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Shifting Travel Priorities: What Event Owners Need to Know

7 Aug, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Fashion says white is the new black. Senior games professionals say 60 is the new 40. And according to a study of travelers, security is the new luxury. Shifting priorities have created a demand for a new experience and it’s up to sports event owners and rights holders to fill the need.

According to MMGY Travel Intelligence, which recently released the findings of its 2019–2020 Portrait of American Travelers® survey, safety is becoming increasingly important to travelers when choosing destinations to visit. In fact, it’s a demographic shift as well: Millennials’ desire for safety in a destination rose the most this year, up from 79 percent in 2018 to 85 percent in 2019.

Thanks (or no thanks) to high-profile news of tragic events such as shootings, bombings and child sex abuse, sports event owners and rights holders, as well as venue operators, have responded with increased vigilance, from background checks on officials, coaches, staff and others, to venue-driven solutions such as on-premises security, bag inspections (and limitations), metal detectors and other safeguards.

But security isn’t all travelers want, and the MMGY survey pointed to some other shifting priorities as well. Travelers have significant concerns abut the long-range impact of their trip, creating a phenomenon that is known as conscientious travel.

The report (available here) notes, “There are more choices, more information and more complex motivations for how, why and where people choose to travel. Some of the more recent factors affecting these decisions are concerns about tourism overcrowding, climate change and the impact of travel on destinations, as well as he way travel service providers demonstrate responsibility in addressing these new challenges.”

The phenomenon known as ‘voluntourism,’ in which visitors can give back to a community has given rise to a tendency of organizations to adopt service projects in which groups can sign up to participate. The National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) schedules community service days each time it travels out of town for a national tournament. In fact, every team member is expected to participate.  

“We want the kids to learn to do more than compete,” says Dan Wood, executive director of NCCAA. “We want them to figure that service to the world around you should come first. It’s easy to lose sight of that post-season and say, ‘I’ll get back to that when play-offs are over’ but that’s not what we want. We want kids to think, ‘What would Jesus do?’ Well, He wouldn’t be standing around on a street corner, passing out religious tracts. Our kids have worked in soup kitchens and done landscaping work in the community. In one city, they went around to a low-income community, distributing high-tech light bulbs and changing out the old bulbs in people’s homes if they needed that done.”

“Giving back in some way — formally or informally — is ingrained in the value system of most U.S. travelers,” according to the study, which was conducted by travel researcher Phocuswright on behalf of the U.S. travel industry-supported nonprofit Tourism Cares. “At home or in far-flung destinations, many travelers give back as a matter of course, in a way that is meaningful and convenient to them.”

The study’s sample consisted of 2,551 online respondents, each of whom had a household income of at least $50,000 and had traveled more than 75 miles from home in the past two years. Among those who said that they had donated, 48% said that it was either “very important” or “extremely important” that their travel spending benefit the communities they visit. In addition, 64 percent said that giving back contributed strongly to the satisfaction of their trip while 34 percent said that commitment to social responsibility was a factor in their choice of a travel company.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Sports Commission pioneered a Volunteer Incentive Program. The initial goal – to provide volunteers for several sporting events each year – contains an incentive: civic groups can have $40 per person per four-hour shift worked donated to the organization (or to a cause they specify). Full information on this program is available here.

Event owners and rights holders, as well as destinations, that work to develop these types of programs, may be able to realize an additional marketing benefit. At a time when the marketplace is crowded with tournaments, competitions, races and events, the opportunity to participate in a pre-arranged volunteer program, such as something that lasts a few hours on one afternoon, can set apart a sports organization and make it more appealing to receptive travelers.

Other factors influence the choice of how and where to travel. Within the last decade, for example, the sharing economy has all but exploded. The percentage of American travelers using sharing economy accommodations increased 45 percent in just the last year from 20 percent to 29 percent. It is expected to increase again in the year ahead, with 34 percent of respondents saying they are likely to use sharing accommodations during a future vacation. Factors such as cost and the allure of staying somewhere unique are motivating travelers.

Event owners can respond by noting which share businesses are allowed in a given jurisdiction or where information can be obtained. (Note: If the event is using a stay-to-play policy and encouraging athletes, families and spectators to stay in specific hotels, the encouragement of an accommodation sharing economy platform will necessarily conflict and will need to be avoided).

Another priority – particularly among younger parents and Millennials – is an emphasis on the experience itself that travel provides. In 2018, the survey showed that Millennial families said they intended to spend more in travel in 2018 than they did in previous years, and that new experiences – including cuisine – was a motivator.

The concept of the “Great American Road Trip” continues its surge in popularity. Many said they intended to fly to a starting point and road trip from there. Millennial families believe road trips evoke a sense of nostalgia and are a means of family bonding that stimulates the creation of valuable vacation memories. In fact, many parents identified with the statement, “Giving my children the opportunity to see the world makes me feel like a better parent,” compared to a lower percentage who originate their travel from home.

The takeaway for event owners and rights holders is finding destinations with much to do in the immediate area while the event is taking place, as well as an opportunity to obtain rental cars so that travel can be continued for a few days or bookended around the tournament. (And hearkening back to the previous point about the sharing economy, more people are experimenting with carshare programs, such as those detailed in this article – which also covers car parking share solutions as well).

So what can event owners and rightsholders do? Provide information, of course. While the most current information about which services are and are not present in a given city will be found on the Internet, it is possible to note whether and where there are areas to meet with rideshare providers (and which are and are not allowable in certain jurisdictions).

International travel has increasingly become a concern among Americans. While SDM has noted an uptick in sports tourism, and in competitive travel opportunities, Americans remain worried about the security of destinations they might visit, as well as the ticket price. . In fact, safety and budget were viewed as significantly more important obstacles than concerns about language and communication, travel time to and from the destination, and access to quality health care while traveling.

It might seem, from looking at these talking points, that the American tourist is looking for a more upscale experience when they travel. Not so, according to a survey by Arch RoamRight travel insurance, which found that just six percent of respondents described their travel style as “luxury.” Of course, researchers noted, the definition of luxury can vary widely.

Even within the shifting priorities of travel, however, there is a common denominator. The MMGY survey noted that cost is also a factor. The amount individuals expect to budget for travel in the coming year has flattened, with no real increase or decrease reported.

Something that may play to the advantage of the sports tourism market is that travelers are planning fewer vacations, which, of course, leaves more funding for other travel, including sports. And this, the survey noted, is in part a reflection of a shift in the age of those who are most likely to travel in the coming year.

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