Red Tide: DMOs & Ecological catastrophes

Earlier this year, our blog examined a variety of natural disasters through which our clients had unfortunately been suffering. (Read more here)  Of course, we hoped that was the end of it. Our friends in the industry would see no more trouble; or as the great Willie Nelson said, “nothing but blues skies from now on.” Alas, those dreams were shattered this summer when a severe and unusually persistent Red Tide ravaged the south Florida tourism industry.

If you’re not familiar with what a Red Tide is, it’s a real mess. Red Tide is a dangerous accumulation of naturally-occurring microscopic alga that has been documented along Florida’s Gulf Coast since the 1840’s and occurs nearly every year. It can harm sea life as well as cause respiratory inflammation and unpleasant burning skin reactions in humans. A combination that is not good for tourism. This year, an unusually persistent Red Tide — the longest in the area since 2006 — happened along the Florida Gulf Coast. In coastal tourism communities, the impact to the local tourism economy was severe.

If there is any good news in the situation, it’s that only half (49.1%) of American leisure travelers had actually heard of the Red Tide situation prior to taking our most recent The State of the American Traveler survey. (This may be one of the few cases where a destination marketer wants its customers to be in the dark, unfamiliar with its product.) Still, amongst American leisure travelers, the event has had a significant impact on desires to visit.

When asked how the Red Tide would impact their travels in the next 12 months, 40.3 percent said it would make them less likely to visit the Florida Gulf Coast. While a certain percentage seem interested in experiencing this unusual event, they are outnumbered 5 to 1 by those who say they are less likely to visit.

Impact of the 2018 Red Tide
(Effect on Likelihood to Visit the Florida Gulf Coast in the Next Year)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The impression left by this disaster with travelers isn’t good. While it is unclear how this will actually impact travel behavior, let’s hope that people have short memories and that the upcoming year will be a banner one for Florida tourism. As a matter of fact, as we move into the New Year, let’s hope for a 2019 free of the disasters that have recently destroyed the great work being done by our destination marketing community.

Is Influencer Marketing Worth Your Time?

Now trending on Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and beyond, digital influencers are moving the needle for destinations of all types. Our latest research sheds some light on the extent of their impact.

Influencer marketing has quickly grown into a big business over the past few years, and savvy destinations around the world are already working to incorporate it into their marketing mix. However, there seems to be a general lack of understanding about this relatively new approach to destination promotion. Whether the goal is to create “buzz” around a destination’s brand, to establish credibility in the marketplace, or simply to generate direct bookings, many of our clients have admitted that they feel like they’re flying in the dark. With this in mind, we added a few relevant questions to this month’s The State of the American Traveler survey to take a basic measure of the market. Specifically, we sought to learn how many leisure travelers are using content created by these so-called digital influencers, which traveler segments are being influenced, and, perhaps most critically, what they’re using this content for.

But this isn’t an easy nut to crack. A major hurdle faced in asking travelers about the impact that digital influencers have had on their travels is a definitional one. What exactly is a digital influencer? In marketing circles, we at least have an idea of what the term encompasses, but of course, it would be poor survey form to expect all travelers to be familiar with the concept. So, we defined it for them:

DEFINITION: A “DIGITAL INFLUENCER” is a person who has established credibility online and who shares their opinions and experiences with a large audience. This can include bloggers, travel writers, YouTube personalities and/or persons with large followings on social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.).

 

For those interested in entering the game of influencer marketing, the survey results look promising. Nearly one in five American leisure travelers (18.3%) reported that they have indeed used the opinions of a digital influencer in their travel planning sometime in the past year. Furthermore, the generational differences among respondents is striking. Over one-third (36.8%) of Millennial travelers say they have used content from a digital influencer to help plan a leisure trip in the past year. For now, it seems that the older generations are somewhat less susceptible to being ‘influenced’ in this way – only about one in five Gen Xers (19.9%), and fewer than one in ten Baby Boomers (8.0%) reported using the opinions of a digital influencer to help plan their travel in the past year.

