Column: Targeting -- Taking Aim at Vacations

Tired? need a vacation? Italians take 42 days off every year, according to the World Tourism Organization. The French take 37; Germans take 35. The British and our Canadian friends take 28 and 26 days, respectively. The hard-working Koreans and Japanese take 25 days each. You and I here in the United States take just 13 days! No wonder we want to get away from it all.

Where do we go? Roper Starch reported that 11 percent of Americans like to stay home and relax on their vacations. Another 27 percent like relaxing, but prefer doing it at an exotic locale or beach. The largest group (44 percent) want to get away and do things. And the remaining 18 percent pursue a variety of vacation activities.

Americans are careful with their vacation days, as they have a limited number of them. Three in four Americans prefer taking two or more short vacations instead of one long one. Of course, these are averages. While Americans are parsimonious with vacation days and have a strong desire to relax, 98 million of us take off at least once every five years on an adventure trip.

The U.S. government reports that 19.8 million Americans leave the country for vacation. Europe is the most popular destination, accounting for 41 percent of travelers. The U.K. attracts 30 percent of all U.S. travelers destined for Europe. Caribbean destinations attract 24 percent, Asia 15 percent, South America 8 percent, and Central America 7 percent, with smaller percentages for the Middle East and Africa. (Apologies to Canada and Mexico, but according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Travel & Tourism Industries, they don’t count as “international.” Maybe it’s a NAFTA thing.)

What do we do? Americans’ favorite pleasures on vacation are eating (86 percent) and shopping (79 percent). Trailing by a wide margin are visiting historic places (in third place at 54 percent), sightseeing cities (46 percent), touring the countryside (39 percent), and visiting cultural sites (34 percent), museums (30 percent), nightclubbing (26 percent), theme parks (11 percent), national parks (11 percent), casinos (10 percent), golf and tennis (7 percent), camping/hiking (6 percent), cruises (5 percent), hunting/ fishing (4 percent), and in last place, heading for ranches (2 percent).

On vacation, we spend discretionary money, explore new things, and open ourselves up a bit. Is this an engagement opportunity? It’s not that simple. Except for those lying around the house, it’s hard to reach travelers while they are trying to get away from it all.

Your columnist prefers national parks at this stage in his family life, with 8-year-old Julia and 5-year-old Sam. In fact, this year we’ll be driving to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons, stopping at the Badlands to take in Mount Rushmore.

Consider, then, a trip to a national park as an example of the vacation marketing challenge: There’s a long car ride with small-town hotels and sightseeing along the way, and there are the preservation-oriented parks themselves, where you’ll see few if any product placements. So where are the openings for marketers?

The challenge is to penetrate an environment where the consumer has unplugged from his or her normal media consumption. Developing a broad network of diverse local campaigns for seasonal communications is cost-prohibitive. The easiest answer is to deliver messaging to mobile platforms that consumers are enticed to take with them.

Most current mobile platforms — iPods, in-car satellite radio, Game Boys, Sony PSPs, and cell phones — have limited to no advertising dimension. Maybe it’s time to innovate a business model, say, for mobile cable television. A digital video recorder with a screen and mobile chip would do the trick. The mobile cable company could rent these players for $5 a month with a 12-month commitment, treating them as set-top boxes. The video feed would come over one of the new broadband-anywhere networks in a bulk deal with one of the phone companies.

The portable DVRs would grab and store programming and compensate for weak and transitional signals. Subscribers would pay for channels or tiers of channels, and advertisers could lessen the costs with highly targeted DVR-based sponsorships and ads.

But wait — with all the mobile gadgetry delivering ads and programming, where did that vacation go?

Mark Green is senior vice president, media services, ACNielsen Analytic Consulting, and the founding partner of the Media Learning Institute. (mgreen@vnuinc.com)