green waters. Whatever their apocalyptic message was at the time, the names of Destin, Panama City Beach, 30A, and Pensacola became embedded in the psyche of people who had never heard of us before. Since then, tourism numbers to the Gulf Coast have continued to rise aided by the activities of CVBs (often in spite of the efforts of CVBs!). The area has even attracted groups of visitors who would never have thought of coming previously and now remember that the Gulf is a place to go, even if if they can’t remember what lead them to that thought.
So, have things changed? Maybe. The ability to track the source of bookings is there but definitive answers to what works is absent in the vast majority of cases. Although tourists make last moment buying decisions, those are usually based on ‘bucket lists’ formed over a long time.
To go back to original thought, that it’s becoming more difficult to know where to spend your marketing dollars, yes it probably is. There are many more channels, more opportunities and higher costs. However, people behave in much the same way as they always have.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.