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 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…
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……….
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……..
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………….
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?
Can you believe that next Tuesday is August 1st? Labor Day is just a month away, and schools go back around August 10. Traditionally the summer tourist season here on the northern Gulf Coast runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, what was called the 100 days of summer. These days, with schools breaking later and returning earlier, it’s almost the 60 days of summer. From the industry’s point of view, there’s a big weekend for Memorial Day, then a pause until the schools have been out for a week. Independence Day is huge, although the real success depends on which day the 4th actually falls. Then the season continues until the schools return when there’s a breather until the big Labor Day weekend.
As we locals know, the passing of Labor Day brings one of the two best parts of the year (the other being between spring break and Memorial Day) when the humidity disappears, the heat backs off just a tad, and the large numbers of tourists (those with their young families) are absent. It’s the time we all love, the ideal time to live here.
It’s also the time to attract those tourists that we really love. The higher spending, lower party size, Boomers and Millennials who come for the festivals, life style, food and culture. Not that we don’t love the families who fill the beaches in the summer of course.
Successful tourism maximizes income during the Summer Season, so that the fewer numbers of higher spending visitors during spring and fall provide the icing on the cake. A small increase in these guests provide a thankfully disproportionate increase in income. How to attract this small increase?
Obviously we need to keep our attractions, restaurants and experiences open. We need to plan our concerts and cultural events for this time of year. We need to heavily promote what we feel is the best season of the year.
Many of my fellow industry professionals want to ban the term ‘shoulder season’ when referring to Fall. The move is to call it the Best Season. I understand where they’re coming from. To those in the industry, between ourselves, it will always be a case of high, shoulder and low seasons. That’s inescapable. But to the tourists renaming Fall ‘The Best Season’ maybe simplistic. Best for what?
This is where really clever marketing will come in. Tailoring our message to individuals or personalizing, is where tourism marketing is succeeding now. If you love fishing then the Fishing Rodeo is YOUR season. Music, seafood, arts all appeal to small but high spending individuals with the opportunity to travel. I will say that if you Google ‘Fall Festivals Florida’ you’ll be hard pressed to find many in our area. That’s something that can be solved with creative search engine optimization of course. The Alabama coast has cracked that.
The Best Season, Your Season, Festival Season whatever. Let’s get the word out that Fall is the absolutely greatest time to be here.
Sitting in tourism planning meetings you hear people say “let’s do what we did 10 years ago. It worked then.” Yes, it would be nice to do the same things. There’s something comforting in that, but a recent anniversary made me think that we just can’t roll back time.
The iPhone is 10 years old. It’s not the only smartphone, and wasn’t the first. But it has, like it or not, become the standard bearer for that kind of device. Not everyone has a smartphone, but enough tourists do that it has brought massive changes.
Just looking at the travel, tourism and hospitality businesses, what has the smartphone changed?
People still use printed airline boarding passes but a huge number use electronic passes. Flying into the US you can use a free app called ‘Mobile Passport’ authorized by Customs and Boarder Protection that allows you to pre-file your information and breeze through immigration and customs. I use it. It’s superb.
Where to stay, eat or what to do? TripAdvisor and similar sites offer peer reviews that people tend to trust over ads by hotels, restaurants or attractions. All in your hand, on your smartphone, now.
Book your accommodation? No problem. On your phone at the last minute to get the best deal. I’ve seen people sit outside hotels using their phone to negotiate and book. Same applies to tours and activities. These are usually booked within 48 hours of arrival and online sites like TripShock make booking easy, and the tickets are on your phone – no paper. All you have to do is guess that the weather will be OK. No guessing, DarkSky or a dozen other apps will give you accurate, hour by hour forecasts.
How do you get to where you’re going? Built in GPS with turn-by-turn directions, no matter if you’re driving, walking or on public transport. Traffic reports too – yeh, 98 is still blocked.
Don’t bother to carry a camera. Your phone has a camera that makes yesterday’s versions obsolete. Postcards too. You now share your travels to social media friends the world over and you can post your review of the restaurant you just experienced. In places like Jackaccuda’s you can scan a little flag in your meal and see where and when your fish was caught, and who by!
Don’t want to drive? Book an Uber, from your phone of course.
No transistor radios on the beach anymore. You carry your music library with you, and stream what you don’t own. Oh, movies and TV too.
That’s only scratching the surface. Virtual tours of museums and historic sites; payment from your phone; on line shopping; news, books. Oh, and it’s a phone too!
If those are the changes for tourists, think of the changes for hotels, rentals, airlines, car rentals, attractions, restaurants even, in our area, Charter Boat Captains.
Our tourism experience has changed massively in 10 years. But wait, coming soon, virtual and enhanced reality. I’m excited. How about you?
This article appeared in the Northwest Florida Daily News on Sunday, June 19, 2017
By this time of the year, we are usually in a good position to know what sort of success the tourism industry is having not only locally, but nationally and internationally, as well. At the midpoint of 2017, the state of the tourism market is throwing up all sorts of conflicting results.
Here in Northwest Florida, where only 1 percent of our tourism is currently of international origin, we think that our domestic, drive-in visitors make us immune from trends in other sectors. Strangely what happens in one market does have an effect on the other areas.
First, the good news. Our local hospitality professionals are reporting excellent advance bookings for the summer season and bed tax collections have been up for the first quarter of the year. Important also is that bookings for attractions and experiences have been very strong in the first quarter and advance bookings are ahead of last year.
Visitors to Florida were up by 2.5 percent for the first quarter of the year over 2016 with 3.1 million visitors arriving. Visitors from Canada and UK were down but an increase in domestic visitors more than filled the gap.
Statistics from credit card companies for Northwest Florida show an increase in spending from cards with Canadian, UK and German addresses. Okaloosa County’s DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) feels this can be put down to Canadians preferring our area to central and south Florida, and that new flights into New Orleans from London and Germany may be bringing visitors here.
On the other side of the coin, the strength of the dollar against overseas currencies and other factors may discourage Europeans from heading to U.S. destinations. Some areas of Florida are seeing drops in online inquiries from the UK by as much as 60 percent. Foursquare, a location technology company, says that America’s market share of international leisure tourism declined an average of 11 percent between October 2016 and March 2017. However, the financial attractiveness of traveling to Europe has seen a huge increase in Americans heading east across the Pond with an 80 percent jump in U.S. to UK bookings reported by Expedia, an on-line travel agent.
So, nothing really conclusive, but the trend is currently good for Northwest Florida, which relies on domestic tourists. But with fewer internationals coming to the U.S. and more Americans traveling to Europe, the U.S. destinations that usually welcome overseas guests may start looking at attracting “our” domestic visitors. That’s not a good portent for 2018.
If the proposal to close Brand USA and the cut to Visit Florida’s budget from $100 million to $25 million goes ahead, then the Sunshine State will loose out to California and other domestic and foreign places. Areas like Orlando and south Florida may use their budgets and publicity to try to steal “our” visitors. It’s a distinct possibility.
It’s essential that the Gulf Coast destinations redouble their efforts to keep our exiting visitors and develop new markets as soon as possible. Nothing is definite, and we look set to have a really good 2017, but 2018 … who knows?
Martin Owen is an independent consultant to the tourism industry and owner of Owen Organization in Shalimar. Readers can email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It should be noted that since this piece was written, the Florida Legislature have authorized a $75million budget for Visit Florida, albeit with severe restrictions on their ability to operate effectively.