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There is a group of affluent customers who are ready to spend money on travel, but they are also very conscious of their own values and how those values are reflected in the trips they choose, according to panelists on an Afar Live Media webinar presented with the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA).
Called "Attracting High-Value Travelers with Values-Based Storytelling and Marketing," the session's speakers aimed to help travel sellers in reaching out to this emerging demographic.
Chris Davidson, executive vice president for MMGY Travel Intelligence, a data and research provider specializing in travel, said that in the company's surveys for its annual Portrait of the American Traveler (POAT), it found that for many travelers, the places they choose to visit and how they travel says something about them as individuals.
In the POAT profile, MMGY filtered all survey response data for travelers who self-reported an annual household income of $125,000 or more and who selected the option for "Environmentally-conscious" in a section that includes numerous descriptors that respondents can select. This group was dubbed the "eco-affluent."
Davidson said their average age is 50 and they intend to take just under five trips over in the next 12 months compared with 3.8 trips for other travelers. They are generally more affluent with an annual income of $233,000 and expect to spend $6,270 on their trips. They are also very educated. Surprisingly, said Davidson, only one in three consider themselves luxury travelers.
While these travelers consider themselves adventurous, said Davidson, their lists of most desirable activities was topped by visiting a museum, a state or national park and historical sites. While more adventurous options like hiking and biking are important, those are further down the list. They self-describe as foodies, pet lovers and beach lovers - and 4 in 10 consider themselves bargain hunters.
They are, however, willing to pay a premium on travel providers who demonstrate environmental responsibility. In fact, 6 in 10 said that. However, Davidson stressed that the other 4 in 10 might simply expect their travel providers to reflect that approach without their having to pay a premium.
"Environmental and social responsibility," said Davidson, "are now at the heart of travel provider strategy."
Ricarda Lindner, regional manager director, the Americas, for the German National Tourist Office, said the country's marketing shows how easy it is to have a great trip to Germany while being sustainable because the country has always represented those values. She said sustainability "resonates in everything we do but we also focus on the fun aspect of it so that everyone feels good about traveling to Germany."
Maria Jose Abuabara Brulhart, executive director of Tourism USA for ProColombia, the Colombian tourism agency, said that a sustainable tourism policy is the law in the country and that the national approach is to create conditions around how travelers should behave.
She said that in all of its communications, Colombia embeds the concept of sustainability "because it is not a choice, it is the only way to do it." She said that tourism is a driver of biodiversity and cultural wealth, and from that unfolds visitors' experiences.
Matt Berna, managing director, North America for Intrepid Travel, a tour operator, said the company has a values-led business model as it takes such actions as banning elephant riding which was "a tough commercial decision."
He said that while travel decisions still come down to pricing and schedules, "you can't be too strong on marketing sustainability." He said the values factor has to be built into the product and that story has to be told through websites and blogs. And messaging, he said, "has to be top down and consistent through all channels."
It was always a challenge to emphasize values, said Abuabara, because governments want to measure development through the number of arrivals and the revenues they bring. But, she said, "we don't measure the invisible burden of tourism on communities." She said that while the numbers are important -- and the country is now number one in South America in terms of US visitors - officials are in the process of redefining indicators. While Colombia is far from being overtouristed in most areas, she said, leaders have to be careful in directing additional traffic to more remote destinations and connecting different regions so there is easier and more dispersion of visitors.
Destinations and companies can't do it alone, said Abuabara. "Alliances are key," she said, adding that ProColombia has partnerships with the World Wildlife Fund and others.
Asked whether offering values-based travel is a major factor in travel decision-making, Berna said that some people might not take a trip around those values "but when they see purpose in action, the light might go on" and it can become a powerful moment. He said toward that end Intrepid recently added 100 trips that feature Indigenous-led tours, "and their storytelling will capture the feeling of a place for customers."
In Germany, said Lindner, there are occasions when Americans complain that the air conditioning is not up to standard. Once locals explain that it is not a question of technology or ability but is out of concern for the environment. She said the response to that "is incredibly powerful," noting that "it just takes a moment of transparency and explaining."
And Abuabara concluded that storytelling and the stories of communities have the power to change behavior. If people visit a place and things are done better there, she said, visitors will bring those notions home. Travel, she said, "is all about human connection and that is the future of values-based marketing."
Harvey Chipkin is a freelance writer for TravelPulse and AGENT@HOME magazine.
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