And what types of decisions are they influencing?  The answer will be music to the DMO marketer’s ears. (Drumroll please.) When asked what travel planning tasks they had used digital influencer-generated content for, survey respondents most commonly said it was to help select the destinations they would visit. More than half of those influenced in any way (55.1%) said that in the past year, they had made at least one destination decision based on digital influencer content. The typical respondent also indicated that several of their other travel-related decisions were impacted, too – on average, a total of 3.6 decisions (see chart below).  The decisions affected range from the restaurants they choose to dine at in a destination, to which hotels to stay at, where to shop, and to how to get around using local transportation.

Finally, those who indicated that they had selected a destination to visit based on content from a digital influencer were asked to categorize the type of place it was that they visited. Beach destinations, national parks and big cities were the most common answers, but as the chart below shows, destinations of all types are receiving traffic driven by digital influencers.

Simply put, digital influencers are important. They’ve already carved out a significant niche in the battle for consumer attention, and their impact will likely continue to grow.

Photography Bans as Marketing Gold

It’s been said that marketing is a contest for people’s attention.  If that’s the case, at least for this one short moment, a small village in Switzerland may have won the game.  An article just out from The Independent tells the story of the small mountain town of Bergün/Bravuogn that has taken the extraordinary step of outlawing the taking pictures in its bucolic environs.  The rationale behind the new law goes something like this.  The town claims that it is “scientifically proven” that beautiful travel pictures on social media make those seeing them unhappy.  Therefore, allowing travelers to share the extraordinary beauty of their destination with friends back home is unkind, will make people sad.  So, the law was needed to promote general happiness.
 
It’s brilliant and all in good fun.  A bit of good-spirited (and quite effective) publicity grabbing.
 
But here’s the rub.  According to the story, the local DMO says it “has removed photos of the village from its Facebook and Twitter accounts, and has declared its intention to remove them from the Bergün website too.”  We don’t believe they’re serious, for as a long-term strategy this would be disastrous. We’ve studied DMO marketing campaigns for decades and from every point of view possible, and can say definitely and with no hesitation, that in terms of what motivates destination choice, photography is paramount.  Humans are highly visual creatures, and nothing excites interest in a place like beautiful, authentic imagery.  We hope Bergün enjoys the fruits of this smart PR work, but would gently suggest that they don’t ride this wave too long.
 
Why?  Word-of-mouth via social media has become extremely important to travelers.  Social channels are one of the most important places from which leisure travelers draw destination inspiration.  If you don’t believe us, check out page six in our latest The State of the American TravelerTM study.  You’ll see that word-of-mouth (via social media) is one of the more widely relied upon methods for getting inspiration for travel destinations.  If Bergün is really smart, they’ll use their clever new positioning as a way to get visitors to actually post their beauty shots of the town to social channels.
 
In a social climate where the words like “troll” and “hater” have quickly become ubiquitous parts of the American vernacular, it might be easy to believe the myth that people don’t want to see their friends and relatives’ travel pictures—that, in some way, this does make other people unhappy.  Don’t believe it.  Negative voices are often the loudest, but our research strongly shows that most people enjoy seeing and hearing about their friends and relatives’ trip adventures on social media.  Not only do they use social media for trip inspiration, they enjoy it.  The next time anyone tells you that people don’t want to see travel posts on social media, just refer them to the chart below.
 
Enjpoyment of others' travel posts

 

Americans are Ready to Travel

According to our latest national survey, American leisure travel expectations hit a new high in October.  While travel expectations have been on a positive, stable trajectory for years now, our Fall The State of the American Traveler national tracking survey recorded a strong upward surge in expectations for leisure travel in the upcoming year.  This optimism is shown by a record 37.4 percent of Americans saying they expect to travel more for leisure in the next year, up from 32.2 percent just 3 months earlier. Leisure travel spending expectations are also similarly high, signaling that prospects for continued growth in this segment are strong.

