By John R. Hendrie, CEO, Hospitality Performance, Inc.
Unless one resides on a remote mountain top, blissfully isolated, you can hardly miss our national shift in mood. No matter our “stripes” or political persuasion, we are manifesting collective angst as a nation. We have been assailed with doubt for our institutions, our industries, and our security. And, anyone who manages Destination marketing and development needs to revisit their plans, budgets and strategies, for your Visitor will be ever vigilant and more discriminating on how they make their travel decisions and where they will stay, dine and play. Our focus must adapt, too!
It would be very easy to make this a political, economic or social polemic, but events and realities supersede those options. The calamity in the Gulf region is heartbreaking, and our response, even with many knowns, was not satisfactory. In a world laced with terror, we are not feeling secure; our preparedness is not assured. Gasoline prices will never be the same, and travel decisions will be made, based upon that gasoline cost. The ski industry will be impacted, as well as large Destination areas such as Myrtle Beach, where 92% of their Visitors arrive by car, and others, such as Branson, MO and Lake Tahoe.
We know the airline industry, hemorrhaging already, will pass the fuel cost on to the traveler. The automotive industry, emphasizing SUV’s and trucks, is in similar straits, announcing recalls, while Asian manufacturers “eat our lunch”. The Housing Industry is reportedly on “the bubble”, but our Lodging segment builds like crazy. Who will fill all those rooms? The economy is strong, yet we carry the largest deficit ever, and we are at war. And, organized labor is just itching to get at our soft underbelly, where the Hospitality Industry is very vulnerable. These are the most unusual of times!
The American spirit is resilient and optimistic. But, the face of Hospitality and how we do our business will need to be flexible and proactive. Those who represent our businesses, the DMO’s, and those who deliver the goods and services to the Consumer will need to reconsider and reframe what we will promote and provide to the Visitor going forward. Those who are summer seasonal have a respite, while others are ramping up for the next season, whether it be for the “leafers”, the “snow birds”, the leisure traveler, or the convention business. The Labor Day Weekend in the East was odd, perhaps a harbinger of what is to come.
Meeting Planners certainly have new items to consider beyond heightened amenities and activities when looking to “book” a Destination. They want a feeling of security and tremendous value for the price. Anything that a Destination can do to make itself more distinct and to differentiate their area as compared to another must become a priority. Be very careful with discounts and “couponing”, as it is difficult to regain that edge, after you have devalued your product.
Past experience has shown that the Consumer will still travel, stay, dine and play, but the target business changes, from fine dining to more casual dining, for example, and there is the need to stay closer to home for the travel pattern. Cost drives this, and it is not a new phenomena. But, it shall become more embedded.
If there ever were a time for all parties to unite and represent the Destination community together, it is now. The dynamics are changing, bold initiatives must be considered, and someone else will not take the lead - each and every one must participate. Many times we are very slow to react and do due diligence; the Hospitality Industry must discover what the Consumer wants and how they feel about the Experience you have delivered. If you have not defined this and measured your performance, how can you succeed? For an Industry which should be leading the way in defining satisfaction and better than meeting expectations, we are woeful! Branding exercises, marketing plans, budgets will all need another review. The market has changed, just as has the Consumer psyche!