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Portrait of the 2011 Traveler to North Georgia
Portrait of the “New” North Georgia Mountains Visitor
Our North Georgia Mountains has been one of the hardest hit regions of our country by the economy’s downturn. Many plants closed, and the old mainstay construction has been eviscerated, leaving us with tourism as our single largest contributor to the region’s economy,
Fortunately monthly reports of new job losses at the national level are abating and the index of consumer confidence has displayed a modest upward trajectory in recent months. Yet industry surveys indicate Americans remain cautious about spending on travel in the year ahead. Moreover, their planning and purchasing behavior indicates a "new frugal" attitude, a characteristic we have not failed to notice at Beechwood Inn.
According to travel surveys the trend for leisure travel looks very encouraging. Specifically, as of January of this year, fully 55% of all U.S. adults were planning at least one overnight trip primarily for leisure purposes during the first two calendar quarters of 2011, up a small amount from the same point in time in 2010. In addition, among the most affluent households in the U.S. (those with an annual income greater than $125,000, or roughly 10% of all U.S. households), the net positive difference between those planning more trips for leisure purposes in the year ahead is up over 10%, signaling that the leading edge of demand for leisure travel will be by more upscale visitors.
Despite these positive predictions, the travel planning and purchasing habits of the 2011 traveler will be characterized by a new resourcefulness. What this means is that travelers will continue to demand more in exchange for their travel dollar: they will seek an upgraded guest room, a more bountiful breakfast included with their room rate, complimentary amenities and, yes, free Internet. Value remains central for leisure travelers in making destination decisions. Our North Georgia Mountain can clearly benefit from these trends because of our close proximity to Metropolitan Atlanta – less than a gas tank away.
So here are some of observations about predicted travel trends we have gleaned from travel experts such as Peter Yesawich of Y-Partnership, and from a community assessment by Janus Economics (sponsored by Georgia Power Company), that offered some specific observations about our area:
- Tourism is now, and will remain in the near-term, the most important economic stimulus for the North Georgia Mountains. If it were not for State and local taxes paid by tourists visiting our region, each household in the following counties would have to pay these additional taxes each year:
- Frugality will continue to direct the majority of travelers’ planning and shopping behavior and the implication is clear: travel suppliers will meet resistance when trying to increase prices. This will translate into a higher incidence of comparison shopping. Travelers want assurance they are obtaining a good deal.
- Although travel with one’s spouse or another adult will continue to represent the highest percent of leisure travel (80% of leisure travelers will take at least one such trip in the year ahead), family travel (adults who travel with children) will continue to grow because of the burgeoning popularity of multi-generational leisure travel: 30% of all leisure travelers are now grandparents, and 30% took at least one vacation with their grandchildren last year. This trend will increase as our population continues to age.
- Air fares for both business and leisure travel will escalate as demand improves due to the return of business travelers and as carriers adjust their capacity to maximize yield. In addition, fuel prices are once again on the rise. This will likely benefit destinations in close proximity to metropolitan areas.
- Hotel rates will rise modestly in the majority of urban U.S. markets, driven by the combined impact of growing demand from business travelers and the hiatus in new hotel construction during the past several years.
- Interest in condominium and vacation home rentals is likely to grow rapidly. Surveys indicate that almost half of all leisure travelers are now interested in vacation home rental as an alternative to conventional lodging when on vacation. This is especially true for family travelers seeking more space and better value.
- The use of Mobile devices that permit the planning and purchasing of travel services, especially while “on the road” will continue to proliferate as more consumers migrate to smart phones. At Beechwood Inn our website analytics reflects that 5% of our website visitors are using mobile devices (I-phone, Android, I-pad, etc.) and this rate is increasing.
- Interest in and usage of social media will continue to display explosive growth. Almost half of all travelers now have a page posted on a social site, 91% of which are posted on facebook. The extent to which the content of information on social sites truly influences the selection of travel service suppliers and destinations is elusive to calculate, but cannot be underestimated. Especially as more and more of our population connects.
- The new more frugal visitor will first find and view your property online and then will comparison shop, and even read reviews. Therefore, property owners and venue managers need to make their destination conspicuous. Create a business facebook page, blog, create custom maps, create a video, send newsletters, encourage reviews, link your website and maintain fresh website content.
- And, finally, the bed bug problem will continue to pose challenges for hoteliers and venue operators as it is now clearly on the minds of all travelers. A remarkable 31% of U.S. travelers are "very/extremely" concerned about an encounter with bed bugs on a future stay; another 29% are "somewhat" concerned. So, take precautions in advance and have a plan; Beechwood Inn has.
Our mountains face the challenge of other destinations that more easily roll off the travelers’ tongue, like Savannah, Charleston, Orlando and Asheville. The sustainability of tourism in our region rests on the ability of our local leaders, tourism professionals, and our communities to partner in this process. It takes vision, planning and work.
Our region offers a bounty of exciting and affordable alternatives to many urban or ocean-front destinations. Hiking, zip-line tours, camping, rafting, galleries, wineries, boating, fishing, agri-tourism and heritage all abound. And, if visitors would prefer to be recognized by first name with a heart-felt “Y’all come back” rather than an anonymous sounding “at your pleasure madam,” then these comfortable old mountains should fit them just fine.
By David and Gayle Darugh
Some of the consumer Insights and travel trends included in this article were provided by Peter Yesawich of YPartnership at the Annual Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII) Conference January 10, 2011, in Charleston SC. http://ypartnership.com/. Additional information came from Robert Pittman of Janus Economics, in a presentation made to Rabun County assessing Economic Development. http://www.januseconomics.com/.