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Sparking Conversation: Traveling forward while looking back…

It’s the Eve of Labor Day weekend, and the unofficial end of summer is drawing near. Summer has historically been the time in which people take time off from work to travel, explore, relax and rejuvenate themselves. Palm trees, sunshine, soft, white sands, glistening waters, hammocks, fresh coconut juice– who wouldn’t want that in their life? Count me in!  For me, as is for many, the immediate notion of vacationing is kicking back, unplugging from the world under the rays of natural sunlight, taking in the ocean breeze and ultimately escaping from the wired world of demands and obligations.
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But it wasn’t always like this.

While traveling can be traced as far back as 2000BC through the 18th Century where people traveled for trade, religious pilgrimages, business and education, “vacationing” came onto the scene in mid 19th Century, but was only seen as a sign of privilege for the affluent – those who were able to afford to spend time away from the farm fields, factories or office.  Overtime, as medicinal studies became more acute, it was diagnosed that breaks away from work were imperative for the upkeep of one’s health. At last, with the advent of steamboat services, railway, interstate highway systems and aviation, varying modes of transport gave shape to mass tourism.

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So why do people take flight? (pardon the pun)

There are many countries and industries that are ready to answer that question.  International tourism generated almost a trillion dollars ($919 billion) in 2010 – yes trillion beginning with “t”!  It is no wonder why country governments, tourism boards and local hospitality vendors and organizations are willing to invest a considerable amount of fiscal resources/marketing  in order to get a piece of the visitor spend pie.  The primary motivation for a business or region to serve tourists is generally economic. An individual business is interested mainly in its own revenue and costs, while a community or region is concerned with tourism’s overall contribution to the economy, as well as its social, fiscal and environmental impacts.

In current day, over half (51%) of all international tourists (480MM) travel for leisure and recreation. The other half is for a combination of religious reasons, health, business and education – quite a flip from 2000BC.

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Now considering all the money that these countries are spending to have visitors wander around their countries with Lonely Planet guidebooks and white zinc on their noses, the inevitable question is:Is all that money spent really worth it?  Businesses and public organizations are increasingly interested in the economic impacts of tourism at national, state and local levels. According to a study by the United Nations World Tourism Organization in 2010, “based on the currently still fragmented information from countries with data available, tourism’s contribution to worldwide gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated at some 5%. For advanced, diversified economies, the contribution of tourism to GDP ranges from approximately 2% for countries where tourism is a comparatively small sector, to over 10% for countries where tourism is an important pillar of the economy. For small islands and developing countries, or specific regional and local destinations where tourism is a key economic sector, the importance of tourism tends to be even higher.”

Take for instance, England’s “GREAT” campaign that launched over the course of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Its £127 million investment over a 4-year campaign is targeted to 90 million people internationally, to attract an extra 4.6 million visitors to the UK over the next 4 years, and to secure an additional £32 billion in tourist spend through 2022.  Talk about return on investment!

Now, if we’re to look at something a bit more closer to home, our very own US of A launched its first EVER fully integrated, international campaign, “Brand USA” – in March of this year;  A $200MM marketing investment with expectations to achieve a 20:1 return on visitor spend per every dollar spent on advertising.

Lastly, individual states’ tourism boards are also smiling while en route to the bank. The Ohio Department of Development’s Office of Tourism noted that the 2011 “Too Much Fun for Just One Day” ad campaign resulted in a $14 to $1 ROI for Ohio.

So where do we go from here?

Well, as marketers, it’s no question that we’ve got the whole world in our hands – literally. With the tough state of the economy making headlines every hour, we’ve got some big missions to accomplish – one region at a time. It’s evident that tourism has a variety of economic impacts that virtually reach everyone in the region one way or another – via contribution to sales, profits, jobs, tax revenues and income. The most direct effects occur within the primary tourism sector: lodging, restaurants, transportation, attractions and retail trade. Through secondary effects, tourism affects most sectors of the economy: change in sales, income and employment.

And what’s the motivating force for folks to set sail?

Aside from people wanting to get away, compelling creative, persuasive messaging and proper execution have historically shown positive return on investment. Based on this, it’s a great opportunity for marketers across all region borders to dive in and potentially make a huge splash for years to come!

I’ll get right on that after my quick escape to the oceanfront this Labor Day weekend…

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