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!
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…….
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……..
The following article was published in the Northwest Florida Daily News on Sunday, May 28, 2017.
A few people have told me that they read the Talking Tourism column each week, but are a little puzzled by my references to Millennials, Boomers and Zoomers. Fair comment, so I’ll try to explain.
Much as we like to think we’re all the same in our outlooks and approach to traveling, we’re not. There are all sorts of influences on our opinions, but for those of us in tourism and hospitality marketing, we have to make a few generalizations. One of the easiest ways is by dividing the travelers into generations as it’s been found that’s a pretty accurate way to predict how people will behave, what their likes and dislikes are, and how we can best appeal to them. Obviously, the lines between the generations are blurred and, of course, it’s dangerous to overgeneralize how people behave. If you Google the subject you’ll be overwhelmed by academic and not-so-learned opinions.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a podcast called Lodging Leaders with Jonathan Albano.
Lodging Leaders brings together the best and brightest minds of the hotel industry to share their stories, insights and actionable advice. Each week, LodgingMetrics.com founder and entrepreneur Jon Albano interviews inspiring hoteliers and leading industry professionals that have produced amazing results.
I’m not one for making resolutions, mostly because I change my mind so much! If you want to change something, better to just to get on with it than wait for some arbitrary date to start. That’s my excuse anyway. Similarly, looking backwards doesn’t help because we can’t change what has past – although as numerous people (apparently) are quoted as saying – if you don’t remember past mistakes, you’re doomed to repeat them!
So, in the interests of progress, let’s look forward.
I’ve read two articles over the end of the year break that I felt were right on point. I’ve attached links to these so you can read them yourself.
The first was by anti-aging & sports medicine pioneer, and futurist, Dr Robert Goldman (http://ow.ly/Akd9307C9Bt). Dr Goldman pointed out some of the changes that society will be subjected to over the next few years. What is most striking is the speed at which these changes will take place. I remember talking to a scientist with British Telcom back in the early ‘90s who said that they knew absolutely what developments would arrive within 5 years; they had a pretty good idea what would happen in the next 10 years but beyond that they were ‘wishing and hoping’! as Dr Goldman suggests we are now in the exponential age, where changes occur at an ever increasing rate. In many cases these changes happen faster than most businesses can adapt. If you read the article you’ll see that many developments will directly affect the Travel and Tourism Industry.
The second piece was by Christopher Elliott in the Washington Post (http://ow.ly/Hrvl307C9Ob). Chris is suggesting that 2017 is the year many people, especially Americans, won’t be traveling on vacation. He cites many reasons and offers suggestions of how as a tourist you can benefit (please go and read it!) but for those of us in the industry there are three main takeaways. That tourist will be looking for alternative accommodations, authenticity and satisfying their needs for instant gratification.
I’ve talked to many travel and tourism professionals over the past year and we’ve discussed the inevitable changes that are happening and I can’t think of anyone who has disagreed. After all, the signs are really clear – very ‘in your face’ as it were. However, many are not willing to accept the speed of changes.
Take ‘alternative accommodation’ – Airbnb in particular. Home sharing has expanded incredibly rapidly. Airbnb are now the largest accommodation provider in the world with over 2.5million homes (incidentally, they own no hotel rooms!) yet most of the vacation rental companies here in Northwest Florida’s Northern Gulf Coast seem to think think they are not a serious threat to their business model.
The past year the 1.5 million guest arrivals to Florida via Airbnb represent 114 percent year-over-year growth. This comes as Floridians increasingly embrace the home sharing platform as an opportunity to earn supplemental income and make ends meet. The Airbnb Florida host community grew 74 percent in 2016 to a total of 32,000 hosts.
Yes, the local industry says, but it’s in cities, not here.
This is the total supplemental income earned by Airbnb hosts in our local counties:
Bay County $4.9 million
Walton County $3.3 million
Okaloosa County $2.9 million
Escambia County $1.8 million
Santa Rosa County $683,000
That’s a total of nearly $13.6 million. True, it’s only 10% of the income from Miami-Dade alone, but its still remarkably significant.
People love the idea of either staying with a local host, or staying in the home of a host which they perceive differently than the relatively anonymous experience of a cookie cutter condo or a ‘standard’ hotel room.
This contributes to the ‘authenticity experience’ that comes from home sharing, boutique hotels and the like.
Chis Elliott also refers to ‘Instant Gratification’. I know I’m always talking about the attitudes of Millennials and younger Boomers but they do have have a seemingly out of proportion effect on our industry. Their behavior appears to affect the other sectors of our audience too. The ubiquity of smartphones and the ability to access information from wherever you are, makes the almost impulse decision to book a vacation all too easy.
You’ve bought things on Amazon. How many times have you been tempted by the ‘people who bought this also bought this’ suggestion?
Think what will happen when someone suggest “How about we go to The Gulf of Mexico next weekend?”. You look at your phone and up pops the local CVB websites – you see what events are happening, and guess what? You can book the Airbnb accommodation right there, and the concert tickets, and the Uber from the airport. Of course there was link to book flights too but you’ll probably want to do that with the airline because you get your miles there – and suddenly Delta Air Lines are offering 1 mile for every $1 you spend with Airbnb if booked through them – oh, and Uber credits too.
We have a change to the whole vacation booking experience, which is not taking 5 or 10 years to develop but is happening as we speak.
Put a note in your calendar to contact me at the end of 2017 and tell me if there have been no changes to your tourism business during the year. To be frank, I don’t think you’d be able to do that by June!
Whatever happens is going to be exciting. The evolution of the world’s biggest industry has always been fascinating and the near future won’t disappoint I’m sure.
Please follow the Owen Organization blog on www.owenorganization.com, sign up for the newsletter and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OwenOrganization. Lastly, check out the weekly ‘Talking Tourism’ column in the Northwest Florida Daily News every Sunday.
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……
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.