January 2020

Happy New Year!  Well, actually Happy New Decade. As we start 2020 I got to thinking how much has changed from a tourism point of view in the past ten years.  It appears to have changed quite a lot.

One of the words (two words in fact!) that has been used a lot towards the end of the past decade is ‘over tourism’. Probably it’s been over used as a few people assume that any congregation of visitors is ‘over tourism’.  I don’t subscribe to that of course, however it’s true that we, ‘the human race’ are traveling more than ever.  Take just one nation – China.  In 2009, 47 million Chinese traveled overseas. According to the British Daily Telegraph newspaper the figure for 2019 is 166 million and predictions are that this will reach 400 million by the end of the 2020s.

It’s not just the Chinese of course, we’re all traveling more.  I visited New Orleans just before Christmas and was impressed by the sheer variety of nationalities visiting the city.  It’s great for local economies on the whole, but of course the numbers need managing to avoid getting too much of a good thing.  Some destinations are trying to ration access by charging day trippers, imposing limits on numbers or simply closing at certain times.

Here on the northern Gulf Coast we have traditionally had a peak summer season of about 100 days, but this in itself is changing.  The fact that school vacations are changing in both length and when they occur has reduced the summer peak to between 60 and 90 days. More importantly though is that tourism organizations along the coast are reporting drops in the numbers of people visiting the coast during those peak summer months. The good news though is that we are getting more visitors during spring, fall and winter, thereby spreading the visitation. Although figures for the summer were down (in one area) by 17%, the last year was up overall by 10%.  That’s good for the economy as it encourages more year round jobs and it’s less stress for the locals as there are fewer cars on the road in the summer months. We’re also getting visitors from new areas in the Midwest and Northeast.

What else has changed?  Back in 2009, had you heard of AirBnB?  In those days the company was renting out air beds in people’s spare bedrooms in city locations. Now the company is a rival to the established vacation rentals (as are VRBO – Vacation Rental by Owner, and HomeAway) and hotel chains.

Low cost airlines were certainly around in 2009, but there has been significant growth and there are now international low cost airlines too. The legacy airlines have countered with their basic economy fares, but one wonders how long this ‘race to the bottom’ will last.  The low cost airlines are struggling to make their economic model work and ‘basic fares’ are not doing the traditional airlines any favors.

I’ll bet few of us had iPhones and their competitors in 2009 as the brand was only introduced two years before.  However the ownership of smart phones has grown colossally over the past 10 years with something like 95% of 16-24 year olds now having a smart phone in their pocket. Not only does that bring a (good) camera to everyone, so that you can share your selfies, but has given rise to Instagram, Facebook and a raft of similar sites.  Tourists now base their decisions on where to travel on what they read on social media, YouTube and TripAdvisor.  Visitors to attractions, faced with lines or high entrance fees now ‘google’ on their phones to see if they can by cheaper entry tickets or gain faster access. I’ve even seen people park outside hotels and use their smartphones to see if they can get a better hotel rate at the last minute than they have already booked!

So much has changed and I think I’m only scratching the surface with those few examples.  What do you think will happen in the new decade?  Let me know. Send me an email at conexion@owenorganization.comJanuary