Social trends changing the face of tourism
BEAVER CREEK As Daniel Levine spoke to a few hundred people on Wednesday, it looked like he was constantly checking his cell phone. In fact, hed put his presentation notes onto his personal digital assistant so he didnt have to rely on a sheaf of paper.Levine, executive director of the Avant-Guide Institute, a consulting business that specializes in trend-watching, was the lunch speaker on the first day of the Governors 2008 Colorado Tourism Conference. Instead of focusing on numbers or emerging markets, Levine talked about five trends that are shaping the tourism business today. As he scanned his presentation notes on an electronic gadget, Levine was the stage-stalking embodiment of one of those trends: mobility.People are relying more and more on their cell phones, especially people whose phones can easily access the Internet. Users can access information about restaurants and attractions through Google Maps, which has a click to call feature that enables people to automatically call for information and reservations.A new kind of technology similar to bar codes is now being tested by Continental Airlines in Houston. It allows passengers to download boarding passes on their phones, which they then pass over a scanner at the gate.Technology like this will transform travel booking and how people behave on vacation, Levine said.The Web already has transformed travel in the way people evaluate companies. Web sites that allow travelers to review hotels, restaurants and attractions have changed the way people evaluate where to stay and where to go at a destination.Levine calls it the tyranny of transparency because companies, to a large degree, are losing control over their image. But customer reviews are here to stay, he said, and companies need to adapt.Budget Car Rentals has responded by including a customer review section on its own Web site. Levine also recommended responding on the Web to every negative comment posted. TripAdvisor.com allows companies to respond to negative reviews, and Levine said that has led to either repeat or new business because customers appreciate efforts to fix or explain mistakes.Other companies are using their own Web sites to tout their green initiatives. Dole, for instance, has a line of organic bananas. The labels on the bananas have distinctive codes so consumers can go to the company Web site, enter the code and track where the bananas came from and how they got to the store.Every company doing green or sustainable projects needs to find a way to include that in its marketing, Levine said.Its not just being sustainable but showing it, he said.But the bottom line in the travel business is the destination, and thats where things can get interesting. Its getting easier to personalize virtually anything, from sneakers to custom M&Ms candy to airline baggage tags. People like to feel special, and giving customers the ability to customize things for themselves is paying off for a lot of companies, Levine said.Another growing trend in the travel business is experiential adventures. A hotel in Finland has glass-topped igloo suites so guests can lie in bed and watch the Northern Lights. A guide company in Lisbon, Portugal, provides blind tours of the city in which a client wears a blindfold and is led around the city by a blind person to experience the sounds, smells and feelings of the city.Youre creating brag-ability, Levine said. Its giving people the ability to tell others what theyve done.The key, though, is to provide adventure without too much danger or effort.The tourism industry is in the business of surprising and delighting customers, Levine said. In travel, we already own that space, he said. Now we need to take it farther.Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or email@example.com.
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