Shortly after Santa disappears back up the chimney in December, thousands of American snowboarders will be tuning their handheld satellite radios to the Weather Channel to get the snow report. And if Colorado ski areas aren't hip, they could get tuned out.
But technological changes are only one of two overreaching trends that will add turmoil to the travel industry for years to come, tourism and travel expert Lalia Rach told an audience in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday.
On the tech side, she predicted that versatile little satellite radios will supplant the iPod this Christmas as the must-have tech gadget. And that's just one example of ways in which technology is putting pressure on the travel industry to adapt.
"It's a revolution," Rach said. "Satellite radio is now a reality. It's in the new cars. But you're going to see it as the growth tech toy of 2005."
Savvy resort marketers will adapt quickly to reach potential customers -- not only through their handheld satellite radios, Rach said, but also via cell phones, which are becoming more capable communications devices at a dizzying pace.
Along with technological advances, the second major trend in the travel industry is the dramatic, ongoing change in the structure of the American household, said Rach, who is the associate dean of the Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Travel Administration at New York University.
Households today are far removed from the stereotypical norm of the 1960s TV sitcoms, Rach said, and they continue to evolve.
"No families look alike any longer," Rach said."
Increasingly, for example, grandparents are taking their grandchildren on vacation, and although they love their grandchildren, they aren't willing to be with them 24 hours a day, Rach said. Uncles and aunts are taking nephews and nieces on vacation, and they are even less tolerant of being responsible for the youngsters around the clock. Resorts need to adapt their services to meet such child-care needs, Rach said.
The ski industry is known for attracting a Caucasian clientele, Rach said. But the real potential for growth in the coming decades lies with a multicultural
clientele. It's a fallacy that pervades American life, she added, that wealth only lies with white people.
"By 2025, 40 percent of the population will be a member of a minority group," Rach said. "There is such an opportunity for growth if you are welcoming to minorities. Destinations that welcome Americans, regardless of their ethnicities, are going to make a lot of money. Destinations that jump on this and really bring it home are going to win big."
To be more welcoming to multicultural travelers, Rach said, resorts need to pay close attention to the images they project.
"Look at your frontline people -- look at your marketing materials," she urged, and ensure they reflect diversity and multiculturalism.
Domestically, vacation travelers occupy three distinct generations: the aging baby boomers who refuse to grow old, the fiercely independent Generation X and the technologically empowered Millennium Generation, Rach said.
Understanding the peculiarities and needs of each generation is important to success for the travel industry, Rach said.
Boomers hanging onto their youth will redefine what it means to turn 60 during the next five to 10 years, she said.
Another trend that can't be ignored, Rach said, is the growing number of single-person households. They have a significant disposable income because they don't face the need to save $140,000 for college. Yet, restaurants and resorts don't always make them feel comfortable while they travel on their own.
Generation X is far more driven and success-oriented than its members have been given credit for. Yet, its members continue to seek out nonstandard experiences and marketing messages.
The generation that will control the future of the domestic travel industry is made up of 73 million people ages 11 to 26, Rach said. Formerly known as Generation Y (now politically incorrect), they are referred to as the Millennium Generation, Rach said.
The Millennium Generation has spending power -- 64 percent of teens ages 16 to 19 now have their own credit cards. Increasingly, they make vacation decisions for their parents. And increasingly, they are adapting to new technology.
Rach shared an anecdote about shopping for a cell phone for her 14-year-old niece. She anticipated buying a fairly basic phone at a modest price. She was in for a surprise.
Rach's niece had her heart set on a multifunctional device that was Web enabled, capable of taking digital photographs and downloading music from the Internet.
Ultimately, they settled on a phone that cost $149.
"She has yet to call me on it, but I am told she loves it," Rach quipped.
Humor aside, her niece's generation will expect travel destinations to be available to them for information 24 hours a day, Rach said, and if resorts aren't prepared to transmit that information via cell phone, they'll lose out in their bid for the Millennium Generation.
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