Tourism and Numbers – surveys on the Erie Canal

Numbers don’t lie; that’s what makes them so valuable. So for the tourism industry, which is in the business of delivering experiences, measuring success and change can be difficult. But it is important to start somewhere and at least start tracking a few elements of your business. The Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor has done just that. They recently released a study titled “Economic Impact Report- East Region Case Study.” In 2008 the Corridor ( an area encompassing 524 miles of Upstate NY) developed and administered a survey, which generated 800 responses. Further investigation showed that over 60% of the respondents visited the Eastern portion of the corridor, so it was decided to focus the analysis on this region.  The Heritage Corridor staff could have decided that the sample was too small, or too skewed to the Eastern region to provide any real answers. But sometimes you have to start where you are, not where you wish you were.

So by undertaking the analysis, they did get valuable information. They have a picture of their typical visitor – an adult aged 46-75 with an income of $75,000 or more per year. Most of the visitors are day trippers and 54% of visitors are repeat visitors. For those of you in the tourism industry, you know that day trippers are not as valuable as overnight visitors ($33 spending per party for day trippers, vs $361 per party for overnight visitors) and you would ideally like more first time visitors than repeat visitors. But even this information is helpful because it will help chart a direction to encourage more spending and more new visitors.

So today think about what you would like to measure – more business from a certain target market, more spending per visitor, or more phone calls to your front desk? Start measuring where you are today- you will be glad you did.

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The Experience Economy- Take a Lesson from Fairmont Hotels

The Experience Economy is a term first coined in the book of the same name by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore. Even though it was written more than ten years ago, the information they gathered and shared is still relevant. Basically, it shows that people are willing to pay more for a product or service if it is part of an experience. The most cited example is a cup of coffee. Coffee beans are a commodity that is traded at a set price, a pound of canned coffee is a bit more, a cup of coffee at a restaurant can cost up to $2. But a cup of coffee at Starbucks? People pay between $3-4 a day for their morning cuppa. Why is that? Pine and Gilmore say it is because Starbucks was smart enough to create an entire experience around getting that cup. The music, setting and community feel as you stand in line is worth more to many people. Add in the fact that you can sit on a cozy leather couch all by yourself or with a date and you have an entire experience for only a few dollars. Now that’s worth it, isnt’ it?

The Experience Economy is particularly important for the tourism industry. Visitors have tired of only looking at an exhibit in a museum or just staying at a hotel and hoping some activity presents itself. People want to come back from a vacation with something to talk about, not another souvenir or pictures of pretty scenery.

Fairmont Hotels is a well-known and upscale hotel brand, based in Canada. They have released  a new program called Discovery Vacations which includes Cultural Packages such as helping on Turtle Patrol at the Fairmont Royal Pavilion in Barbados, or visiting a Masai tribe while staying at the Fairmont Mara Safari Club in Kenya. Or how about attending a Barbecue Academy while staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs? You can learn from ‘International Barbecue Champ’ Rockin Ronnie Shewchuk.

So what can you offer? It doesn’t have to be expensive or rare. Think of 1. activities that the locals do for fun, 2. attractions, festivals and activities that visitors come to see. Start talking to a few of the people who plan these and see how you can put a package together. Unique ideas can often also get some press so keep that in mind as well. Price should not be your first concern when planning this, but the uniqueness of the experience.

Let me know some experience packages you offer or ones you have heard about!

Hospitality Managers – can u txt?

Three months ago I would not have written this post for several reasons. First, I believe communication via text message is limited at best- it’s even harder to interpret people’s meanings than an email. Secondly, I think managers should speak directly to their staff whenever possible; texting seems like a way to avoid actual conversations.

However, I have changed my mind and now think that all frontline managers should be texting their employees as a way to build relationships, establish lines of communication and to show them you are willing to communicate with them in their world. What changed my opinion? Several things.

First, in teaching a group of unemployed and underemployed individuals about the hospitality industry, I learned that everyone has a cell phone – no one has a landline. They are not fancy smartphones, but simple cell phones. Prepaid phones do not require the credit check and stable housing situations that a landline requires.  At least one student has a phone that was limited to text messaging only – she couldn’t afford the phone option. So for me to communicate with her after class, I had to text her. I found that when I started texting each of them, they became more comfortable with me in class and would text me with questions or issues over the weekend. They would send me a text if their bus was running late. That they were being responsible in reporting in impressed me. Now I don’t text nearly as fast as my teenage daughter, but I am willing to work at it.

