Will 2020 be a good or bad year for tourism? How will market-place changes affect your business? Read on for my predictions, details of emerging trends and some opportunities for tourism businesses.
I'll start with some positives. When the world feels like an uncertain place many of us have an urge to run away, and that can be a good thing for tourism!
Here are some markets and niche opportunities you might be able to harness in your marketing. In next week's blog and tourism knowhow mailing, I'll give more details of how you can take advantage of these opportunities.
Family focus and time together: precious things that money supposedly can't buy, but we can offer the chance for people to come together and spend time in a beautiful place. Family gatherings and celebrations of big post 30-birthdays and anniversaries continue to be popular and are great for off-season tourism, and introducing new visitors to your area. One person decides where they want to spend their 'special day'/weekend and their families and friends are obliged to join them... What could be better? You only need to influence one person to make that initial booking and they bring many others, all in a celebratory frame of mind, pre-disposed to enjoy themselves, and usually with higher-than-average spend.
Along with greater appreciation of the benefits of spending time in nature and in the open air, more of us seem to be ready to enjoy simple pleasures and to notice the pleasant small details of daily life whether it's a great cake, beautiful flower or unexpected view. Probably fuelled by social media and the ease of phone camera filming, we're ready to take notice of simple pleasures - and to share them with others. What are the simple pleasures on your doorstep, that maybe you take for granted, but which visitors would love?
The beginning of a year is a good time to reflect and perhaps try a new skill. The market for experiences and learning something new or different while on a short break or holiday is still strong. Creative and spiritual retreats are becoming more popular. Quirky experiences, chances to develop artistic abilities, learn about nature, cook healthy or unusual food - these are all likely to prove popular in 2020. One caveat though - we need to make it easier for visitors to find and book such experiences and to combine them with accommodation, whether that's through established online channels or better direct marketing.
As the world gets crazier, chances to step off the hamster wheel of life, and simply relax and go a little off-grid will be important - but again, we need to appreciate that although there are plenty of opportunities to do this, visitors don't always find it easy to find the right places for them. We need to make it more obvious what's on offer, where it is, what there is to do (or not do) and how to get there.
I've started to notice the growth of a different kind of retreat: retreating from the everyday in order to work. Yes, that might sound odd. Yet there seems to be an off-season (very handy!) trend for people booking to go away, sometimes for an extended time, in order to work. The work might be different to usual, perhaps to do something like write or be more contemplative, and think differently. Thanks to digital communication it's also easier to just carry on working in a different place.
Going on holiday or enjoying a short break has always been seen as an opportunity to relax and perhaps to see something different. It's increasingly being used as a solution, an opportunity to 'find ourself'. Mindfulness, wellness, increased fitness, and re-invention are part of an increasing number of short breaks. Transformative tourism is definitely a 'thing', whether you set off to transform yourself or a community. Adventure travel is part of this - the chance to not just conquer a mountain, but your own mind too.
I think what I call the 'muddled middle' of accommodation will continue to struggle. There's growing interest in spartan and very simple accommodation and wild camping but there's also demand for luxury at every level, whether that's a five star castle or glamping. Distinctive accommodation will continue to do well. The novelty value of camping pods, shepherd's huts etc may diminish, but there will still be a demand for simple accommodation. Mainstream, middle-of-the-road accommodation will need to find a way to be different or better in someway, in order to stand out from a crowded market place.
Different is so much easier to sell, than muddled middle. In a mature tourism market, we're continually looking for something different. Travel journalists often do call outs for unusual, quirky, and distinctive - and receive surprisingly few usable responses. If you can create something that's a genuinely new and meaningful product, offering good value for money, beauty and intrigue - you'll go far.
TV programmes often have a strong influence on the tourism industry and what visitors enjoy. There's been a flurry of programmes offering the inside view on everything from the royal family to behind the scenes of supermarkets. The urge to look inside, find out the story behind places and people and to satisfy curiosity seems set to grow.
Another programme that's fuelled interest is Who do you think you are? leading to a growth of interest in genealogy and ancestry tourism. Some TV series take a while to build interest and then suddenly seem to be among the most popular. The Repair Shop has been described as 'the TV equivalent of sinking into a warm bath'. Along with other series on crafts and history there seems to be an increased appreciation for the handmade. Combined with a search for authenticity and visitors turning away from homogenous high streets, there's an opportunity for us all to showcase the individual, independent, different, handmade, local... But it's not enough to just say it's 'local' - you need to tell the story, show the evidence and provide chances to visit and experience.
Food is no-longer just fuel. It's part of our 'life-style', a choice, a way to express ourselves and our values. Again, it's not enough to simply tell visitors the food we offer is 'local' - people practically want to know the name of the pig from which the sausages are made. Or they don't want to know that at all, because they are vegan, vegetarian, pollotarian, or something else we're not yet heard of. One thing is for sure - in our privileged part of the world, food types, ethics, origin, farming methods and much more will continue to be discussed and debated. Some of us will get pickier. Some of us will get fatter or thinner. Some of us will just crave simple food.
I've talked about local distinctiveness and it's importance for the tourism industry for almost 20 years (I know). The words used to describe it vary but essentially, tourism wouldn't exist without 'sense of place'. It's not going away. The fact that we're still interested in all things local, handmade and carefully crafted, having new experiences and thinking much more about the environment and climate change suggests to me that local distinctiveness will become even more important to tourism in 2020. So please listen to me when I go on about it!
Many of us are discussing climate change but fewer of us are making the connection between tourism and the environment. I think climate change will have a far bigger impact on what we do, and the market for our services that we currently realise. 'Flight-shaming' has already had an impact in some parts of Scandinavia where holiday-makers are now looking at staycations or destinations to which they can travel by train instead of air. For years the tourism industry has had a growth mentality - more visitors, more spend. Now some destinations are starting to question the value of promoting to visitors a long haul flight away. Perhaps we'll all start to pay more attention to our 'doorstep delights' (remember how I mentioned local distinctiveness...)? Staying visitors have always been prized over day visitors but now they're set to become even more important.
We all need to get better at helping visitors to appreciate more of what's in one area before they move on to the next.
Free tourism marketing advice
Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs