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May 16, 2016 Q&A

Tourist sites must focus on 'epic' experiences

PHOTO | Contributed Jerry Henry, president and CEO of H2R Market Research

Q&A talks about changing tourist consumer behavior with Jerry Henry, president and CEO of H2R Market Research, a Springfield, Mo., firm specializing in travel and leisure research.

Q: You recently spoke at the Connecticut Tourism Conference in Hartford about how consumer social behavior is changing, which is having a big impact on tourism. What were some of the key points you got across?

A: For decades the primary reason people traveled or visited attractions was to go out and have some fun together with family and friends. But, today people can socialize on social media from their Lazy Boy. Throw in a big screen TV and a video game system, and many feel they don't need to leave home at all.

Digital social connectedness is powerful. And, it can either be the travel industry's best friend or biggest competitor. Getting people off the sofa requires a pretty epic experience. Mediocre destinations or attractions are not enough to get people to leave the Lazy Boy.

More U.S. residents report visiting attractions than who travel for leisure each year, 82 percent vs. 74 percent. Interestingly, Millennials (those aged 18-34 years) are more likely to visit an attraction (33 percent of all households) than they are to travel for leisure (27 percent).

The most successful destinations are providing epic guest experiences, keeping their guest experiences fresh, eliminating pain points (e.g. dirty restrooms, rude employees, etc.) and listening to their visitors.

Nearly two-thirds of attractions' visitation comes from repeat visitors (63 percent). Theme parks/amusement parks, zoos/animal attractions, large-format screen theaters and family entertainment centers tend to attract the highest ratio of repeat visitation.

Q: What is the Millennial market like when it comes to tourism? Not to generalize too much, but are they more experiential in their travels?

A: Oh my, yes. Whereas Boomers grew up collecting “stuff” (and storing it in their attics and mini storage facilities), Millennials (and now Boomers too) much prefer collecting experiences. It's all about creating memories. But, Millennials demand travel experiences on their terms. They are adept at using systems to find the very best deal and they frown upon paying for packaged services they don't use.

Millennials continue to reshape the travel and tourism market space.

Q: In your experience, what are some of the things that are done wrong when it comes to marketing tourism?

A: 1. Continuing to “describe” travelers in demographic terms rather than actually digging deeper and getting to know the traveler and the needs that motivate or inspire them to visit your destination;

2. Targeting the “average visitor” rather than the consumer niches that comprise the whole, e.g. girlfriends traveling together, multigenerational travel, people who travel alone, etc;

3. Monitoring the path to purchase each mission-critical segment of prospects take to convert into visitors;

4. Using generic terms and activities to describe the destination rather than differentiating around the unique benefits that make the destination different from every other place on earth.

Q: What are some of the trends coming in tourism marketing? What are some of the most effective tools going to be for attracting tourists?

A: 1. Big data and predictive analytics working in combination with CRM (customer relationship management) are still growing in importance, e.g. targeting specific customer households (and prospects) based upon algorithms defined from patterns of behavior;

2. Leveraging brand advocates — Identifying raving fans and arming them with information to help organically extend your marketing reach among the friends and followers they influence;

3. Experience management — The guest experience is becoming the marketing. That is, customers willingly post great comments about great guest experiences, which arguably does the marketing for you. Conversely, bad experiences get broadcast too, perhaps even faster.

4. Looking further down the road you may also include virtual reality to help pre-sell the destination or artificial intelligence that uses digital computer intelligence to identify key patterns even faster.

Q: How much of the market is mobile nowadays? In effect, are people hitting their destinations and then planning on apps? Or, is there more planning done on home computers before hitting the road?

A: Yes and yes. There is more research occurring everywhere — be it searching for deals, reading travel reviews or searching for calendars of events; people are going online to research before, during and even after their trips.

According to John Thomas of Media Storm, more searches now originate on mobile devices than on desktop computers. In my experience, this is because mobile is now eating into searches conducted at home, which used to be conducted by desktop or laptop and are also used in the destination after arriving.

And, according to the Fuel Hotel Marketing Insights Report, 31 percent of hotel prospects have used at least one mobile app when planning travel in the past year.

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