In the last few weeks I’ve had a particularly busy travel schedule. I’ve spoken at conferences in Anaheim, San Francisco, New York, Houston, and twice in San Juan. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be visiting Texas, New Jersey, Colorado and Mallorca and even more places if a few other speaking invitations come through. What I’ve found as I travel from place to place is that while most destinations have their own unique appeal, most travel advertising is generic and repetitive. Because we do so much work in travel and tourism marketing, I thought a good public service would be to define the points that every advertiser should consider when selling their destination or travel-related service.
We call these points the Four “A”s of Travel Marketing.
1. Affordability More and more consumers are looking for vacations they can afford. Whether this newfound frugalness is a reaction to the great recession, a realignment of consumer priorities, a return to basic American values, the empowering reach of technology to save money or other personal motivations, every major social trend since 9/11 points to this phenomenon. Regardless of the cause, today’s bottom line is that consumers are actively involved in reducing their expenses.
Mind you, this doesn’t necessarily mean that consumers are looking for cheap travel; rather they’re looking for travel they can afford. Needless to say, the range of what’s affordable varies as much as visitors’ bank books. But it’s important to provide and communicate value so consumers believe that their vacation plans enhance rather than impinge their financial independence and autonomy.
2. Access While some adventure travelers look to visit destinations they can’t actually get to (or get to easily, anyway), it should be obvious that consumers look to travel to places they can reach. While the majority of travelers believe that getting there should be at least part of the fun, other than cruises travelers don’t actually expect the transportation portion of their trip to be that great. But they still look to travel to destinations they can get to without too much hassle. If your destination doesn’t have sufficient lift or highway access, you’ve got a big problem.
3. Activities Thanks to a mix of shorter vacations (for Americans, anyway), more active travelers (60 is the new 40, after all), the enormous rise of participatory sports (bicycling, marathoning, climbing, orienteering, etc.) and time-tracking technology (have you filled out all the grids on your iPhone or Blackberry calendar yet?), today’s travelers are looking for more and more things to do on their vacations.
None of this means they’re actually going to do more, however. While some visitors do run from activity to activity, many more are content to just have the option of participating. Much like the suburbanite whose rugged off-road capable 4X4 never goes anywhere but the grocery store or the businessperson who creeps through commuter traffic in a German sports car designed to go 155 MPH, many consumers insist on the option of potentiality even if they never exercise that power.
4. Authenticity Our audits of travel advertising show that most destinations focus on the same five attributes: a geological or architectural feature (St. Louis arch, Empire State Building, Mount Rushmore, etc.), a water feature (ocean, lake, river, swimming pool or fountain), participatory sports (skiing, tennis, golf, etc.), shopping and outdoor dining. Thanks to this “Me Too” marketing, it’s no surprise that few destinations enjoy the type of brand value that they should.
At the same time that travel advertisers are showing how similar they are to the competition, consumers are saying they want to see something unique and real on their travels. To this point, an oft-repeated industry quote says: “Travelers go to new places to see something old and they go to old places to see something new.”
While marketers are busy pointing out how similar they are to their competition, developers, fast food franchises, and chain stores are busy making it happen. And once again perception becomes reality.
Here’s a simple exercise: Take a few of your favorite travel magazines off the shelf and pull out a bunch of ads for different destinations, hotels or cruise lines. Now put masking tape over the logos and hang the ads on the wall next to each other. Can you tell the difference between the brands? Remember that an ad featuring The Statue of Liberty could be for New York City OR Las Vegas. If the me-too trend continues, my tongue-in-cheek fear is that the United States of America will soon become the United States of Generica.
So as you’re marketing your own travel product, remember to turn up the dial on the four “A”s: Affordability, Access, Activities, and Authenticity. By doing this you’ll be hitting the hot buttons that your consumers care about most, encouraging them to visit and to come back.