The table below shows the proportion of American leisure travelers who (in the next 12 months) expect to travel more, less and the same as they did in the most recent 12-month period.  The results show strong current traveler optimism.

Travel Optimism Soars
(Percent of all leisure travelers)

Meanwhile, future travel sentiment across the country is slightly uneven, with residents of the coasts showing the highest levels of optimism for travel in the upcoming year.  40.2 percent of residents of the Pacific Coast region expect to travel more in the upcoming year, while 36.7 percent of travelers living in the Northeast and 38.9 percent in the Southeast expect to increase the number of trips they will take in the next year.  Future travel expectations in the central areas of the country are marginally lower.

Travel Optimism: by Region
(Percent of regional residents expecting to travel more in the next 12 months)

 

 

Much of this current optimism is being generated by younger travelers.  The charts below show the most recent survey’s data broken out by generation.  As is typically the case, younger travelers show the highest propensities to be planning more travel in the upcoming 12 months.  Nearly two thirds (57.9%) of Millennials currently say they will travel more in the next 12 months.  By comparison, only one quarter of Baby Boomers (26.8%) are planning to bump up the number of trips they will take in the next year.  For Millennials, these are big changes from what was seen this summer.  In our July survey, only 51.4 percent of Millennials said they were planning to take more trips.  The older generations have shown much smaller growth rates between the two most recent survey waves.  It seems clear that growth leisure travel volume in 2017 may depend on the younger generation’s ability to live out these high expectations.

Travel Optimism: by Generation
(Percent of Americans by generation expecting to travel more in the next 12 months)

 

For more detail, download the latest summary report here.

Roll Another One For the Road

Marijuana’s place in the tourism industry

America is blazing today. Cannabis aficionados across the continent are gathering to celebrate 4/20, the unofficial, counter-culture holiday enjoyed annually by millions. So many revelers observe this holiday, in fact, that here in our beloved hometown of San Francisco a capacity crowd of over 15,000 is expected to converge on Hippy Hill in Golden Gate Park to partake, and enjoy our beautiful Spring weather.

Much has been said in recent years about marijuana legalization and its impact on tourism. Most of this talk has been simply the personal opinions of those who (for either political or monetary reasons) have an agenda and interest in the conversation’s outcome. As devoted seekers of the unvarnished truth, our tolerance here at Destination Analysts for opinion unsupported by data is low. So, we’ve done a little exploration, and in the free-wheeling spirit of the day, we thought it would be fun to look at some pot stats we’ve collected from our The State of the American TravelerTM survey.

As it turns out, not a huge proportion of tourists actually visit marijuana dispensaries while traveling. Only 3.4 percent of all American leisure travelers have visited a marijuana dispensary while traveling for in the past year, making this niche a relatively small one. Given the size of our traveling population, this means about 6.3 million persons participated in pot-related activities while traveling last year. This small market makes sense, of course, as few states have actually taken the steps to legalize. As of today, only Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia have taken the step, leaving most of the country out of the game.

The Current Legalization Map

pot2

For the destination marketer, the million dollar question is, of course, how legalization effects the flow of visitor volume and spending. The picture here is actually quite murky, with more people finding the practice of a destination legalizing pot as unappealing than appealing. In a recent wave of The State of the American TravelerTM , we asked leisure travelers to think about destinations where marijuana is legal (i.e., where they could buy marijuana-related products in a dispensary.) Respondents were then asked how appealing they generally find this practice to be when evaluating such destinations for travel. Nearly 38 percent of leisure travelers fell into the unappealing camp, saying the practice was either “Unappealing” or ” Very unappealing.” About one quarter of American travelers (24.7%) say the practice is either “Appealing” or “Very appealing.” Strong sentiments at both ends of the appeal spectrum point to the negative–as travelers are nearly twice as likely to find legalization to be “Very unappealing” than “Very appealing.”

How Legalization Impacts Destination Appeal
(Legalization makes a destination…) 

pot3

Chart source: The State of the American Traveler, Destination Analysts, Inc.

