Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Travel and Tourism Trends by John Dersham

We live in a world of which our needs, desires and goals are changing rapidly, as our technology and economic trends continue to dramatically impact our culture. We no longer live in an environment where any of us can expect our careers to be for a lifetime, or the products we buy to still be current technology just a few years later. I worked for Eastman Kodak for nearly 30 years, film had already been around for almost 100 years when I started my career with the company. During my tenure we continued selling more rolls of film and processing more rolls than any year prior, for nearly 130 years. In the early 2000’s, film and processing sales declined to the point that more than one half of Kodak’s worldwide jobs were eliminated. Kodak is just one of the examples of how our culture changes with technology. The way we view, handle and share pictures has been re-invented with these technology changes.

The travel industry is no different. Tourists are doing things differently than they used to. Travelers are changing as the culture changes and the things travelers wish to do on their vacations are changing too.
This spring I had the opportunity to attend the spring conference for the Southeast Tourism Society. At this seminar guest lecturers from the tourism industry gave attendees updates on tourism trends concerning what people are doing, where they are going, how they use technology to plan their travel, where they spend money, and what they expect out of their travel experiences. Last week I had the opportunity to have a one and one half hour private consultation with Judy Randall of Randall Travel Marketing. Judy is one of our nation’s foremost travel and tourism experts. She was also a speaker at the seminar I had recently attended. Judy gave me the opportunity to talk about DeKalb County. Her role was to help me utilize proven travel trends to help us plan how we promote and advertise DeKalb County.

Here are some current travel and tourism trends:

*Internet (Websites) is now the single largest way potential travelers plan their vacations.
*Social Media has become a credible source for travel information for many consumers, because it is not paid advertising.
*The consumer is responding to things they see and hear and are less reliant on the older technology of reading brochures, newspapers and magazines. The consumer will not spend much time viewing any given destination. They want to see a visual that will make a quick impression.
*Tourists are changing their destinations. Our National Parks, for many years, were our nation’s largest tourist attraction. In recent years, attendance has been down as tourists pick destinations that offer temperature control, push button entertainment, and a faster pace.
*Young people as a whole are not as outdoor oriented as former generations and mothers planning family vacations are picking locations that will keep the kids motivated.
* During this time of economic downturn travelers are spending less per trip on food, less on retail shopping and they are looking for bargains in lodging and packages that bundle travel plans.
* Billboard advertising is being replaced with travelers whom have GPS and internet services in their hand as they travel.
*Leisure scenic travel is still big, but people travel with air conditioning, GPS and Internet connections with DVD players for children in the backseats.
*International Travelers are looking for the “Americana” experience. DeKalb is a perfect fit. They have already been to New York, Disney and Vegas.
*Lodging is changing too. The Baby Boomers who were attracted to Bed and Breakfast locations are aging and with that their desires for quaint and cozy has changed to easy, fast service where they can enter easily, leave easily and have all the conveniences within arms reach. According to Judy Randall, young adults want service, comfort, and an electrical outlet within arms reach at all times. They insist on a strong cell signal everywhere they go. Judy says B&B’s have been especially impacted by the cultural and economic shifts of the last several years. Cabins remain a popular choice among couples and families. Customers want the modern conveniences at their cabin rental. Hotel chains are constantly upgrading to meet customer demands.
*Festivals are still big, and growing due to the fact they offer lots of things to do that are fast paced, entertaining and are usually full of music and food and don’t cost much to attend.
*Attractions are changing too. The high tech attractions that are visual and electronic oriented are very popular among thirty-five and younger ages while the Baby Boomers and seniors like more traditional scenic or educational attractions.
*Motorcycle tourism is big now due to high gas prices and the popularity of group motorcycle clubs. We get a lot of motorcycle tours here especially on the Lookout Mountain Parkway.
Here in DeKalb County we are blessed with beautiful scenery, easy driving tours and lots of places to go and things to do. Our primary audience here is the Baby Boomers who enjoy the beautiful relaxing venues we have to offer. Of the younger population we attract those who have an outdoor preference. Those who like hiking, bicycling or do more adventure sports like rock climbing, repelling, kayaking, etc.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Summer Tourism in DeKalb County by John Dersham

Summer Tourism in DeKalb County

We are cautiously optimistic that this summer’s tourist season in DeKalb County will be better than one year ago. We are currently running television commercials in Birmingham on 33/40 which covers most of the middle portion of Alabama. We are running another set of commercials and infomercials on the Comcast interconnect that covers eight cable TV channels in a viewing area that includes North Alabama and Southern Tennessee. These commercials cover two week periods at peak travel planning times.

Last year DeKalb County outperformed the state and the country in tourism revenue. With that said I must note that tourism was down nationwide for one of the first times in history. Major tourism cities suffered as did major destinations, like Orlando-Disneyworld and Las Vegas. These declines ranged from eight to twenty percent. Tourism as a whole out performed the economic trends of the nation. Alabama was down a modest seven percent and DeKalb was down five percent. These numbers are based on calendar year. DeKalb ended up in the top ten percent of the best performing counties in Alabama. Counties in Alabama ranged from being down thirty percent to up twenty percent based on tourism conditions particular to each county.

We are a return destination. Our visitors love DeKalb County and they return to us often. We are a short, easy drive for points south to the coast in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida. Approximately thirty percent of all tourism in Alabama emanates from Alabamians. Our second largest group of travelers comes from the above mentioned coastal states. The reason being that we are among the first picturesque, tourism related mountains as you travel north from the gulf coast. In tough economic times like now we feel assured we will continue to perform well based on our historical travel trends.

We are very concerned about the situation in the gulf. The impact of the oil spill on our environment and on tourism is not well known or predicted yet. According to state tourism the beaches in Alabama have remained free of oil, thus far. The cancellation rates have been high anyway and that impacts north Alabama too. Many people coming from northern points to the gulf stop and spend some time with us before going to the coast. If they cancel their gulf coast visits we could be impacted. We feel comfortable, however that we are located so well that we will pick up new short drive (300 miles or less) customers that will come here instead of the beach.

Thus far this year our tourism numbers are a mix of growth and declines. Much of this year’s successes or failures have been based on weather conditions. Rain this spring and cold weather in the winter kept many home. On the other hand we have had periods of significant tourism in the county and our year to date numbers are up a little from a year ago.