How can U.S. destinations revive? Last month my column focused on the strong outbound U.S. international travel market, noting that U.S. destinations essentially are now competing with international cities and countries for U.S. visitors, and as a result, are being squeezed both by domestic travelers going abroad and limited international inbound visitation.
Then, literally overnight, war erupted in the Middle East, which could be protracted based on the current situation.
Now with travel advisories, news reports, first-hand accounts, and social media, how will U.S. (resident) travelers respond? What is their level of concern and uncertainty? Will they pull back and cancel planned international trips or decide to not book desired future trips at this time? Will they still travel abroad as planned, or maybe change their international destination? Or will they decide it is better to travel in the U.S. again?
The outcome(s) are likely a combination of these behaviors, becoming evident as events unfold. However, this turbulence could offer an opportunity for U.S. destinations to regain their U.S. domestic visitor share. Among the considerations would be to look at one of the factors driving international outbound tourism, overseas’ lower costs for lodging, food, and retail items. This is not to say “budget” but relative lower costs for a trip.
One way U.S. destinations can appeal to visitors is to communicate value. While prices are still high in the U.S. generally, they are not in every U.S. destination, and even in higher-cost places, the message of value is still relevant (as value is relative), and value-added is a travel incentive.
What is “value” relative to tourism? It is used in tourism studies as a measure of monetary worth…and a gauge for tourist satisfaction. We at TAG see value as: the perception in the mind of the consumer that what they spend money on in a destination gives them a unique, (positively) memorable, and ultimately satisfying experience.
People often will spend more than they expect for something they perceive will give them more than what they paid. To do that, a destination needs to take stock – qualitatively and quantitatively - of its current unique offerings and how those can be translated into messaging that conveys the promise (and hopefully delivery) of a memorable and satisfying experience.
One way to create value is for tourism serving partners to work together to offer multi-level connected experiences rather than one-offs. Visitors seek authenticity and to engage in a place as a resident would, visiting the area’s special lesser-known local sites and sights and interacting with residents. Bundling is value-added, and can deliver more than an individual unconnected experience, and more likely to boost satisfaction. An example may be promoting an art gallery, with perhaps a one-of-a-kind arts tour, and a deal at a singular local restaurant.
U.S. destinations can and will have to successfully compete with international destinations. As well, they will have to anticipate the eventual return of international visitors to the U.S. For both segments creating and delivering added value can help destinations overcome the visitor squeeze many are going through now.