How pot legalization will play out in terms of the overall economic impact in a given destination obviously can’t be divined from a national survey like this. However, it’s clear that marijuana tourism has appeal in certain segments, as well as the potential to turn other visitors off. Given the unfortunately controversial nature of this topic, we’ll be surprised if a comprehensive and credible study emerges examining the economic impact of these laws on specific destinations.

We’ll remain hopeful, though, and leave you with a few fun marijuana tourism facts to inhale:

  • Marijuana tourism is clearly more popular with the young. Our survey shows that 6.3 percent of Millennial travelers visited a marijuana dispensary while on a leisure trip in the past year. They were three times as likely as Baby Boomers (2.1%) to do so. Among travelers rating legalization as “Appealing” or “Very appealing” fully 46.0 percent were Millennials. Only 15.8 percent of those who find the practice on some level “unappealing” are from this younger generation.
  • In fact, pot tourism appeals to a different overall demographic. Comparing travelers who find marijuana legalization to be an appealing destination attribute to those who don’t, those in the appealing camp tend to be more diverse (ethnically), more likely to be single, less likely to have completed college and have somewhat lower annual household incomes.
  • The naysayers also have bigger travel budgets, and report they expect to spend 17 percent more on leisure travel in the upcoming year than those who find legalization makes a place more appealing.
  • Yet people who approve of pot travel more. Those finding legal marijuana appealing took an average of 4.6 leisure trips in the past year. Travelers who find the practice unappealing took only 4.1 trips.
Destination Analysts

The State of the American Traveler, Destinations Edition

If you’ve worked with us, you know that the Destination Analysts team is passionately devoted to helping destination marketers understand the modern traveler. For nearly a decade, every six months we’ve produced our flagship domestic study, The State of the American Traveler TM , and have provided it on a complimentary basis to our industry. This research is been widely used and helps our team shape our thinking around the ever-emerging industry topics of the day. With this rapid pace of change in the industry, our sense now is that conducting this study every six months is no longer enough. There are just too many questions floating around and too few answers available to continue on in this format. So, we’re changing course. We’ll still be partnering with our friends at Miles, but will now be conducting the survey every quarter, greatly expanding its potential.

With this good news looking forward, we present to you the first of our quarterly studies, the Destinations Edition. If you’d like to review the summary report, you can download it here. Of course, if you have questions or need extra detail, just call us. Additionally, we also gave a webinar earlier this week in which our President & CEO digs deeper into the edition’s findings. We think you’ll enjoy it.

The State of the American TravelerTM Webinar, March 10th, 2016

Webinar Screenshot

If you have questions you would like to have us explore in the next edition, send them to us!

Destination Analysts

Love, American Traveler Style

If you’re reading our blog on this beautiful Saint Valentine’s Day, we think you should stop immediately (like 5 seconds ago), step away from your iPhone and go snuggle up with your love connection.  Seriously, do it.  Our musings on romance and travel can wait.  If you’re reading this sometime after the great lover’s holiday, please enjoy these few fun stats for the destination marketer about finding new love and the modern traveler.

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Just for the heck of it, we asked a few questions about romance and travel on our soon to be released The State of the American Traveler Survey.  The results paint an unexpected picture of Americans hitting the road in search of love.

As it turns out, if you’re an American looking for a new romance on a vacation, we have some discouraging news for you.  Your chance of success isn’t all that good.  While we may all have secret dreams of “things happening in Vegas that stay in Vegas,” finding a new partner on the road seems to be a little harder than expected.  Our survey shows that last year a little over twenty percent of us have left on a vacation in hopes of making a new romantic connection.   But, alas, only about one quarter of these impassioned travelers (26.3%) found success in meeting a special someone.

Traveler Hook-ups
(Travel Activities in the Past 12 Months)

Romantic vacation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To be blunt, in most of life this success rate would be considered abysmal.  If a high school student scores 26 percent on a Calculus test, they fail.  Remedial Algebra here we come.  In Major League Baseball, a player batting .263 is sent down to the minors, or dumped completely.  On Tinder, whose ego would not be bruised if they knew they got only one out of four right swipes?

