Challenge Common Perceptions

Perceptions are powerful and persistent. In an age when it’s commonly believed that “perception is everything,” it’s important for travel marketers to keep in mind that, while they may have long ago realized that a perception was outdated – or had never been on target in the first place – there are countless numbers of potential customers who persist in maintaining that off-kilter outlook.

A recent event run by the International Spa Association (ISPA) included a number of well-known destination spas like Miraval in Arizona, which have now positioned themselves as comprehensive wellness resorts – where guests of both genders come not just to get a massage or a to eat low-calorie meals but to transform and redirect their lives. But if you did a survey of consumers about how they perceive spas, many would say “women getting massages” – this despite the fact that a resort like Miraval offers an amazingly comprehensive approach to wellness and will see 30% of its guests from the male population.

Every travel segment battles similar perception issues:

  • Tours: “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.” Has any movie ever done more damage to a travel product – maybe “Psycho” and motels.

  • Cruises: midnight buffet, assigned dining room seating and shuffleboard. Okay, maybe a little outdated but you’d be surprised. Think of late-night comedians.

  • All-inclusive resorts: Images of mediocre buffets and singles gone wild still cling to this category despite the fact that there is now a very diverse portfolio including five-star properties ranking at the top of their markets and appealing to every demographic.

So what to do? The fact is that marketers have a two-pronged task: 

1. To continue to dispel long-held perceptions

2. To paraphrase: Education, Education, Education about contemporary outlook for all these products.

All of these categories depend to some extent – or to a great extent on travel professionals – travel agents, meeting planners, etc. Those professionals may be more up-to-date on where things stand. But the supplier has to educate the professionals in dealing with their clients – the consumers. A travel seller has to be able to quickly counter those stereotypes and then move the conversation forward to where things stand today.

Just as baseball teams and musicians practice the basics continuously – catching a ground ball, playing the scales -- travel companies have to keep in mind that there will probably always be potential customers who persist in these perceptions, and they have to start with the basics.

That doesn’t mean these perceptions have to be harped upon. You can’t have an ad that says, “All-inclusives are no longer about skimpy buffets” or “Spas are not just for women.” It’s far more rewarding to be positive about the real story – rather than constantly remind consumers that a product has changed.

Complicating all this is that new perceptions and misperceptions – potent ones – continue to emerge all the time. One cruise ship disaster or onboard illness – and a new taint comes along that has to be deal with – if not overtly, still consistently.

Overcoming perceptions can be especially challenging because those in the industry are aware of the reality. However, through focus groups or surveys they have to monitor how widely a perception is held by the public at any given time – and deal with it. 

It may not be fair but that’s just the way it is.

Tags: travel
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