Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: May June 2013
Major Organizations Assess Industry Trends
By: Michael Bennett
Major corporations spend tens of thousands of dollars studying trends, looking for little nuggets of information to maintain or gain a competitive advantage. Business leaders sift through mounds of data and become prognosticators of future events based on past performance, shifts in technology, social mores and business cycles. At times executives simply need to separate themselves from all the numbers and take a holistic view of their business.

That’s what we’ve asked several industry leaders in meetings, conventions and hospitality to do here. It’s not statistical analysis we wanted, rather we wanted them to gaze into their crystal ball and lead us into the future. First some universal findings that most of the nine respondents below mentioned. Business across the board is up as our economy heals.

The second was really not a finding, but more of a want – a want to see more spirited cooperation among the many players in our industry; or as Deborah Sexton, president & CEO, Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), put it, “collective industry advocacy initiatives.” Sexton says, “the industry organizations really got behind this last year and I see us together being able to make a positive impact on the perceptions and value assessments of our industry.”

To ensure our survival and prosperity this need for the “collective” can’t be overstated, and it appears many industry leaders are taking action. Oil and gas, banking and the airlines industry might all be competitors by day, but they band together when necessary for the greater good. (No wonder all of our prices rise unison, but I digress.)

The other finding was the need to incorporate technology. All nine respondents mentioned adapting to technological innovation as a way to appeal to clients, customers and members. We choose not to ask questions about the boogieman known as “sequestration.” The variables associated with $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that took affect March 1, 2013 were too difficult to predict with any degree of certainty at press time, but we’re already experiencing the negative effects of sequestration.

Government trade shows, a staple of our industry are being cancelled. Government travel across all sectors, (federal, state and local) have been drastically reduced. At airports, cutbacks in TSA personnel and air traffic controllers are slowing down the nation’s air transportation system. Those traveling back to the United States have reported two to three hour waits clearing customs and immigration, and that’s for U.S. citizens.

With the exception of Roger Dow from the US Travel Association, no one addressed sequestration. We wanted to focus on moving forward. We asked a few basic questions and gave the respondents free reign to answer as they saw fit. Here are the questions.  “What do you see as the primary trend/s affecting your group or business interest in 2013, positive or negative, or both?” “Are your members feeling the benefits of an improving economy?” “What would you like to see from the overall travel, tourism and hospitality industry to improve the circumstances for the organization you represent?” And finally, “Are there any particular trends in your sector of the industry we should keep an eye on going forward.



Lisa Simon, President, National Tour Association (NTA)
“In January, we asked our members to forecast the top trends and issues that would impact their business — either negatively or positively. Across the board — tour operators, suppliers and destinations said dealing with demographic shifts and changing consumer needs was at the top of their list. This does represent a challenge, but it’s also a huge opportunity. As an industry, we need to nurture young professionals because they are the future, and for our members’ businesses, NTA is helping prepare them for how younger people view travel and how they want to purchase and experience travel.”

“Related, our members also acknowledge reduced group size as a top trend and issue. Operationally, this means that suppliers and operators need to understand one another’s requirements and work collaboratively on their relationships.”

“Reduced group size also speaks to the trend of more interest in specialized travel. Instead of a group of 40 on a tour, an operator might have three groups of 15 or 20 pursuing specific interests, or a family traveling together. For 2013, our members are projecting an increase in many types of market-specific travel including faith-based, adventure, family, culinary and student.”

As regards to our improving economic climate Simon says, “All categories of NTA members — tour operators, suppliers and DMOs — reported that 2012 was a better year for business than 2011.” NTA members expect 2013 to be better than 2012. ”This sentiment is particularly strong among our suppliers and DMOS: Nearly 75 percent expect to see more visitors in 2013. That’s huge. Six in 10 of our operators express similar optimism for this year, and that’s encouraging as well.”

When it comes to the industry as a whole, Simon believes we, “made tremendous progress last year, as President Barack Obama recognized travel’s enormous contribution to the economy. That sped up visa reform, which raises international visitation, and this is one example of progress that helps NTA members, specifically.”

“I would like to see an emphasis on tracking the economic impact of travel so budgetary decision-makers see that travel and tourism do have a positive impact on the bottom line.” As for technologies impact, Simon believes “In our world today, where change is the new normal and technology is pushing us toward digital habits and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), there’s also the trend of people wanting to disconnect with devices and have authentic experiences when they travel…I do not see this going away. This changing consumer need requires creativity from the operators to meet this demand.”