We don’t mean to take the wind out of your romantic sails, as there is good news in our research.  We all know travel is a powerful aphrodisiac, and despite the fact that three out of four traveling romance seekers strike out, serendipity isn’t dead.  Coincidental romance  still happens, as overall, 13.7 percent of us met a new romantic partner while on the road last year. This means that over 10 percent of those with no expectations at all for travel romance got lucky (with a new person) on the road last year.  From a purely numerical standpoint, with hundreds of millions of travelers exploring our great country, we declare this to be very Happy Valentine’s Day news.

As an aside, it should come as no surprise that romance and travel is still, for the most part, the domain of the young.  Millennial Generation travelers are nearly three times as likely to meet a new partner on the road as are Baby Boomers.

Where do we go for romance?

Overall, the top destinations we think are romantic are not tremendously surprising.  We asked American travelers in an open-ended question (meaning they could write in any answer they wanted) what single American destination was the most romantic. The list of top destinations that emerged is sprinkled with fabulous cities and traditional honeymoon spots. The top twelve destinations are shown below.

Most romantic destinations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who wouldn’t get lost in the romantic possibilities of any of these fantastic places?  Wherever we go looking for love, though, hope does spring eternal; and travel romance can be a new start as well as a cure for a bad relationship.  Amazingly, nearly one fifth of American travelers (17.2%) took a leisure trip “specifically to get away from someone” last year.  While some may find this unsettling, to the hopeful romantics here at Destination Analysts, this only confirms the old folk wisdom that you don’t need magic to disappear, just a destination.

Destination Analysts

Which Content Types Matter Most in the Destination Decision. Plus Other Insights from our Latest The State of the American Traveler Report.

The early 2015 edition of our The State of the American Traveler report is now out. As always, this edition explored several topics relevant to travel marketers and uncovered some fascinating insights about American travelers.  One of the most interesting included the types of content that travelers feel is most relevant to their ultimate destination decision.

Travel resource usage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long time followers of The State of the American Traveler may recall a similar question asked one year ago. This time, we removed the concept of cost—something most of our destination marketers cannot control–in order to really look at what content motivates the desire to visit. Interestingly, hotel and lodging information still reigns supreme.  However, this is closely followed by restaurant and dining information. People are most interested in where they sleep and what they eat when it comes to picking the destination.

Destination Analysts

Travel Industry Roundup: The State of Things in 10 Vignettes

1.  Skift goes old school. The popular travel industry website Skift is launching a print magazine, scheduled for release in January.

2.  Gasoline prices are continuing to fall.  In much of the country, the price of gasoline is now below two dollars–and overall it’s down more than a dollar from last year.

3.  AAA analysis says that lower gas prices will save consumers $75 billion this year. More money in our pockets means more money spent in our destination’s hotels, restaurants, attractions and shops.

4.  American consumer confidence increased in December.  The Conference Board reports that we’re feeling the improved job market and our sense of overall economic conditions haven’t been this high since February 2008.

5.  Aloha record-breaking year.  Hawaii’s tourism industry is reported to be on pace to beat last year’s record performance.

6. Destinations around the country report similar outstanding performances and outlooks.  Here are a few checking in during the past week:  Asheville. Philadelphia. New Orleans.

7.  Hilton Head and San Francisco hit home runs.  Our latest client and our fabulous hometown win a prestigious award.

8. The lodging sector outlook also feels good.  Our friends at PKF have released their Lodging Insights: U.S. Lodging Industry Forecast for 2015.  Take a watch.

9.  It turns out the tourism industry worldwide is big. Really big.  The World Travel and Tourism Council reports that the travel industry’s total contribution to the global economy rose to $6,990 billion, or 9.5% of the GDP.  It is expected to jump up by 4.3% to $7,289 billion, or 9.6% of the GDP for 2014.

10.  Airbnb gets really creative.   Airbnb sets out to help rid the world of strangers and turn us all into interior designers.