Cooperation and optimism prevalent at tourism conference
May 15, 2009
Edgar Stern, founder of Deer Valley Resort, was posthumously inducted into the Utah Tourism Hall of Fame Friday at the annual Utah Tourism Conference in Layton for his work in promoting the Utah ski industry.
As in most industries, the recession has affected what tourism leaders are talking about and planning for the future at the conference.
This was the third conference for Toni Knudson, a Park City resident who works for "RV Life" magazine. She noted that everyone seemed more willing to work together and partner this year to extend their reach out to the public.
"And that’s the key to surviving this year because you have to reinvent everything you’re doing and reinvent yourself," she said.
Those sentiments were also the major themes of the two keynote speakers on Thursday morning: Lt. Governor Gary Herbert and marketing expert Ken Foster.
Cooperation to improve economy
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Herbert felt the need to reassure conference attendees how important tourism is to the governor’s plan for economic development and their commitment to support the industry. Legislators slashed the Office of Tourism’s allotment by millions of dollars for the coming year as part of a larger effort to cut $1 billion from the state budget.
He said tourism is part of a three-part cooperative strategy to facilitate growing the state’s economy. The other two were are improving transportation and emphasizing education.
"Tourism is one of those areas where we believe you can invest dollars and see a return," Herbert said.
Adjusting to changing times
Foster’s presentation was pure optimism.
With 30 years of experience in marketing psychology, Foster believes he’s got a handle on what consumers are thinking and feeling right now. His view: the recession is psychological.
The economy is slow right now, but consumers have as many reasons to be optimistic as they do to be pessimistic. In the nine recessions since World War II, none have become a depression. Despite those nine recessions, the economy has grown robustly and steadily over the last 65 years.
People know this, and as a result are generally optimistic, he said. Foster showed a graph tracking the Consumer Confidence Index and actual unemployment rates over the past several years that revealed no correlation. The fear and worry that deters spending is more about psychology than actual situations, he argued.
For example, seeing other people experience financial difficulties can sometimes have a greater psychological affect on a person than experiencing troubles themselves.
Just the fear of prospective unemployment can lead to stress and feelings of helplessness, he said.
This is shown by the fact that spending contractions are in excess of actual wage reductions.
But fear is one of the easiest problems to address from a marketing perspective, Foster said.
In surveys, over half of people said the recession is not affecting them any more than everyone else. About 30 percent said they’re better off than the average American.
About 63 percent of Americans have said they have no plans to change their grocery-shopping habits because of the recession.
According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, only half of Americans are optimistic about the nation’s economy, but two-thirds are optimistic about their family’s situation, Foster said.
That’s because they feel helpless about the larger picture, but have a strategy for addressing their own issues.
This fear of the unknown mixed with the likelihood of being alright is creating a Consumer Confidence Index that is down, but only slightly, he said. It will not take much in terms of good news to bring it back up.
"Are you getting the picture that this isn’t hitting people extremely hard?" Foster asked the audience.
Because of these factors, Foster said in his own opinion, the economy has already hit bottom and recovery will begin shortly.
What to do
And as families who feel good about their own financial situation start looking to relieve the stress they’ve felt over past months, they traditionally turn to family vacations, he said.
Tourism marketing should be positioned to emphasize how family trips strengthen bonds, build better citizens, nurture life-long curiosities, foster independence and add joy.
The industry is changing and tourism businesses need to be aware. People are planning vacations themselves and doing it through extensive online research. People are spending less and staying closer to home, but they’re traveling more frequently as well, Foster said.
Social media is also becoming important to travel as people post photos and memories from their trips as they go instead of waiting until they get home, he said.
Knudson said Foster’s comments are definitely supported by what she’s seen in the RV industry.
"People are not going to stop going on vacation, they’re just going to try to make it less expensive and closer to home," she said.
The RV lifestyle is just that a lifestyle. They travel extensively, not just to Disneyland once a year, she said.
"When they get where they’re going, they immerse themselves into the local community culture. They’re going to keep going. I think this is all positive," she said.