Last month, a small group of us from the office visited Carmarthen to attend a conference organised by Perspectif, featuring speakers from Mintel (Richard Cope and Fergal McGivney) together with Professor Nigel Morgan, of Surrey University. The theme of the hospitality masterclass was understanding consumer trends, most particularly for the tourism/travel industry. We’re really passionate at Discover Your Wales about how we can utilise social media and new technology to augment and enhance the traveller’s experience, so this event was right up our street.

Understanding consumer trends

First up was Richard Cope, Senior Trends Consultant at Mintel. He talked about the demographic changes that are occurring in society today: households are diminishing, and simultaneously becoming more diverse. By 2025, for example, 1/4 of all households in the UK could potentially be headed by a single parent. Furthermore, there is an increase in couples without children, and they’re looking for a different holiday experience from the ones often marketed (hence, presumably, the success of websites like Mr & Mrs Smith).

UK seniors are healthier, have more disposable income, are sexually active and still working. They don’t necessarily want the traditional holiday pitched at the over 60s. Also, they may be sharing their living space with children or grandchildren – in-house tech dudes who can teach their parents how to use the internet. There are also a greater proportion of pet-owning households who want their furry friends to join them on their adventures. Why, then, is the tourism industry always so focused on the nuclear family when it’s increasingly clear that particular demographic is no longer the majority?

How can technology help us?

Fergal McGivney (Mintel) suggested that connectivity is now an expectation, wherever one travels. Guests want to be able to turn off at a time of their choosing, and not because the WiFi is poor. One gentleman at the event suggested that the lack of connectivity is exactly why many people visit rural parts of Wales, to enjoy a digital detox – this might be true, but it removes the element of choice from the visitor. The digital domain is one of our most active social arenas. As such, we should be providing access to social media platforms and using them to connect people to experiences that will augment their travels.

Take, for example, the Marriott Hotel’s Six Degrees app. The Marriott Group closely monitors guests’ requirements and makes great efforts in understanding consumer trends and the impact on the industry. To that end, they polled some of their guests on the lone business traveller experience, and discovered that it can be quite a lonely experience.

If you’ve traveled for business solo, you know the drill: Check into a typical business hotel, lock yourself inside the room, and leave only when it’s time for work. It’s a dreary and isolating affair, and rare that you’ll ever mingle with another guest. It’s a common scenario even at a hotel like the Boston Marriott Cambridge in Massachusetts, where there could be more than 400 guest staying at one time if it’s completely booked. So, how do you break the ice and meet some people?

The hotel lobby becomes a social hub. Hotel guests download the app and sync it to their LinkedIn network – the portal of choice for most business travellers. Six Degrees “then aggregates your LinkedIn data along with other info you input (such as likes and interests) to create a profile, which it can then use to match those with other participants; if they choose to, participants can connect via the app.” It is, in essence, a Tinder for lone travellers, using tech as an enabler. Another innovation they have trialled is using Oculus Rift headsets to allow guests to fully experience a destination before even arriving there.

Understanding consumer trends

Understanding consumer trends – the Marriott Hotel’s experimentation with Oculus Rift headsets.

Disconnecting from the digital.

If we make efforts understanding consumer trends, however, we know that a proportion of travellers wish to disconnect entirely from social media platforms and smartphone use when they’re on their travels. How do our guests disconnect when they want to, if we’re bombarding them with technology? How can they remove themselves from “signalisation” easily, and at their own choosing? One way is the Tech Creche, trialled at the New Forest National Park in 2014, where guests can safely deposit their mobile phones and experience nature without the distraction of their tech. The problem lies in navigating the fine line between applying exciting technology to augment an experience, and not allowing time and space to appreciate the real-world journey a guest is taking.

What’s your story?

Something that really resonated with me was Professor Nigel Morgan’s assertion that one of the key things that visitors are looking for is to engage in “micro moments”. There are roughly 1.9 billion people engaged on social media. They enjoy every stage of the travel experience: dreaming > planning > booking > experiencing a trip. Digital moments are part of that journey, and part of the story. The natural progression of this is that when they arrive at their destination, they want another micro moment that they can add to their personal equation. Professor Morgan used Carmarthen as an example: he often tells people that Carmarthen is the birthplace of Merlin – it adds a level of myth to the sequence of moments. This is very much what Richard Smith of Cambrian Safaris told us when we went on an adventure with him recently: that people love the idea of Wales because it is so steeped in history and legend.

We were absolutely blown away by some of the things mentioned at the workshop. Understanding consumer trends is so important to develop an effective marketing strategy, but whilst data is important it doesn’t remove the need to emphasise new experiences and adventures that visitors can talk about with their friends. Also, we got to have a lovely afternoon tea at the Ivy Bush Hotel, and you just cannot beat a mini chocolate eclair.

Many thanks to Prospectif for organising the event.