Taking a Fall Vacation? Take My Advice

Welcome Sign at a Tennessee State Park This time of year is considered off-season by the travel industry, and for many, the lure of lighter crowds makes a fall getaway very appealing. But if you’re thinking about taking a vacation in fall or spring, the travel industry’s “shoulder periods,” you should be prepared for a different experience. Here’s what I found on two recent fall getaway trips.

Crowds were lighter, but so were available services. Many destinations power down toward the end of the season (or are gearing up before summer). You might also find some experiences which happen only in this time frame, which make the trip very desirable.

Rate changes abound. Sure, you’re not paying the same rate as July or August. You might even find a bargain or two. But hundreds of destinations have fall or spring festivals of some kind. Art, craft, music, heritage, are all celebrated in these shoulder periods. These events tend to have loyal followings and nearby accommodations fill fast. Shop ahead and book ahead, unless you like sleeping in your car.

Still, there can be cost savings in an off-season vacation, according to a story in last week’s US News and World Report.

“It is important to remember that sometimes a destination’s peak season is not the best time to be there; rather, it’s the time when school is out in locations nearby and that’s why crowds arrive and prices go up.”  Said Wendy Perrin in the story, which you can read here.

A boat making its way across a lake under stormy skies Whatever the weather! Forget the lovely postcards of trees turning orange or beautiful cherry blossoms emerging after a long sleep, the weather is a crap shoot.  When you’re from Texas (like I am), it doesn’t matter where you travel, you are just never prepared for rain.  Be prepared for rain – or any weather, for that matter. This fall, a huge storm system caused a power outage at our rental unit which lasted several hours.

Bring stuff with you. Take the time to print out a map or two. During our recent getaway to the Tennessee Hills, our cell service was sporadic and we relied way too much on our mapping applications, which was a mistake.

Surrender to the middle seat or “friendship seat” as one airline calls it. There are still no empty seats on the plane. Summer season or shoulder season, it really doesnEdgar Evins State Park’t matter. the airlines are running at full capacity. Be prepared to be cozy during your flight.

In a recent story from Travel Leaders Group, it appears that travelers are embracing the off-season. 90% of the travel agencies polled said fall bookings are the same or better than 2013. Their top 5 destinations for fall – Orlando, Las Vegas, Maui, New York City and Honolulu – means that less known destinations have room for more travelers! You can read the results of that study here.

We loved our fall vacation, despite its quirks and crazy weather. My advice: It’s worth considering — just take an umbrella and have a Plan B!

Travel Takeaways — Mike Walsh at TTIA Summit

Suitcase, ready for travel

Travel Takeaway

It’s easy to get lost in conflicting advice when you attend conferences.

I’ve been to one too many conferences in which I came away with a mere checklist of tactics which I was told to get….right now.  Lately, the list includes social media, mobile web sites and integration. All those things are important to those of us who are embedded in the travel industry.

In order to become influential in the next ten years in the way Walt Disney was influential in the 1960s, then a different line of thinking is in order.

At the recent Texas Travel Industry Summit, one speaker stood out because he helped us to elevate our thinking beyond room nights and attraction attendance.  Mike Walsh, CEO of Tomorrow, might actually be from the future. He takes an anthropological approach to identifying trends and consumer behavior. His street cred is sky high and his view is global in a way that few in our industry can claim.  Read more about him here.

Walsh’s presentation was like a bolt of lightning, delivering nuggets about the future of travel too numerous to mention in one blog post.  Three of his points really resonated with me.

Stop looking at individual trips and start looking at the travel experience life cycle.

We used to call it repeat business, then we called it loyalty programs, but Walsh’s advice is to look beyond individual experiences. Can you weave your organization, destination or attraction into the consumer’s life cycle by offering experiences that transcend individual purchases?

Start looking ten years ahead by listening to teenagers now.

Most focus groups used by travel organizations look at their current consumers, usually women in the 25-45 age range.  These are the current travel decision-makers. But in order to offer products and services for the next generation of decision makers, we need to start listening to their needs, habits and interests today.

Disruptive technology has changed the way we process information.

Like it or not, the long-term effects of multi-tasking and “hummingbird” searching is changing the way we think and the way we make decisions.  As travel organizations, we need to be poised to capitalize on spontaneous travel decisions and more circuitous decision-making.  This should, in essence, change the way we approach marketing and communications plans.

Walsh’s presentation liberally hinted that the travel industry is about to reach a tipping point. Will your travel organization be ready?

Grand Rapids Raises the Bar

It’s the end of another summer season and tourism destinations are about to ask themselves the hard questions as they start to plan next year.

What worked? What didn’t? What should we change for next year?