Charlotte Haymore, co-Founder, Travel Professionals of Color (TPOC)
“The positive trend that will affect TPOC in 2013 is the increased awareness throughout the travel community of how exciting, educationally and personally connecting cultural and heritage tourism can be. “

“Recent studies show 60 percent of travelers enjoy trips that provide Cultural and Heritage Tourism tours…African-Americans are taking more trips that include heritage tourism and are taking their children to expose them to their own culture and history in a fun learning environment.” On the negative side of the ledger, Haymore says, “that this well kept secret for so many years (cultural and heritage tourism within the African-American community) is now becoming a household word in the travel community and the financial benefits that many minority travel agents have enjoyed for a few years is now being shared with others.”

Haymore is disturbed by all the talk of heritage tourism because, “ very few people of color are part of that conversation.” Haymore also points out that many TPOC members fear technology. This slow embrace is costing them business, and as a result many members are not experiencing the benefits of the economic recovery.

Haymore, who also owns Charlotte’s Cruises, believes cruising will continue to grow in popularity, despite the rare unfortunate situations that occurred earlier this year on Carnival Cruise Lines. She says, “cruising is still the best value for the dollar and TPOC agents tend to make money selling cruises along with cultural and heritage tourism opportunities sold as tour ad-ons at various ports.”

 

John Graham, President & CEO, American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)
“We need to recognize that the business model for many associations is changing. Traditionally, associations have been intensely focused on creating an ideal member experience, whether it’s through their meetings or their publications or other products and services they offer.” Everything is geared toward enhancing the member experience and fostering engagement so those members stay active and involved, and renew those memberships when the time comes.”

Graham sees technology as the key to growth and cites mobility as the primary tool. “To stay relevant associations have become eager adopters of what we call mass customization, this practice of creating products and services to meet individual members’ needs without any tradeoffs in cost, delivery or quality. Mobile is a game-changer in terms of how many members will interact and engage with our associations in the months and years ahead.”
 
The second challenge we face says Graham, is changing demographics. “This is probably the first time in history where you have three and, in some cases, four generations in the workplace. We need to be very adaptive and flexible if we want to sustain a productive, talented and inclusive work environment.”

Graham was quick to point out that not only is the workplace multi-generational, it’s also becoming more diverse. “This diversity is already playing a major role in the workforce and associations need to understand how this impacts their staffing, but also their ability to recruit, retain and engage members and volunteers, says Graham.” ASAE has developed and interactive tool called the Association Inclusion Index, which helps associations better meet and measure their organizations’ diversity and inclusion objectives.

Graham believes, “another trend associations will experience is the ability to recover and/or reimagine membership and revenue streams, including increased attendance at conferences and trade shows…print advertising won’t come back its moving towards digital and mobile advertising. Associations need to think about how to play in this space to increase awareness…”



Roger Dow, president & CEO, United States Travel Association (USTA)

While he didn’t start 2013 worrying about the impact of “Sequestration,” of late it has certainly consumed a significant portion of Dow’s time as USTA and other industry leaders adopt strategies to cope with government cutbacks. Under the sequester, all government agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and other agencies that are vital to travel facilitation and outdoor recreation face automatic spending cuts.

Dow’s worry is that travel will become the face of cuts that everyday Americans will feel once sequestration takes hold. In a statement back in February, Dow said: “there is absolutely no excuse for travelers in one of the world’s most advanced nations to suffer through a travel process that wastes their precious time and resources…We continue to point out to Congress that travel is driving post-recession recovery by creating jobs faster than the rest of the economy and that these cuts could derail our recovery.”

With no political solution in sight, USTA has developed some strategies to help fight this man-made crisis:
  • Engaging media to voice the travel industry’s concerns;
  • Communicating directly with Congressional offices to inform them of the deep impact the sequester will have on travelers and its ripple in the economy;
  • Activating a grassroots mobile messaging campaign that easily bridges frustrated travelers with lawmakers; and
  • Developing economic research to paint a picture of the realities stemming from these reductions.


Michael Dominguez, Chairman, Meeting Professionals International
While we see increased attendance numbers and slowly rising budgets, Dominguez says, “there still remains tremendous pressure on budgets and resources with organizations closely scrutinizing every expense.” “These budget challenges are driving an increase in local/regional meetings with shorter lead times. As such, we see more time and attention being paid to destination selection as an acknowledgement of the role that destinations play in the meeting and event process, with flexibility in business planning being seen as essential.”

“If we look at trends that are impacting the execution of meetings, we see that delivering content alone is not fulfilling the attendee's needs. Face-to-face meetings will need to inspire, guide and create unique experiences. The key to event success will be the ability for the planner to deliver this content and experience in diverse ways. Our recently released research on the future of meetings provides additional insight into several key trends:
  • New monetization models will make context and connections onsite even more important;
  • Content will need to be shared before meetings, so that delegates can come prepared to brainstorm and learn from their peers;
  • Younger generations are less interested in lectures and more interested in having questions addressed;
  • Delegates don’t just want knowledge, they’ll want know how to apply this knowledge to improve their daily functionality.”
Dominguez says the industry is somewhat of a mixed bag. “Not surprisingly, we are seeing an increase in growth for domestic corporate meetings, while government meetings continue to decrease.”



