Increasingly, people value experiences over stuff with travel dominating bucket lists. This continues to fuel travel and tourism with six successive years of growth outpacing the global economy. As such, the more than 30,000 travelers and industry professionals attending the recent 15th Annual New York Times Travel Show were an enthusiastic group for sure.
The enthusiasm remained despite recent data showing declines for inbound US tourism. Spain has surpassed the US as the second most visited country. Congratulations France, you still own the top spot. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, 5.5 million jobs in the US are directly linked to the industry, making the health of Brand USA vitally important.
Here are my top three observations from the show along with recommendations for smart brands desiring to differentiate and grow:
1) The race to provide unique experiences is intensifying.
This is personified particularly by large ship cruise lines. Just how many things can be cantilevered over the deck? Rock climbing walls, zip lines, water slides, skydiving simulators and more. Get ready for Go-Kart racing on the soon to be launched Norwegian Bliss!
While these advances are compelling, it leads to speculation if the driving force is engineering and technology advances more than insights predicting and validating consumer wants. Courageous thinking (and investment) emanating from insights rooted in human centered design will differentiate not only winners from losers, but also the mildly successful from the massively successful.
2) Disintermediation battle rages on.
There was plenty of positivity at the show regarding the “Year of the Travel Agent,” marked by profuse appreciation. While some research suggests increasing reliance on travel agents even among millennials, there are plenty of brands looking to cultivate direct to consumer relationships while diminishing intermediaries.
Subscription-based models continue to thrive in many industries. Travel companies would be well served to learn more about subscriptions as a mechanism to increase loyalty. I am not talking about your Grandma’s timeshare! There are opportunities to be disruptive and loyalty gains to be made through savvy use of subscriptions.
3) Virtual reality and augmented reality; real opportunity.
There were nearly 600 exhibitor booths at the NYT Travel Show, all with the same goal of convincing attendees why their destination, experience or brand is the most astounding. It was sensory overload and a challenge for these purveyors of the spectacular to truly differentiate themselves.
Most exhibitors relied on mainstream tactics. The travel industry is hypercompetitive, and the bar set high to entice those with wanderlust. However, I was surprised with the lack of technology to showcase offerings. An exception was the team from Norwegian Cruise Lines, which incorporated a virtual reality component to tout the thrill delivering go-kart track on the Norwegian Bliss. Virtual reality and augmented reality provide great opportunities for travel and tourism. Brands that develop informed strategies to incorporate this technology will increase bookings.
Lastly a few superlatives awarded for the sharing of noteworthy wisdom from industry leaders:
- Andrew Stuart, President and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line – Most Inspirational. Genuinely encouraging the industry to invest now in how best to get new customers.
- Casey Hanisko, President, Business Services + Events, Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) – Best Use of Consumer-Based Insights. Factually and artfully extolling the allure of a travel sector.
- Kristin Karst, EVP and Co-Owner, AmaWaterways – Best Marketing ROI. Providing travel agents cruising on her ship postcards and paid postage to send to their clients.
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