Unusual purchase paths, trips where grandparents pay

TORONTO—The Canadian travel industry must work diligently to meet leisure travellers’ evolving needs, according to an industry panel.

Left to right: Dennis Morgenstern, Dorothy Dowling, David Goldstein and Brenda Kyllo.

Left to right: Dennis Morgenstern, Dorothy Dowling, David Goldstein and Brenda Kyllo.

TORONTO—The Canadian travel industry must work diligently to meet leisure travellers’ evolving needs in a number of areas, according to an industry panel convened for the Best Western Leisure Travel Summit on May 20 in downtown Toronto.

Held at the Best Western Primrose Hotel, the panel featured Dennis Morgenstern, head of industry travel at Google; Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Best Western International; Brenda Kyllo, vice president of travel at CAA; and David Goldstein, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC). Handling moderator duties was Bryson Forbes, of Forbes Marketing Consultants.

Among the improvements the industry must undertake are technological advancements—for instance, making travellers’ booking experience more pleasant on their mobile and tablet devices, said Morgenstern.

He noted that a U.S. study found that more than 50 per cent of travellers use multiple devices—smartphones, tablets and personal computers—to plan their trips.

Dowling noted that consumers use mobile devices more for researching travel, rather than booking it, and said the industry must make it easier for consumers to book their trips, particularly by allaying privacy concerns about sending credit card information via smartphones.

In addition, Dowling said consumers want user-generated information—peer-review sites such as TripAdvisor—as well as professionally generated (CAA and AAA ratings, for instance). For its part, Best Western posts TripAdvisor reviews, both negative and positive, as well as CAA and AAA ratings on its website, which “tells the whole story” and “creates transparency” for consumers, she said.

Smaller, Trusted Groups

Kyllo agreed that peer-review sites play an important role, but said consumers are also seeking reviews and information from smaller, trusted groups.

Also changing, is leisure travellers’ trip-purchase path. As one example, Goldstein noted that consumers are prepared to change their travel plans right up to the last minute. Kyllo said the purchase/decision path has grown unpredictable and doesn’t follow tried-and-true seasonal patterns.

For example, Kyllo reports an increase in Canadians taking summer vacations to sun destinations, which may be attributable to this year’s brutally cold winter, she said.

As another example, Morgenstern said that, increasingly, whim, rather than seasonal factors, is driving the purchase/decision process, citing a spike in travel to Las Vegas earlier in the year, bucking the traditional end-of-year norm.

Another trend, according to Kyllo, is women-only groups (often for specialized tours such as adventure travel). She’s also seeing groups of solo travellers, both men and women, who are looking to travel with other people. Key considerations among that group are tours with no, or low, single supplements, said Kyllo.

Multi-generational family travel, often driven by grandparents’ disposal income, is growing, with Dowling noting that nine per cent of vacations feature extended family. She expects that segment to continue growing. Goldstein reports an increase in tour packages, especially cruises, booked by multi-generational groups.

Inbound traffic below average

And while the group was generally bullish on the prospects for Canada’s travel business, with double-digit growth forecasts reported by Dowling and Kyllo reporting annual growth of 3 to 5 per cent, Goldstein noted that inbound traffic to Canada rose by 1.5 per cent in 2013, compared to a global inbound-travel increase of 5 per cent.

“Canada is not getting our fair share” of inbound travel and is struggling to get its hotel rate up to pre-recession levels, said Goldstein.

Consequently, the domestic industry must work hard to recapture that market share, especially inbound business from the U.S. Goldstein said Canada has all the tools needed to achieve this, including competitive room rates and reasonably priced attractions and events, though expensive domestic flights continue to be an issue, he conceded.

“Canada is a value destination and must work to debunk the myth that it’s an expensive destination,” he said, adding that with 46 per cent of U.S. citizens holding passports, opportunity abounds south of the border. On the bright side, inbound business from Japan and China is up, according to Goldstein, with the latter rising by 20 per cent in 2013.