Greg Edwards, Chairman, Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI)
“DMO budgets stabilized in 2011, but have not fully recovered from their peak in 2008,” says Edwards. Public funding also stabilized at $2.4 million, but private sector -funding dropped eight percent.

“Since 2011, with travel having resumed, communities are definitely seeing the positive impacts of visitor spending, and as a result of that, DMO budgets have increased.” As 2013 continues to unfold there are practices that are unfolding to improve the DMOs situation across the board. One trend is the creation of engaging marketing content and strategies while managing stakeholder interests.

Edwards says, “because of the way DMOs are structured, they are often driven by what their constituencies want, which isn’t necessarily what the consumer is looking for.” There is more of an opportunity to connect consumers with locals and provide inside information. Other practices include differentiating a specific brand from the growing number of destinations; accurately reporting the net benefit of tourism to a community and securing investment to make it all happen.



Hugh Riley, Secretary General, Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO)
“I think its fair to say that 2012 has been both an exciting and challenging year for the Caribbean tourism industry,” said Riley.

“Visitor arrivals to the region continued to rise, fuelled by improvements in the US and Canadian markets. Yet we continue to face challenges in Europe, particularly the UK market from which the numbers have been falling. Visitor spending has also been sluggish.”

Late 2012 figures show a 5.3 percent rise in arrivals from both the US and Canadian markets. Another factor that will soon dampen visits from UK citizens is the Air Passenger Duty (APD). The APD is a tax charged to passengers flying from the UK. The APD was scheduled to increase eight percent starting April 1, 2013.

This tax can cost a family as much as $368 (GBP) or about $564 (US). That’s the cost of one ticket. That’s a steep price to pay. And if you fly in any class other than economy, expect to pay even more. Despite the news coming out of the UK, the CTO has been “energized by our new vision to position the Caribbean as the most desirable warm weather destination by 2017,” says Riley.



Edward Bergman, Executive Director, Africa Travel Association (ATA)
Africa presents a mixed bag, says Bergman. Worldwide tourist arrivals to Africa have increased to 63 million as of 2010 (the latest year data is available). U.S. travel to the continent “is growing but not at the rate we would like…the problem from the U.S. perspective is one of perception, and of course the economy. Travel to Africa is seen as an option more for the affluent as some exotic locale.”

Perceptions are beginning to change along with myriad other improvements. “Eight years ago when American’s wanted to fly to Africa, service was limited and most routes required transit through Europe. More African and American carriers are flying direct today,” says Bergman. Seven of the 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa, yet American’s are still cautious, while travel from China for business and leisure is booming in certain parts of the continent.

Americans going to Africa travel with a purpose; some are socially conscious travelers, some business, others have environmental or sustainable energy agendas and others are looking for a cultural experience. Popular travel destinations within the African continent usually feature stable governments and good security. Southern Africa, especially the country of South Africa, which had a chance to showcase itself as host of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, is the top destination. Other serious players in Southern Africa tourism are Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda.
North Africa, especially Egypt saw tourism suffer mightily after the Arab spring, unrest and the changes in governments of several North African countries. But the numbers for Egypt in particular are showing improvement.

Bergman would like to see more of a focus on the U.S. market by African tourism leaders. Many of the African countries were former European colonies and much of their marketing efforts go to Europe.



Deborah Sexton, President & CEO, Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA)
To improve the industry and the meeting business as a whole, Sexton believes in the need for “the wider adoption of hybrid and virtual meeting and trade show extensions. We’ve debunked the myth of cannibalization, now we need organizations to embrace online extensions as a channel to reach a broader audience with their education and products and services.”

There are three strong trends PCMA is focusing on in 2013. The first is the proliferation and advancement of technology. Meeting and trade show audiences expect to engage with and be engaged by technology. Our members wants us to show them what’s new, what’s affordable and what they can use at their own meeting.

“Second, is the globalization of meetings,” says Sexton. “More and more we find our members are producing meetings outside the US and they need qualified resources and local information for these destinations and venues they don’t know well. Simultaneously, organizations in Europe and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) want to know how to best connect with the US audiences — both for target attendees and product/services buyers.”

The third says Sexton, “is the impact of digital disruption on the meeting audience’s behavior. We already know this disruption has shortened attention spans and increased the expectation of instant gratification — challenges indeed, but we are responding to those behavioral changes and showing our members how to evolve their meetings to align with this new audience.”

Sexton left us all with something to ponder when it comes to the impact of technology, “…what will the next behavioral change be, because more is coming?”
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