Speaking of my teenage daughter; she works as a busser at a local hotel restaurant. Her manager, a young man in his 20’s, sends texts to the waitstaff on a regular basis. He informs them of schedule changes and asks if someone wants to work an extra shift. Considering that all the bussers are teenagers, this makes perfect sense. You can be sure they get their messages and they are usually quick to respond.

The subject of cell phone use at work has caused  frontline managers many headaches. When frontline staff are working, they should not have their phones. They should be left in a car or an employee locker to keep them from checking in and sending messages on company time. But they also have great value in today’s world. Managers would do well to ask their staff to give them some texting lessons and use texting as a 21st century way to keep in touch with their staff.

National Travel and Tourism Week

National Travel and Tourism Week has been celebrated every May since 1984. This is the industry’s yearly chance to speak about the economic importance of tourism for our local and national economies, as well as highlight all the people who are directly and indirectly impacted by visitor dollars.

For instance, did you know:

– More than 10 million people depend on travel for their jobs.

– Spending by travelers generates $111 billion (yes, with a B) in tax revenue for local and federal governments. The average American pays $950 less in taxes each year because of visitor spending.

-International visitors spend more and stay longer than any other visitors, on average about 16 nights with spending in excess of $4,000 when they visit. International visitors are especially important to New York State tourism businesses- NYC is the primary port of entry for most international visitors. A lot of effort is put into educating international visitors about what is beyond the boundaries of Manhattan and give them compelling reasons to travel to other parts of the state.

-Money spent on promoting tourism usually yields a ROI (return on investment) of $5 for every $1 spent. That is why tourism marketing should be thought of as a community investment, not a cost.

Besides all the facts and numbers behind tourism, there are other important reasons for people to travel. New experiences, understanding different cultures, taking part in unique activities or taking the time to just relax and rejuvenate are some of the many benefits that travel provides.

Many communities are planning on holding rallies, and cities like Abilene Texas have some great videos showing why “Travel Matters“. The U.S. Travel Association has dedicated a portion of their website to the activities going on this week and even has a page on Social Media tips for promoting this industry wide event. So take a moment or two this week to think about how important your contribution to the travel industry and the US economy really is. We wouldn’t be one of the largest industries in the country without everyone’s participation!

Recreational Fishing in New York State

I recently ran into Bill Hilts at a social event and we started speaking about the state of the recreational fishing industry in New York. I have known Bill for several years- mostly through conference calls- and I know he is one of the most well regarded professionals among his peers. I asked him if he would answer some questions for my blog  in between getting ready for his busy season, attending trade shows, and planning his upcoming wedding! Lucky for us, he made the time to answer my questions with indepth answers and statistics that helped me to realize how important fishing  is for the tourism industry in New York. Thanks Bill!

Bill Hilts

 Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you came to represent the Niagara region and fishing?

 I guess things go all the way back to my childhood when I was brought up with a fishing and outdoors background. My father grew up in the same type of environment and was an outdoor writer – still is – and it resulted in some great outdoor adventures that allowed up to travel and fish across the country. The Adirondacks was a regular stop each summer, too, and Lewey Lake is a fond memory. As I grew older and tried to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, my writing seemed to guide my path.  After graduating from college, I found myself working for a national newspaper out of Buffalo called Gun Week and it wasn’t long before I was writing a weekly column for the Niagara Gazette daily newspaper … back in 1980. Because of my writing and communications skills, I was able to land a job with Niagara County as their Sportfishing Promotion Coordinator in 1986 – a job I continue to perform – and the Outdoor Sports Specialist for Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation. I’ve assisted in several regional efforts, as well as statewide efforts, to promote the outdoor resources that we are blessed with in the Empire State. I am the current president of the Lake Ontario Sportfishing Promotion Council (I missed a meeting and when I returned I was elected), made up of the seven counties along Lake Ontario. It’s primarily a marketing arm that allows us to get a bigger bang for our bucks in marking Lake Ontario as a destination. I’ve been active with state, regional and national writing groups, serving on the board of directors for all three at some point in time. I’m currently vice president with the Assn. of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers and on the Board with the Outdoor Writers Assn. of America. I also work closely with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Can you give me an idea how big the recreational fishing industry is in NY?

