From Travel Weekly.
More than location: What makes destinations popular?
By Mark Chesnut
When Tom Dougherty drives down the street, he sees the same thing, over and over again. “All cars look alike,” he said. “They all look like Hondas.” According to Dougherty, who is president and managing partner of Stealing Share Inc., a brand consulting firm in Greensboro, N.C., the problem is similar with most destinations — they’re all about the same when it comes to how they brand and sell themselves. If that’s true, it may help explain why there were only a handful of significant variations in this year’s Leisure Travel Monitor in terms of destination preferences. Florida, California and Hawaii, for example, are perennial favorites because they have unique attractions and attributes that travelers value, year in and year out.
The attributes of a given destination generally change very slowly, and this is often true of traveler attitudes. If that’s the case, what does it take to move the needle for this or that destination? Where to? In the domestic market, only two states — Louisiana and Massachusetts — showed statistically significant increases in their appeal to travelers who were asked which states they might like to visit for a vacation in the next two years .
For the other 48 states, the needle didn’t move. Marc Mancini, president of Marc Mancini Seminars and Consulting in Los Angeles, said this suggests that the consumer’s “taste for domestic destinations has barely changed.” Nor are the destinations changing much, he said. “I don’t see any significant emerging U.S. destination.
Ten years ago we had Branson, but I don’t see any destination in the United States that is likely to get hot. It seems to be the tried-and-true destinations are just tweaking their product.” In terms of international travel, the relative rankings of the top five regions remained essentially static, while the South Pacific registered the biggest increase in consumer interest, moving up five percentage points.
What is the secret
What’s the secret to this large shift? It could be safety concerns, according to Bill Baker, president of Total Destination Management in Portland, Ore. “There is a great deal of latent demand out there for people who have been holding back on international destinations,” he told TravelWeekly.com. “Those that are perceived as being safe are going to benefit.” Europe is also benefiting from perceptions of safety, according to Baker. “Americans are recognizing that Europe is a safe destination.
Overall, there is an increase in comfort level in returning to Europe. What we’re seeing is … things are getting back to pre-9/11 levels.” Among European destinations, Italy, France and England remain the most popular. Additionally, Italy, France, Scotland and Denmark were the only European countries to show statistically significant increases in their appeal to potential vacationers.
Again, perceptions about safety may have pumped up interest, according to Mancini. “Scotland and Denmark don’t exactly sound like dens of al Qaeda,” he pointed out. “The more cautious people are going to Scotland and Denmark.” Mancini added that the growth of cruising could be a factor.
“In fact, that might explain Denmark. There is a lot of interest in doing [cruises in] the Baltic and the North Sea. A cruise can have an out-of-proportion effect on the desire for people to go there.” Money matters Exchange rates also play an important role in the appeal of foreign destinations. According to the Leisure Travel Monitor, 60% of respondents said they would be less likely to take a leisure trip if the value of the dollar goes down overseas.
Is this a problem?
This is a “huge problem” for European travel, according to Dougherty. And while the dollar gained back some ground against the euro this spring, a weak greenback will definitely “put a damper” on travel, Dougherty said. Baker predicted that people considering travel to Europe “may change the way in which they travel. They may downgrade a little on the accommodations. Some people will cancel [their plans]; others will be more budget-conscious. Tour operators will respond with more cost-effective options.”
Staying online Of the attributes considered extremely or very desirable in a leisure travel experience, only one attribute — Internet access — showed a big increase in importance to travelers. Baker said that travelers increasingly use the Internet as a planning tool even after they hit the road. “We’re talking about highly independent travelers who, as they are traveling, are still booking and researching their trip,” he said. “Or they want to look online to check museum opening times. It’s such an integral part of our daily lives.”