It’s hard for some destinations to rise above the well-funded voices of the “biggies” like New York City, Orlando and California.

Here’s one destination who is learning what Keith Bellows of National Geographic Traveler advocates – celebrate your destination, don’t sell it.

Watch this 8 minute long video and tell me that you don’t want to go visit Grand Rapids.  I know I do.

Let’s Re-think Airfares – Can Jet Blue’s New Pass be a Sign of Change?

Earlier this week, Jet Blue announced a different sort of airfare.  Unlimited three month airfare “pass” between two of their key cities.  Like the unlimited rail passes so attractive to backpackers in Europe, the unlimited fares have a number of desirable characteristics.

The fares are good until November and include the ability to book up to 90 minutes prior to flight time, the ability to fly standby and no change or cancellation fees.

This is great news for frequent travelers looking for a break on a repetitive route.  Business travelers have been battered by the ongoing recession and could really use a break!  In the days since the announcement, one of the three options is already sold out.

So is this an indication of airlines that airlines are finally starting to think like their cousins in the travel industry?  Could it be that airlines are taking a page from the theme park and destination book and might even consider……bundling?

While Jet Blue’s announcement is already making waves, there are several other models which have a great niche.  Airlines should consider how to leverage these well-known, and popular, bundles.

Qantas has offered “Around the World” airfares for years.  You create your route, which needs to keep going in one destination, and must return to the city you departed from within a certain amount of time (usually three months or more).  The fare offers up to 15 stops and leverages the One World Alliance between Qantas and its partners.

Who the heck has time to go around the world?  Australians do.  When they travel, they go farther and travel longer than Americans.  Of course, they also have an 8 week vacation annually, too.

Another bundling example which airlines could use as a model for new fare structures,  is the venerable Eurail Pass, friend to backpackers for decades.  Still available and still reasonably priced.

Theme parks have been doing all types of “frequent visitor” programs for years – tailoring to consumer travel habits.  Annual passes, two day passes, second day free incentives, all keep visitors coming back.  Even destinations like San Francisco, New York, Boston and others are doing City Passes, which bundles multiple attractions for one low price.

It’s time for airlines to look more closely at this idea.

Traveling with your Grandparents is Nothing New

The author with two of her brothers and grandfather on a summer trip

Summer Fun with my Grandpa and Brothers

Multi-generational or 3G travel is an emerging trend that has gotten media and public relations professionals talking.

Earlier this summer, it was the focus of one of the livelier sessions at the PRSA Tour and Travel Section Conference held in June in San Antonio. (Disclosure:  I was part of the local, logistics team for the conference. )

Leslie Yap, an editor at AAA Journeys was joined by travel writers Evelyn Kanter and Norm Wilkens for a  session called Destination Family: Tapping the Burgeoning Market of Multigenerational Travelers.

Yap combined her personal experience of planning several recent extended-family gatherings with her nose for the business side of travel and offered some guidelines as to why this is an emerging trend. One of the most compelling is that 70% of leisure travel is planned around a life event – like a wedding, family reunion or anniversary.

“Families want to reconnect with what’s important in their lives,” Yap said, citing the fact that many of us live farther away from our families, so traveling to see them is a must.  Yap has researched cruise events, a camping vacation and a houseboat adventure for her extended family.

Her criteria – and theoretically that of anyone considering this type of vacation – is having enough variety in activities to keep all the age groups interested.

Kanter has really strong feelings about what she wants to share with her grandchildren –experiences.  She has taken her grandchildren to Boston, Quebec and Cape Cod.  As the American population ages, there will be more grandparents so there should be more opportunities to “grammy sit” as Kanter calls her sojourns with her family.

I do not disagree with anything that these well-heeled journalists shared with us.  But the more I thought about this session, the more it brought me back to my own travels with my grandparents.

Every summer, my grandparents put together a special itinerary of things they would do with me and my brothers.  They both worked in a Cleveland steel mill – grandpa in the factory, grandma as a file clerk – and when the plant closed each July for two weeks, they didn’t plan elaborate vacations , they planned events for the grandkids!

Riding a miniature train with my Grandpa

Riding a mini train with my Grandpa

Some of my greatest memories are visiting the Cleveland Zoo, riding a big dinner cruise boat on Lake Erie, eating in a train car restaurant in Hudson, Ohio, and taking a dozen day trips to events, festivals, fairs and attractions.  One summer, we even splurged and spent three days at Cedar Point’s historic Breakers Hotel, riding the rides, playing the Midway and eating their famous French fries.

Those shared experiences are some of my best childhood memories.  We didn’t call it multi-generational travel.  We just called it summer.