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Each year, tourism forecasters compile expensive reports predicting what the future will bring, and every year I read hundreds of these predictions and talk with dozens of industry leaders.

Many of their speculated themes for the next few years are predictable: automation, artificial intelligence, climate crisis, virtual reality and augmented reality, China's rising power, cryptocurrencies, Zoom, remote work and people fighting for their rights. What do all of these mean for tourism?

The travel industry faces a different turbulence than we're used to, with change coming at us from every possible direction. We examined a few trends you can expect to rattle our cages in 2022.

EXPERTISE IS IN DEMAND

Plenty of group leaders, educators and novice travel planners found themselves lacking the expertise, resources and knowledge to handle rapidly changing rules, regulations, policies and restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. To avoid this sort of stress and frustration, many of these planners (and the organizations they work for) are now insisting their trips be planned by professional tour operators and travel agencies.

"People are more willing to pay for 'expertise' because they don't want to be on the hook for everything if the boat sinks." - Keith Snode, Group Travel Odyssey

EMPATHY AND PERSONALIZATION

At the pandemic's beginning, we saw many brands talking about "being in this together." Your messaging needs to go beyond that pat-on-the-back, we-got-this story. Potential audiences want to envision how your product or service will improve their life as we ease into normalcy—they want something they can believe in. Tips for creating genuine, authentic empathy in your messaging:

  • Messaging focusing on solutions is empowering and positive. It tells customers they can do it, and you can help.
  • Using plain language in your content makes it more believable and relatable. Avoid getting hung up on "marketing speak" and technical jargon.
  • Choose active words that elicit emotions. Inspire. Imagine. Engage.
  • Think about creating conversations, instead of simply shouting at your customer. In conversations where you know the person's name, you may be able to reference a specific need or discuss a topic you have in common.

Empathy is about walking a mile (or more) in your customer's shoes. Watch how they shop and interact with your products. Learn from them. If you can think like your customer, chances are you'll create a connection.

WORK FROM HOME POLICIES

Working from home has become an efficient way for businesses to operate and manage overhead. Now that people are working remotely, work will never go back to the way it used to be; geographic requirements around talent acquisition will loosen. Income and economic resources have shifted from city centers to the suburbs and rural areas. This brings added opportunity for those businesses who see this as a target audience.

PRICE COMPRESSION

Price compression is an explanation for market bubbles. It's a pinch situation. Lower inventories, vendors struggling to recuperate losses, demand spikes, and market uncertainty all converge to drive prices up and options down. Travelers who have very fixed departure dates will feel this more than those who can shift plans to off-peak or shoulder periods.

"We're seeing so many hotels that remain closed; the other hotels with rooms left to sell can raise their rates. It comes down to basic supply & demand. Demand is there on the domestic front. We're seeing second tier cities commanding rates that we once only saw in New York City. Add to that inflation. We're educating operators to not expect the same rates they saw in 2019. The supply chain is under super-pressure and that honeymoon period is over." - Robert Miller, TravelAdvocates

BREAKDOWN OF TRADITIONAL EDUCATION PATHS

As the pandemic interrupted schooling for millions, new relationships with online learning began to flourish. The weight of student debt and continued class conflict have drawn people away from a traditional college education path. Expect to see a rise in solution-based, on-demand online training, like the courses offered at tourismacademy.org. More concise, targeted and efficient training will lead professional development.

DIVERSITY, EQUITY AND INCLUSION

Many workplaces now focus on DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) instead of only D&I (diversity and inclusion), as equity has become just as crucial in several global companies. To ensure equity in the workplace—fair and impartial processes and outcomes for each individual in the company—leaders and employers need to be mindful of the challenges, barriers and advantages at play for everyone at any given point in time. Equity is the reminder that not everyone starts at the same level playing field, and so swift and vigilant action is paramount to building a fair workplace.

The takeaway is simple: Travel is evolving. Those who are most nimble and able to adapt quickly will capitalize on market opportunities.

Stephen Ekstrom is the Chief Strategist at The Tourism Academy | TourismAcademy.org. In addition to holding leadership roles within the tourism industry, he's been profiled by the New York Times, lectured at leading universities, appeared on numerous television and radio programs, and been published by trade media around the globe.

This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec '21 issue of Groups Today.

 

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