The recreational fishing industry in New York is big business, for sure. According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation from 2006, Fishing and Hunting expenditures in New York were nearly $2 billion annually. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation conducted an angler survey in 2007 in conjunction with Cornell University’s Department of Natural Resources and their findings showed that between $500 and $600 million is spent by resident and nonresident anglers in the state annually. While nearly 20,000 anglers were surveyed, I’d have to say that the number is conservative. The largest body of water in the state is Lake Ontario, with anglers fishing 1.3 million days on those waters. And New York has some of the finest fishing in the country, if not the world. With 7,500 lakes and 50,000 miles of streams and rivers, there are plenty of freshwater opportunities. Throw in the salt water options and you can see that we are blessed with some outstanding outdoor opportunities. Niagara County is in the second year of an economic survey commissioned by the county’s Fisheries Development Board through Niagara University and the early results peg the county as having a $28 million annual impact. Huge!

Where do the fishermen and women come from – domestically and internationally?

 Fishermen and women come from all over the world. The Internet is big for getting the word out about what we have to offer now. I just returned from a trade show in England, attending “The Big One” in Farnborough, promoting fishing in Lake Ontario and New York through out Lake Ontario Sportfishing Promotion Council. They purchased the booth space and we had two representatives promoting the resources. The United Kingdom has something like 3 or 4 million anglers with a heavy focus on carp and we thought we might be able to attract some anglers to New York. Actually, there are some businesses along the St.Lawrence River that attract a good number of UK anglers for their carp fishing.

Are there any state regulations that are helping or hurting recreational fishing?

The new license fee increase is going to have a negative effect on the nonresident fishermen coming into New York. This new increase went into effect last October 1 and many anglers coming into the state after that date were blindsided by the increase. They made it known that they weren’t happy and many were not going to be returning. The increase was significant for out of staters. There is also some concern on what’s happening on the national level regarding President Obama’s Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force that also came as a bit of a surprise. The Great Lakes was lumped into this, which will create a management policy into the future – with little or no input from the recreational fishing industry. In addition, there are always concerns on invasive species that could have a huge impact on the future of our resources, like the current controversy involving Asian Carp entering the Great Lakes.

Any other info you would like to share?

Where do you start. I could talk volumes on fishing and its effect on the state’s tourism industry. The fact that there is very little communication between I Love NY and DEC is a disappointment. Tourism on a state level needs to realize that fishing is an important tool for tourism. Some counties need to focus on fishing because its all they have. You would never know that we have world class fishing by viewing the state’s tourism information. There needs to be more of a focus to help get the word out about what we have. We also have to do a better job within the state boundaries to encourage the next generation to get involved. More education, kids fishing events, outreach to minorities, that sort of thing. We have a long way to go to ensure a vibrant future. There isn’t a better family activity than fishing and its relatively inexpensive to start out.

Tourism, Jobs and New York State

Trolling the NYS Department of Labor website is not a common activity of mine but I came across some very interesting information there today. There is a document called New York State’s Travel and Tourism Sector,2008. It shows the number of jobs and average wages for the entire industry, by county. It also breaks each county’s jobs and wages down by sectors- Accommodations, Cultural and Recreational  Amusements, Food Services, Transportation, and Travel Retail. There were several items that caught my attention.

Each county has a “Location Quotient” or LQ.  This number “measures the concentration of local jobs relative to the U.S. If an industry’s LQ is greater than 1.0, then the local area contains a higher concentration of jobs in that industry relative to the U.S.”  So if a county has a LQ higher than one, it means it has more jobs in the tourism industry than the average U.S. county. It means tourism is big business in that county. In New York, 16 out of 62 counties have an LQ over 1.0. That means 25.8% of our counties are more dependent on tourism than most areas of the U.S. It didn’t surprise me that New York county (Manhattan) was on that list, or Saratoga county, or Otsego county, home to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame. What did surprise me was the number of small rural counties that have a high dependency on tourism- counties like Hamilton, Herkimer and Lewis in the North Country and Chautauqua, Schuyler, Cortland and Cayuga in Upstate New York.  These are locations that do not have many industries to provide alternative job opportunities and economic development through tourism is the smart path for elected officials to support. The Adirondacks have a strong initiative to get high-speed internet access throughout the area, which would certainly benefit small tourism businesses. Legislators should preserve matching funds for these counties to enable them to continue their marketing efforts. The state should keep State Parks open to help support these businesses and the elected and appointed officials need to realize the value of tourism dollars that come from beyond our borders. Perhaps they should check out the State Department of Labor website like we have.