Value dominating the tourism equation

Tourism Whistler has stressed it for a few years now. Surveys have repeatedly shown it to be one of the things visitors are most acutely aware of.

Value, or perceived value, factors into most decisions we make in these recessionary times. Travel consultant Peter Yesawich brought a new perspective to the value discussion during a presentation to Tourism Whistler members last week.

Yesawich, whose Y Partnership company conducts surveys of the American travel market every six weeks, is highly regarded throughout the tourism industry. He last spoke to Tourism Whistler members a couple of years ago. He spoke at a Tourism B.C. event in Vancouver prior to coming to Whistler.

Yesawich began his presentation with a statement sure to pierce the dreams of some who long for the economy to recover and business to return to the pre-recession days of 2006 and 2007: it won't be the same after the recession is over. For a number of reasons, but the biggest one is that everyone is now motivated by value and price.

Eighty per cent of American millionaires are first generation millionaires, Yesawich said. Meaning? They didn't inherit their wealth, they "made" it, and on their way to making their fortune they learned about value.

But it's not just millionaires who are interested in value. It's how nearly all of us shop now, often via the Internet.

Yesawich outlined the evolution of the Internet as it relates to travel and vacations in three chapters. Chapter one was all about content, information and images that helped the viewer make decisions. Chapter two was websites that compared prices and found the lowest prices. Chapter three, which is just getting started, has websites that harness the volume discounts of collective buying but offer private sales. Sites such as groupon.com offer "members" discounted rates on consumer goods through group buying. To become a member all you have to do is enter your e-mail address. TripAlertz offers the same kind of bulk buying discounts to vacation travellers.

"People are now programmed to wait for things to go on sale," Yesawich said.

And sales are coming at them. Airlines, cruise ship companies, hotels and others in the travel business are utilizing their databases to let customers know when they have excess capacity and a specific flight or weekend will be offered at a discount rate. Flash sales see an e-mail sent to a targetted customer's smart phone or computer, letting them know about a limited time offer on something they have previously bought.

The vacation decision-making process used to start with the activity, Yesawich said. After people decided what they wanted to do on vacation then they looked at destinations and suppliers. The third factor used to be price. Today, the activity is still the first choice but the price is as important as the destination or supplier.

Value generally trumps brand loyalty today, Yesawich said. Surveys his company has done show American consumers will chose a hotel that provides free internet access over an equivalent or slightly better hotel that charges for it. For many people, Internet access is part of the value they feel should be included in hotel accommodation.

Yesawich continues to believe vacationers will be trading down during the economic recovery, but not out. That doesn't mean that people who like the Four Seasons will suddenly switch their allegiance to Motel 6. Rather, they will take a four-day vacation instead of a five-day holiday.

But as price and value become more transparent, brand clarity becomes more important, according to Yesawich. That means answering the question: why would someone choose to vacation in Whistler instead of Vail, other than for price?

Part of the answer may come through testimonials. There are more tools available to consumers than ever before, in the form of Internet search engines. But Americans are suspicious that some websites or searches are not giving them the whole picture or the best deal. (Yesawich cites a study that found 63 per cent of Americans believe their IQ is above average, a statistical impossibility.)

So people look to authenticate or validate their findings, and many are turning to social media and chat forums for that validation. Yesawich played a YouTube video of a guy talking about his Whistler vacation as he drove home to illustrate the point.

He also described a "new culture of impatience" that affects travel. You see it in the intolerance we have with websites that take time to load or when confronted with a lineup for something that we expect to be able to obtain immediately. That sort of impatience is also reflected in how much time people are willing to allow for travel to a vacation destination. Americans average 15 vacation days a year (Canadians average 25) and 46 per cent of American vacations are weekend trips. They are looking for value in those 15 days.



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