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Takeaways from TTRA's 2016 Marketing Outlook Forum

Cheryl Schultz

What’s Old is New Again...with a Twist!

Marketing Outlook Forum, or MOF as it has come to be known, is one of two conferences produced by the Travel and Tourism Research Association (TTRA). While the summer conference is focused on research, measurement and best practices, the MOF is focused on the “outlook” for travel in the coming years.

Although travel almost never shows a decline, it’s growth does slow from time to time, thus while travel is still expected to grow, the growth in travelers, and their associated spending, will be slower in the next couple of years than in the past few. There are several factors leading to this forecast including safety fears, and the uncertainty of the global economy. In fact, we may see fewer international travelers in the U.S. largely due to exchange rate depreciation, which is making travel to the U.S. much more expensive than in the past several years. 

While the economic outlook may not be as exciting, the horizon looks bright for many other facets of the industry, particularly how we market to travelers. Last year VR (virtual reality) was barely muttered, but this year we are beyond that to AR (augmented reality) with many destinations and attractions incorporating games such as Pokemon Go into their marketing mix. Pokemon, really? Remember when Pokemon just gobbled up dots on a screen and the big innovation was Mrs. Pokemeon (not even Ms.)?

Ah, and the focus on Millennials, that group that doesn’t want to be pigeonholed and certainly does not think of themselves as homogeneous. But we persist in talking about them as this entitity that have all mind melded and become a single force in travel. A Boomer reference you say – correct. If you look at Millennial behavior over time, what you’ll see are travel differences that are much more related to life stage than to generation. DK Shifflet saw the exact same thing with Boomers. Thus, as the coveted Millennials age, their travel habits are much more likely to resemble Boomers. The difference with this group, however is that they were raised by Boomers, one of the most traveled generations ever.  Thus, Millennials are early adopters of travel and are therefore more experienced travelers than generations before them. The result is that they are looking for new adventures, which many find by traveling outside the U.S. This trend is likely to continue. 

Accommodations also have a new face in the “Sharing Economy”, but the concept and practice of renting a vacation home is decades old. Some very smart people have just taken the concept, combined it with technology and viola Airbnb and VRBO/HomeAway were born. The ongoing question is how will availability of accommodations on these home sharing sites impact the hotel industry. Will they cut into existing hotel room-nights? Will they generate additional room-nights that would not have existed otherwise? This was the topic on which I presented and the answers to these questions are still a bit fuzzy. While the complete answers are complicated and nuanced, what we know is that the percentage of people booking on Airbnb and VRBO has increased over the past year and those who have stayed in these accommodations enjoy their experiences and plan to book again. We also know that overall GenX is the most likely generation to book these types of accommodations, followed by Millennials and Boomers. 

This was an incredibly thought provoking conference one that left me wondering what travel will look like twenty years from now. Will we sit in the safety of a pod and take virtual vacations anywhere we dream, or will we surround ourselves with holograms providing all the luxuries travel has to offer, or pile into our driverless transport and enjoy the ride to……infinity and beyond?   

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