We’re an industry with a lot on our mind.
We’re all operating amidst a swirl of change and disruption, fueled by new technologies, evolving consumer attitudes and emerging business models that are already starting to revolutionize our industry. It’s forcing us to be focused on the here and now, while also trying to reshape ourselves to deal with a future that is both scary and filled with opportunity.
As we attempt to maintain this balancing act between what’s impacting us today and preparing ourselves for what might happen tomorrow, here are just a few of the endless questions that are worth pondering:
What if future generations don’t want to travel as much as previous ones? Several years ago I wrote a MediaPost article that wondered if we might not be watching the emergence of a generation of people who were less inclined to travel. I cited two studies that found teens aged 13 - 17 were less inclined to want to travel overseas and that they might travel less as they embraced gaming, social networking and other always-on media. Why should we think that today’s young people will want to explore the world the way we did and to what extent will climate change, terrorism and global tensions, rising costs, growing transportation hassles and new technologies make travel less attractive or necessary? I’ve always felt that we as an industry need to look at how we can instill a love of travel and discovery into kids at a very young age. But where do we start?
Should we be worried that teens don’t want to drive? A recent study revealed that fewer teens than ever are getting their driver’s licenses, and when asked when they plan to get one, over 21% said never. If that percentage holds or grows, that’s a lot of future consumers who are unable to jump into a car and drive to all those destinations and tourism attractions that aren’t well served by public transit. The impact on tourism could be significant, whether it be fewer tourists, a greater urban focus or possibly giving rise to new transportation services (hello, long-distance Uber and ride sharing for vacations). Do we think these teens will change their opinion over time and ultimately be forced to learn to drive as they get older and life’s circumstances require a car to support the needs of work and family? If my travel business relies on the drive market and drive-in traffic, how is this going to change my business and what can I do to adapt?
Could Airbnb be stimulating demand that ultimately benefits hotels? If you haven’t noticed, the occupancy levels and demand for hotels in the New York City market is going off the charts. It’s on the verge of setting all-time record highs. Yet it’s achieving this in an environment that includes Airbnb, which by itself is experiencing robust volumes in New York, to the point that they are actually paying residents to leave their homes so that they can have more inventory and availability. When you add up the travel demand between hotels and Airbnb, you get a growth rate that defies logic. So what gives? Is Airbnb stimulating more travel or possibly creating a new type of traveler? Is the lure of a different kind of experience supplementing the market growth as opposed to diluting it away from hotels? Is New York just an aberration and not sustainable? Whatever the answers are, they’re going to be critical to shaping our understanding of the travel marketplace.
Is food the new epicenter of travel? We all know that travelers are looking for new experiences, but it seems that food and dining have become the centerpiece for what people are most looking to discover in a destination. When I look at a hotel and restaurant like Nomad in New York, I see an example of how dining and food can define and elevate a property. And when I am consistently unable get a restaurant reservation in my hometown of Boston on a Tuesday night a week out, I know that something unusual is afoot. So whether it’s finding street food in Southeast Asia or a Michelin-rated restaurant in a major metropolis, travel marketers will need to find ways to embrace the culinary quest as the sought-after accomplishment and bragging right it has become. But how do you differentiate yourself if people are increasingly seeking out the same select places and how can you elevate your own culinary offerings so they become equally sought after?
Of course, the questions our industry needs to ponder doesn’t stop with my all-too-short list. I mean, is it possible that some form of fully immersive virtual reality will be the new vacation? Or that a significant new piece of our industry will be about helping people turn their passions and local knowledge into monetizable assets? Or will the real challenge of beacons and GPS-centered marketing be less about the technology, and more about our ability to harness its potential and eliminate the creepy factor?
Whatever your questions are, it’s essential that we carve out the time to search for answers, whether we like what we learn or not. So feel free to weigh in with what’s on your mind. Because stimulating the dialogue is the most valuable outcome of all.
After all, there’s an awful lot to ponder.