GOING 'ROUND: 3rd ANNUAL TRAVEL EXPERT ROUNDTABLE
Hosted by Chris Robinson, with panelists from Best Western International, Aeroplan, TIAC and HAC
Speakers included: host Dorothy Dowling, Senior VP of Marketing and Sales, Best Western International; Anthony Pollard, President, Hotel Association of Canada (HAC); Christopher Jones, VP, Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) and Sylvie Bourget, VP of Marketing, Aeroplan. Chris Robinson, host of "The Chris Robinson Travel Show" moderated the event.
Topics of discussion included: the national and global economy and exchange rates, internet changes to the pace of travel, loyalty and reward programs, "green" travel programs, international development impacting domestic travel, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and the impact of Gen-X and Gen-Y on the travel industry.
Internet, the new word of mouth
What appeared to be the topic of interest to the crowd quickly became evident. The first question delivered by Robinson centred on Internet concerns on the travel industry, and how the panel felt the Internet has affected the travel market.
"The Internet really transformed the business from 5 years ago," Dowling said. "The Internet is the most important channel for us. We now have a partnership with YouTube, and we want consumers to tell us why they desperately need a vacation through video."
Despite Dowling’s positive slant on the Internet’s affects on the travel industry, one woman from the crowd quickly stood up and wanted to know how Dowling felt about traditional forms of media. The woman used herself as a traditional media example.
Dowling quickly answered her by saying that traditional media is still an important part of brand building, but you need to have a balance.
"I am not saying that traditional media is not important," Dowling enforced. "You need to have a mix. Today, traditional media is still where we are getting the best payoff, but you can’t ignore the Gen-X and Gen-Y market."
"There is a lot of shopping happening," Bourget said. "[Blogging, Internet and travel websites] are the new version of 'word of mouth'."
Where have all the Americans gone?
Another hot topic of discussion involved the decline of travellers to Canada, in particular US travellers. Media from the crowd was especially interested on getting feedback on why the panel thought the decline exists and what can be done about it.
"‘Taste trail’ has been a magnet for Canadians," he passionately added. "The future looks good, but we have to diversify and get more Asians to make up for the loss of American travellers, although the Chinese market will never replace the lost United States market. The marketing budget to bring US travellers back to Canada is not large enough."
Pollard agreed with Jones and added that overall, the Canadian travel industry is performing well, as long as it keeps its standards up. He also mentioned that there has been an ongoing trend in Canada that can help.
Stand by your brand
"The trend in 2005 is that 19 per cent of Canadians said that a loyalty plan was important to them," Pollard said. "In 2007 it rose to 27 per cent, equalling more than one in four Canadians."
Bourget herself noticed the trend of brand loyalty as an incentive with Aeroplan, and Dowling said that unique redemption options help cater to everyone’s lifestyle needs; as a result, Best Western International has recently teamed up with CAA after noticing the popularity that their joint venture with NASCAR had.
"It (loyalty plan) is a currency that people expect to be rewarded for," Dowling said.
Before the group began to answer questions from the crowd, Robinson posed one final query to the panel. "If you could plan your ultimate vacation, where would you go?"
Sylvie Bourget – "Somewhere deserted, maybe my cottage in Vermont, somewhere I can practice my water skiing skills."
Christopher Jones – "Long Beach, with a babysitter in tow."
Dorothy Dowling – "A week at home."
Anthony Pollard – "My cottage."