Wednesday, April 15, 1998

Emerging Travel Trends and Their Implications

The following observations were presented during the Mountain Travel Symposium that just attended in Banff, Alberta. These trends have clear implications for destination resorts like Deer Valley, Park City or The Canyons and highlight the travel preferences and interests of Americans. Without question, the demand for mountain winter vacations remain very flat.

The Age of Time-Poverty

For 266 million people living in the USA, there is a strong sense of a "feel-good-economy". On the plus side comes a clear sense of possibility, and on the minus side a much more demanding consumer. In fact, tomorrow's consumer is becoming a "vigilante", less willing to compromise, with an acute sense of "time-poverty". With far too many things competing for the consumer's attention, convenience becomes a key word and the new definition of value becomes "how easy is it for our consumers to do business with us?". Another finding is that people want to experience new things all the time and find the very best value, and -- as a result -- are not as loyal as we would hope. With prosperity comes a new definition of success which is likely to fuel a greater demand for leisure and travel service. In fact, vacations have become a birthright. With 70% of spousal households working, consumers tend to plan more impulsively and take shorter trips that are much closer to home (within an average of three hours). The week-end vacation is soon becoming the most popular one; this growing trend will accentuate peaks and valleys in terms of occupancy and will behoove us to aggressively pursue the convention business in order to fill these early days of the week. Probably because of these time constraints, Americans seem to gravitate towards domestic vacations.

The Importance of Convenience

In spite of all these positive signs, a malaise still seems to linger as we somehow feel that something isn't right. The response is very simple: we're all stressed to the limit. Indeed, time has become the new currency. We don't ever have enough time to do it all; as a result, "dashboard dinning" is up, and along with that, half of the Americans feel they don't have enough vacation time. Convenience is another key word in our over-stressed society. We must continually ask ourselves: "How convenient is our product to purchase or use". The pay-off is clear; a product easier to use or acquire will often transcend the cost factor (i.e. ski-in/ski-out mountain properties). To further ease the acquisition process, we may see consumer credit entering into the picture for lodging transactions following the "Love Boat Leases" that have started to appear in the cruise industry. Trends also point to consumers preferring to buy products that are "bundled" as long as they have control on the components that make up the package. While for most households the 80's were the era of acquisition, the end of that decade and the early 90's brought back "cocooning" and savings. Today's buoyant economy has returned a stronger sense of certainty. With it, people place "having more fun" at the head of their possibility agenda along with "taking a special vacation". With increasing time pressures, vacations have become opportunities to spend time together with families or friends. Over-exposure to Madison Avenue's message has also made most Americans suspicious of advertising. The element they trust most is not the ads they see or the editorial they read; they now have much more confidence in themselves. This trend signals that consumer activism is at an all-time high and rising. Consumers now negotiate for everything. They also want everything personalized; today, the exception has become the rule. With little doubt, this trend will also apply to vacations. Another by-product of "time-poverty" is that consumers are defaulting to brands. As a result, national brands are ascending. If established and trusted, brands save consumers energy by sparing them endless evaluations and negotiations.

On-Line Commerce

Technology is also bringing a new twist to the picture. Today, almost half of the households in America own a computer and AOL already claims over 12 million subscribers! While the internet is still not widely used to book vacations, it has started to become a tool for gathering travel information. Consumers still rely on their travel agent for booking vacations. Many are still concerned by on-line security but some have started to log on line for low risk transactions like books ( or music CD purchases. Experts also believe that very soon the internet will become a convenient tool for selling and buying distressed goods or inventory as exemplified by the new "" website in which consumer are given an opportunity to bid for low air fares. This may usher an era in which price-stability becomes seriously eroded. The debate on the future impact of technology would not be complete however if we failed to differentiate between "Technos" and "Know-Nots". A significant portion of the population will resist technology as long as they can; as a result, conventional ways for reaching these people should not be overlooked...