Measuring up: Driving the travel economy by changing how – and what – we measure
Traditional tourism metrics may not help in 2021
Eliza Voss, vice president of destination marketing with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, said that 2020’s unusual numbers will require some different metrics to predict this season’s tourist traffic.
“ACRA’s Destination Marketing and Snowmass Tourism’s efforts are partially funded by the lodging tax, so we have always looked at occupancy and average daily rate metrics,” she said. “Historically we have viewed these metrics as year over year measurements. Of course, this year, we need to look back 3 years to get a sense of where we are as compared to a pre-pandemic world.”
Voss said the booking window for many travelers is now much closer to their arrival date, so the ACRA will also see how continued flexible cancellation policies influence future booking patterns.
Additionally, factors such as the vaccination rates in top feeder markets or even the availability of flights from traditional tourist hometowns need to be looked at more closely, she explained. But those numbers don’t tell the entire story, she admitted.
“Something a little outside of the ‘metrics and data’ box is measuring local sentiment, and the change in makeup of our communities with new residents, or part time residents spending more time here,” she said. “ACRA will dive into a destination management planning process in the summer of 2021, which will involve gaining insights into local sentiment so we can plan for what tourism should look like in our community for many years to come.”
A destination management plan is also critical to the community’s success as a sustainable destination, with flexibility being absolutely important to adapt to any future changes, she said.
Snowmass looks to visitors who drive, versus fly
Rose Abello, director of Snowmass Tourism, said that a report outlining the origins and destinations of Aspen Airport travelers has traditionally been an important planning tool.
“This information helps us to geographically target the audiences we go after,” she said. “For example, our Phoenix flight not only serves the greater Phoenix population but also serves as a very important connection to key southern California cities.”
But Abello said last year’s drop in air traffic has prompted more marketing directed at car travel.
“In 2020, as we watched the numbers of passengers going through TSA plummet, we expanded our ‘drive’ marketing efforts to include destinations within a 12-hour drive, especially targeting mountain bike enthusiasts with our IMBA Gold messaging,” she said. “Summer has always been a more important ‘drive market’ for us than winter and we will continue to assess that balance of spend between fly and drive markets as we see how 2021 evolves.”
Destination travel providers have long since adopted reliable, actionable metrics to gauge the success or failure of their efforts to create thriving travel economies. And whether it’s the relatively isolated nature of their economies, the seasonality of revenue streams or the significant infrastructure requirements of snow sports, mountain travel partners and suppliers are proactive with a wide range of data.
But suppliers and their overall communities have both a need and opportunity to change how and what they measure to drive the evolution of the industry.
“How” you measure – recovery vs trajectory
Typically, suppliers and governments measure quantitative performance such as taxes, visitation and resource use in terms of year-over-year (YOY) comparisons. Measuring during similar periods helps ensure that conditions such as weather, economic cycles and holidays are similar in both periods, allowing them to identify what is and isn’t working on the operational or promotional side.
The resulting data provide a measure of annual growth or decline, which becomes actionable. But when you encounter disruption in one of the data sets (say, a pandemic, to use an unlikely and extreme example), interested parties need to adjust to ensure they’re seeing performance in the right context.
For example, if we measure lodging bookings at mountain resorts in the third week of March 2021 versus 2020, we find that bookings are up 1,580% due to shuttered destinations at the same time last year. That, in a nutshell, is a recovery metric that helps you understand emergence from the downside, but has little long-term value.
For long-term value we add more data and also compare the same week versus 2019. The results? Bookings are up 58.5% compared to the same week in 2019. We now have both a recovery metric and a long-term trajectory metrics to qualify our recovery findings and make sure we’re on track. For the record, the current 2021 gains are dominated by pent-up demand, with the dramatic gains over 2020 also largely attributable to last year’s shutdown.
While this is a simplified example, the Insights Collective and I recommend that a multi-year discipline be applied across all data points measured, so that decisions through the recovery keep the long-term interests of the supplier or destination on track.
“What” you measure – shifting long-term interests?
Major disruptors have a way of creating challenges and opportunities, but rarely as aggressively as 2020. While many suppliers and towns are looking forward to a return to “normal,” others see this as an opportunity to drive change and address long-standing challenges like workforce housing, community relations, over-visitation or differentiation, to their competitive advantage.
Some of what was important in 2019 – generating foot traffic in a particular part of a town, for example – is still important, but may be lower on the list in 2021. Shifting away from volume in favor of exclusivity, visitor infrastructure in favor of local lifestyle, lodging tax in favor of workforce housing or any one of a dozen other shifts, are all initiatives destinations may identify that will require new ways to measure success.
Carl Ribaudo, president of SMG, and a co-founder of Insights Collective, suggests that resorts may pivot towards “looking at residents’ satisfaction with tourism as it’s currently delivered, making sure it truly benefits all segments of the community.” Ralf Garrison, founder of the Collective, has another approach, but perhaps to the same end, suggesting there’s an opportunity for suppliers and destinations to be more selective in “identifying the type of visitors that are most compatible with the destination.”
Local satisfaction vs. visitor compatibility
In the first instance, we’re adding Resident Satisfaction to the things being measured, while the Garrison approach compels you to identify and measure traits of consumers before they arrive, then refine, repeat and measure again. As an aside, and not to diminish the targeting efforts of destination marketing organizations, while many are engaged in some version of that exercise, visitor traits have most often been driven by price and access rather than premeditation.
In a quantitative example, Bill Wishowski, director of operations at the Breckenridge Tourism Office, says “focusing on room nights (instead of occupancy) has become a higher priority for us as the number of available units has changed year-over-year” an example of getting in front of changes to second-homeowner and rent-by-owner markets by measuring differently.
The travel industry has largely measured success as revenue gained through price since the Great Recession, but is also something of a victim of that success. There are compelling reasons to measure recovery and trajectory in terms of a return to normal. But there are equally compelling reasons to embrace changing consumer, resident and societal dynamics to measure success in new ways, something mountain travel professionals have proven themselves more than capable in the past twelve months.
Insights Collective; a Tourism Economy Think Tank and Resource Center – is a collaboration of destination travel industry experts who are collaborating and working, together with mountain resort communities and their stakeholders, to understand, plan, and navigate through the emerging tourism marketplace. http://www.TheInsightsCollective.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
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