September 21, 2004

Waking Up to a Changed Travel Market

I have published a new article at Suite, Waking Up to a New Travel Market.

While Downunder -- and "Under Downunder" in Tasmania -- I have come to know some fine and talented people. Several have accepted my invitation to write about what they know for Suite 101 or teach it at Suite University. I am very much looking forward to working in an ongoing way with the extraordinary people I have met!

From Suite

Waking Up to A New Travel Market

Where I come from, there's a perky grey bird that flies up from the southern states each year and sets up summer camp just outside my bedroom window.

Now, if you're like me, you enjoy that woozy half-awake feeling where dreams finish lazily. That fog when the coming day's work is so busy multiplying itself that it hasn't noticed that you�re awake yet and come to bother you.

That's the time of day when this ambitious little bird, in some parts it's called the Catbird - I'll tell you why in a minute - launches into its morning routine.

You see, the Catbird is a great mimic.

I can lay in bed and recognize the calls of a whole brightly-feathered bird symphony beyond the curtain. The serenade is like a mini-vacation since the bird travels the length and breadth of the North America picking up the calls and cadences of species after species of songbird.

Of course, imitation has its limits, doesn't it? I've never heard one bark but the little fellers do have an annoying habit of replaying last night's catfight. Thus the name - "Catbird."

One morning I noticed a new song.

It sounded like "Catbird-sings-Crow" or maybe the screechy beep-beep-beep sound that commercial trucks make in California as they back up.

Then I recognized it.

Here we call Catbirds �Mockingbirds.� I think that name better captures the annoying, almost insulting, feel of their excess exuberance. The bird outside my window was imitating the sound of a crosswalk signal. We use this sound to alert visually impaired pedestrians that the light is about to change.

I wonder how many people have mistaken the Mockingbird�s advertising for the real thing as they stood at a crosswalk.

It was morning. My thinking was hazy. Leftover dreams, impractical goals, and the emerging day's urgencies all mixed together as I gained focus. But I got up that morning with a sense of purpose.

I thought, �Yes, the traffic signal is changing. But are we paying attention?"

Is the travel and hospitality industry following when it should be leading? Leading when it should be listening? Listening to the ones who really have the answers to give travelers with disabilities, seniors, and families?

And are they aware of what their current practices, some of them innocent imitation, are signaling to those around us. Those who might experience the world differently?

You see, travel and hospitality professionals, it's time to move beyond imitation. Take what wisdom you can from what has worked so far. It's a new game. Travelers with disabilities are upping the stakes.

To be excellent at attracting customers with disabilities you must be aware of their travel needs and behaviors - and meet or exceed them.

Simon Darcy, of NSW, has done a great service by publishing his study "Anxiety to Access" and a host of follow-up reports laying the groundwork for excellence in marketing. Bruce Cameron, also an Australian, has aggregated and developed the market of Australian travelers-with-disabilities using Simon's studies to write guidebooks and articles. Just two days ago Ann O'Brien released her study on accessibility in Western Australia - "Guestability." The Perth Convention Bureau is having success with a program called "Beyond Compliance" that financially rewards businesses that include accessibility features.

In the United States, Eric Lipp of the Open Doors Organization has done the first study of the purchasing power of the travelers with disabilities market. Limited as it was to US travelers, many of us are busy encouraging the replication of this type of study in other parts of the world to give us better business planning data.

Bottom line? The market is out there. It is traveling. It is spending. And it has much, much more disposable income in reserve as it waits for the right products.

Additional Reading:

"Anxiety to Access" - Study of Travel Behavior

"Market Study" - Open Doors Organization

The Rolling Rains Report

Posted by rollingrains at September 21, 2004 06:56 PM | TrackBack