October 19, 2007

Maslow, Marketing, & Maturity Revisited

Abraham Maslow postulated a hierarchy of human needs in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation.” He further refined the idea through his lifetime.

Just where does tourism intersect with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Maybe not where you think.

Often represented as a pyramid with the base being physiological needs Maslow observed an impulse toward satisfying ever higher needs. Deficit Needs were his name for the first four needs: physiological, safety, belonging, and esteem. The remainder which he called Growth Needs. He noted that Deficit Needs were so fundamental that each prior need must be satisfied in order for a person to progress to the next.

Let's review his list of needs:

1. Physiological needs
2. Safety needs
3. Belonging needs
4. Esteem needs
5. The need to know and understand
6. Aesthetic needs
7. Self-actualization needs
8. Transcendence

Now walk with me by stages through encounters with destination marketing. Assuming that one would not have the leisure to pursue the growth experiences promised by tourism if they had not surmounted the deficit stages of physiological, safety, belonging, and esteem needs we start at level five with curiosity.

The need to know and understand a place, a people, or a piece of history, figures prominently into my destination selection process. It sustains me through a drawn out dreaming stage where I speak to friends and travel agents while scouring the web or reading tour books, magazines, and marketing materials. During my research I can always count on marketing materials to persuade me with ample real – or Photoshopped – evidence that my target destination will raise me to level six by satisfying my Aesthetic needs. Add-on adventure packages, classes, or more personalized services promise level seven’s Self-actualization. My trip does not need to take me to literal mountaintops to offer peak experiences of Transcendence. Volunteer opportunities providing meaning, breathtaking beauty in unexpected places, or life-changing experiences of depth with strangers along the way are common enough travel experiences to need only be suggested or attested by sidebar quotes rather than hyped in marketing.

But what if you heard $13.6 US billion saying, “Find the error in this marketing approach and I might find my way into your bank account?”

The ignored data is that travel thrusts all who engage in it into deficiency mode. Examine exaggerated cases for evidence. Look up industry bottom lines during the SARS epidemic (physiological needs), or after the 9-11 attacks (safety needs), or where you as an individual are palpably unwelcome for reasons of race, nationality, or income (belonging and esteem needs.)

The oversight is predictable. Most places, products, and policies are designed to accommodate a significant portion of the travel market.

Uniformity in the infrastructure providing basic needs like access to water to drink, air to breather, food to eat, and locations to rest, wash, or relieve oneself lend the predictability to assure one that the deficits encountered during travel are temporary and easily surmountable. That assurance allows these travelers an experience open to the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. It makes possible what travel marketing sells.

The oversight is also predictable because it extends even to those who create the infrastructure for these basic needs – and precedent, even bad precedent, teaches.

This is the open secret within the – within our – community: travelers with disabilities consciously risk immersion in situations of Deficit Need whenever they travel. Even so, we studies document that we continue to travel in greater numbers each year. We, the 42 million US citizens with disabilities spending an average of $13.6 billion on travel annually, look for things not typically included in marketing messages. The absence of reliable information about the application of Universal Design at every level of the travel experience deters us from traveling. As our ranks are swelled by the normal diminishment in function that accompanies aging the number of – and potential profit from – by baby Boomers entering this underserved niche do you see an opportunity on the horizon?

Some are exercising creativity creating web directories, blogs, e-zines, print magazine, and books to get the word out about accessibility for travelers. Astute hospitality marketers would be rewarded with new customers by learning from their example.

Others take on the task of remodeling the industry level by need level. To list only the Deficit Needs:

• Physiology: A young woman named Rasha now has 13,000 signers on her petition for airborne bathroom accessibility.
• Safety: The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), together with the disability rights movement, is supporting a complaint to the U.S. Department of Transportation that employees charged with assisting passengers to safely board and deplane are not provided adequate training or safe equipment.

• Belonging: Bonnie Lewkowicz and Judith Smith have filed a lawsuit against Hotels.com and Spector, et al has won a Supreme Court case against Norwegian Cruise Lines for policies resulting in the exclusion of travelers with disabilities.

• Esteem: Disability groups as far-flung as India, Singapore, Australia, Japan, Argentina, South Africa, Norway, and France offer excursions ranging from bowling to skiing, tennis to whitewater rafting, fishing to cooking classes all in a manner that values the differing abilities of each participant

I will illustrate with one autobiographical case study.

For several years I have corresponded with salespeople, designers, and other professionals in the timeshare, condotel, or “vacation ownership” market. Recently I was invited by Marriott to examine their Newport Coast Villas in southern California. At roughly $100,000 for the package that we had in mind the price point was not unreasonable for the strong Marriott brand and their dominant international network of options. Quality of materials, aesthetics of design, and pride in workmanship were evident inside and out. The “buy now” incentives we enticing. Still I declined.

Maybe you could say that, along with so many other things that I successfully do differently because of my disability, I did the math differently as well.

Imagine x number of people competing for 700 units at Newport Coast Villas during the peak season. Now keep x constant but decrease the number of units by 90% to 70 units. It doesn’t take a degree in mathematics to intuit that something important just happened to the demand/supply ratio.

Recalculate over time to account for the fact that x is not constant. It increases. Oops, supply-side problems on steroids.

Just for fun – or rather, just to match the actual case – let’s factor in that roughly two dozen of those 70 units will not be available for another 36 months. Oh yes, and of the two units that you inspected in that group that will someday number the resort’s 70 wheelchair accessible vacation units none had roll-in showers or independently accessible bathtubs, cutaways for wheelchairs under cabinets, counters or sinks, stoves with controls in the front, furniture selected for ease of transfer, or washer/dryer accessible from a wheelchair – and community covenants allow for no changes, not even replacing the artwork on the walls.

Shopping from a supplier with a well-honed reputation for customer service for a product within my means and one that I had been attracted to enough to track over several years I was offered the option to buy into a situation of permanent Deficit Need.

Infrastructure design errors created physiology and safety problems. The total lack of wheelchair access to some buildings results in the inability to socialize with other guests in their homes and prohibits achievement of belonging. If 10% of the bathrooms are usable then Visitability is not achieved in 90% of the units. The end product weighs as quite an assault on self esteem.

Over time the owner base will age. With age comes disability. With a greater number of owners (and their guests) having disabilities the inadequately designed set-aside 10% will be the only universe of options for more people.

Design that accounted for lifespan use – not simply lifestyle glitz – probably would have made the salesman we spoke to a little closer to his monthly goal.

And then there would have been the word-of-mouth referrals and sales from the pass along value of this article.

It is expensive not to use Universal Design. As the old guard leadership of the Disability Rights Movement – all Baby Boomers – ages daily into the market, the cost of not meeting our needs increases exponentially.

Posted by rollingrains at October 19, 2007 12:26 AM