By: Stephen Ekstrom | Fire Starter Brands' President
2017 is nearly done. It's time to take a look at what we can expect to see in 2018 that will impact visitors and change how we do business: For instance, in my conversations and work within the travel industry worldwide, I've noticed that faces keep getting younger, regardless of the business type or buyer/seller side of the table.
1. Younger Professionals
While it's no secret that those millennials have crept into the workforce - the US Census now reports that they are the largest living group. Preparing them for leadership is a challenge many organizations will face in 2018. A recent report by Bersin for Deloitte predicted that more than three million company leaders, would retire in 2017, leaving space for younger professionals and those with upward goals to take the reigns.
Here are four more trends that you can expect to see in 2018...
2. More personalized digitally immersive experiences
We've already seen a couple of openings in this realm lately with new attractions in New York, Las Vegas and Orlando. The excitement of digital media and its endless possibilities have captured the attention of investors looking to disrupt the attractions industry and cash in on the new technology.
Visitors want experiences to be personal and relatable on deeper, emotional planes. While we can't put every family name on the wall at Ellis Island, developers are looking for ways to deliver a that powerful unique experience to each visitor. Already, we are seeing VR World that give each guest their own headset & virtual world within which to explore a wide variety of scenarios. Handheld 3-D devices are appearing on sightseeing tours so that guests can see how street scapes may have appeared decades ago.
As the technology becomes more accessible and companies capture feedback from visitors, we are sure to see that the experience will become far more personalized. Building out these attractions will require a blend of the real world approach and the dive into the virtual deep.
Takeaway: Smart attractions developers need to understand that the experience is always about the customer. Guests will continue to rave about facilities that allow them to feel like they are a part of something special. Those same visitors will pan those places that rely on technology without finding ways to connect with the consumer.
3. Closures & Turnover
When markets are good and visitor data show a strong upward curve, investors flood the market with new product. We've seen this in the last few years with some cities opening 30-40 new attractions, countless restaurants, top tier hotel brands and luxury transportation within the last two years alone. Each of these businesses is built to capture the high-spending tourist, relying on rich market projections to justify expensive fixed costs.
As we've seen time and time again, the tour, travel and hospitality markets have their peaks and valleys. For every year when luxury travel takes the lead, there is another led by value travel. Unfortunately, product designed to satisfy only the highest spending customers struggle when the value of the dollar rises, corporate travel comes under greater scrutiny and those free wheeling travelers scale back their travel.
These "new" companies will need to take a hard look at their business models, pricing structure and overhead to make it through market volatility. Many will not be able to renegotiate their leases, build increased value perception at current price levels and recover from early reviews that questioned the cost of the product. When this happens - business fail, great sales people will find themselves looking for opportunities in tighter markets and established companies will be quick to snatch up great talent.
Takeaway: Trust your gut - if it's too good to be true, it is. If you cannot justify the product on your personal budget, consumers won't be able to either. Suppliers can invest now in sustainable high-volume markets to help them survive this period and industry buyers must be prepared to handle changes when they happen by keeping in touch with their suppliers who offer time-tested product.
4. Relationships Matter More Than Ever
With all this focus on big data, smart analytics, flashy product and consumer trends, it'll be the candid conversations between buyers and sellers, travel planners and product managers that will produce the best and most successful itineraries.
Buyers will be even more reliant on their trusted industry friends and partners for information on events that may impact the end consumer. Product managers and tour directors are looking for suppliers that will protect their reputation even more than they do provide a great service. The dollars will flow to the destinations and suppliers that can guarantee a great visitor experience, backing it up with truly personal guarantees that reach far beyond any contract terms or conditions.
Trusted destination marketers and local suppliers will be the first to receive the call from buyers when some piece of an itinerary falls through. It will be those trusted industry friends who will make alternative recommendations and save the day.
Takeaway: Invest in relationships. Put your time and money where your mouth is; join experienced professionals on a sales mission like those offered by Fire Starter Brands to meet with operators on their turf and establish yourself as the primary resource in your market.
5. Last Minute Everything
As consumer confidence wanes, attention spans continue to shorten and buyers are looking for ways to mitigate their risk, we can expect to see more last-minute bookings, confirmations and payments. Travelers will be looking to hold on to their money until they are absolutely certain that they are going to be able to go on the trip. Professional travel planners will be balancing their need to accommodate customer needs and their own need to protect the bottom line by choosing vendors that offer more flexible deposit, cancelation & payment policies.
Dollars will flow to those companies that enlist policies enabling sales people to be even more accommodating, more flexible and more helpful. Companies that focus on "protecting" their bottom line, reputation or image by engaging difficult and cumbersome booking criteria will lose favor to those which are easy to work with. Gatekeepers will be trounced by those who hold the doors open.
Takeaway: If you want to be successful, be flexible. Take time to understand the customer needs and work to ensure that your policies give comfort to uneasy decision makers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR...
Stephen Ekstrom is a well-recognized tourism marketing expert whose influence reaches over 500,000,000 travelers every year. He's been profiled by the New York Times and appeared on CBS, NBC and NY1. He is a fixture in the travel trade and has served as a board member, expert panelist, committee chair, mentor and program facilitator. Fire Starter Brands, founded by Ekstrom in 2010, manages a network of nearly 5,500 opted-in global travel trade buyers, advising and assisting smart travel industry suppliers and destination marketers. Stephen currently lives in South Florida with his two dogs, Match & Rudy.