In the second quarterly edition of the 2016 State of the American Traveler from Destination Analysts, we took a closer look at the adoption and use of new technology by American leisure travelers. In this blog, I suggest three important conclusions and related recommendations to consider in the review of your marketing plans – both for the balance of 2016 and into 2017.
Perhaps the most profound (if obvious) insight was the continued critical importance of word of mouth (especially, face to face) in the destination and other travel decisions by travelers. Word of mouth has always been fundamental to travel marketing from the very earliest years of tourism — and its central role continues in a more digitally orientated information environment. Over half of all US leisure travelers indicated that word of mouth had a significant role in their destination decisions, and more than 90% of these travelers report that “traditional” word of mouth (face-to-face conversation) is how they received this information (see figure below). Social media leveraged this to other contacts – but represented only just over one-third of US travelers.
Interestingly, traditional word of mouth was also the dominant way (64%) in which travelers found out about new technology or new media that could help their trip planning or booking. Television and other traditional media of magazines (printed and online) and radio came in second, fourth and fifth respectively as sources of information.
Conclusions & Takeaways: From the research and the webinar hosted in early June, we have identified three critical takeaways and recommended actions for destination and tourism marketers and managers:
1. A Great Experience is Job #1
2. High Tech and High Touch is Key
3. VR and Live Streaming Move Towards the Mainstream
A Great Experience is Job #1
Given the critical importance of word of mouth in the destination decision – and other travel decisions, a focus on providing an exceptional experience for visitors and guests is fundamental to marketing success – regardless of the destination and hospitality. If your destination, hotel or activity has customer service problems, then the rest of your marketing (no matter how innovative and effective) will be compromised.
Action: Focus on customer reviews/ratings and online discussions via review sites and social media as one key indicator of what your customers are saying. Consider independent customer satisfaction surveys, including using a Net Promoter Score methodology in asking for feedback (and if the traveler or guest would recommend you or your website to their friends and family). If you are a DMO, work with your industry on service training, new product development and in emphasizing a focus on related areas of marketing including online reputation management directly on sites such as TripAdvisor or Facebook, or using management platforms like ReviewPro, Reinvate and TrustYou.
High Tech, High Touch is Key
While new technology and new media channels such as social media are of growing importance, traditional word of mouth (face-to face-conversation) remains central to the destination decision – and of course to the travel experience.
Action: Empower your guests to be your advocates and ambassadors – by both providing a wonderful experience and by providing free high-quality WiFi to allow easy sharing of photos and posts while they are visiting with you. Follow up communication after the visit (via email, social, etc) prompts visitors and guests to recall and recommend your destination, accommodation or activity.
VR, Live Streaming and Other New Technologies Move Towards the Mainstream
A small but growing percentage of US leisure travelers are already actively using new technologies such as virtual reality (VR) headsets and live streaming video in their trip planning. In fact, 7% of travelers indicated that have used a VR headset to help influence or inform travel planning, and more than 1 in 10 (10%) indicated the same for live streaming video (eg: via Periscope or Facebook Live). Far greater percentages (63% and 38% respectively) have heard of these technologies – indicating possible growing adoption. Check out my blog from late last year, which highlighted some of the big moves in virtual reality from The New York Times and others.
Action: Keep a close eye on the growth of these new technologies and consider practical, low-cost ways to test and pilot these solutions. Live streaming video, which is free to set up and stream, is one specific technology that can be piloted easily (though it does take real time and effort to make a compelling and interesting live experience). B2B (eg: travel trade, meeting planners), in addition (or instead of) leisure travelers, may be effective audiences to start with. Finally, consider researching the adoption of new technology amongst your destination visitors or property guests via a survey of your own. Through all of these steps, make sure you are on the leading edge of technology – not the bleeding edge – where you are investing in technology that has still not proven its use and ROI.