2023 Tourism Trends

In 2022, we saw a lot of new trends in the travel space. From abnormal travel planning cycles and travel habits to revenge travel. There were economic impacts of the pandemic recovery and impacts from global events, and natural disasters. It’s clear that while we’ve entered recovery in the travel, tourism & hospitality industry, the road ahead has a lot more bumps and curves than we may have anticipated when we dreamt of the day travel would come back.

As we’ve been transitioning from the summer high season in the northeast into the fall leaf-peeping season, we’ve also been starting to talk about planning ahead for next year. I’ve been reflecting on the challenges faced in tourism this year and looking ahead to what’s coming, much of which I learned at the Destinations International Annual Conference. It’s interesting to see that these 2023 tourism trends – with examples from global destinations – are reflected in the work we’ve been tasked with by our clients as well.

Community Relationship

At the conference this summer, it was stated many times how important the relationship is between tourism and the community. Certainly, the pandemic brought this relationship even further as residents became the only people able to support businesses during shutdowns. Yet the community has been important for more than just a few years. Local promotion of messaging and tourism activities is an ingrained habit for many destinations.

The idea of relationship with the local community is now centered around listening, receiving input, providing relevance and value. Moving into 2023, tourism marketing organizations can rely on the community for feedback, support and even direction. Representatives from Kelowna, British Columbia, said “Residents give you the social license to operate tourism in your community.” I loved hearing their example of turning their Visitor Experience Department to a Department of Community & Visitor Engagement. Their newly-constructed visitor center is a place for visitors and residents, with public restrooms, a beautiful view as well as a Love for Kelowna retail and consignment program.

This year, we’re working with the Equal Rights Heritage Center in Auburn, NY, on a campaign to engage community residents and frontline staff. The campaign seeks to foster connection with and among Auburn residents and businesses. It also will position the Center as a community hub, as it offers far more than a typical welcome center.

Workforce & Talent Attraction

In a session entitled “Talent Wars,” DCI presented their sixth edition of their national research study on relocation. They said “You are the destination brand owner. You are in charge of the perception of livability.” The research itself is fascinating, but I always love the case studies. Examples ranged from putting a cost of living calculator on a website to a neighborhood guide and even neighborhood quizzes. “Miami Begins with Me” is a sensitivity training program for frontline staff. “Stay to Stay” in Vermont brings people to lesser-known communities for a weekend to meet realtors, business owners and area professionals.

The destination being in charge of talent attraction was also the theme of a session called “The Enhanced Halo Effect.” They said that a successful tourism campaign lifts the position for the destination while also increasing awareness of positive attributes over negative. “Tourism is the brand manager for the destination’s economic development,” they shared.

My favorite example is from West Virginia, which was a case study in both sessions around talent. Their “Almost Heaven” and “Ascend” campaigns are models of how to promote a seemingly remote destination with lots of wilderness.

This is where we are seeing collaborations form between tourism and economic development that didn’t exist before. In New York’s southern tier, Tioga County formed a collaborative inter-departmental entity known as Team Tioga. The Team put together a 5-year workforce development strategy. We are in the final stretches of creating their new website for relocation, talent and business attraction.

Inclusivity & Accessibility

For several years, talk of inclusivity and accessibility has been on the rise. In 2023, tourism campaigns will have these at the forefront of more conversations, projects and campaigns.

In a session about “Cultural Diversity’s Impact on Travel Intent,” Destinations International presented some of their research. I learned that the United States is an attractive destination because of the diversity here. Most importantly, I learned about a concept called the multicultural multiplier, where the culturally curious traveler is more likely to spend more time and money in a destination, especially in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

“The study validates that it’s important to have a cultural product in your mix. It needs to be part of the brand, discussion, experience… Include minority and diverse experiences and give them exposure to travelers so they can be found amid iconic experiences.”

Destinations International, presenting on Cultural Diversity’s Impact on Travel Intent

A session on accessible websites highlighted so much more about the world of travel and how it can be inaccessible to so many. Travelability hosted the panel of case studies and defined three mindsets when it comes to accessibility. The first are idealists, who feel they should be accessible to everyone. This is prevalent with museums. The second are compliance-based, who are reacting to lawsuits, complaints or policies. This is common with hotels. The third have a growth mindset, and are looking at what’s next. These are mainly destinations.

My big takeaways from this session are how important it is simply to provide transparency of information. I remember working on this for a groups-focused newsletter years ago. We always included where and what kind of bathrooms were available at each stop, and how accessible each location was along with parking for the motorcoach. Another great takeaway is that you need ambassadors and people with disabilities to engage and share their experiences of the destination. This could be their favorite places to go, collecting feedback on the destination and helping identify and resolve challenges.

One of many projects with accessibility and inclusivity at its center was when we worked on the capital campaign for the Autism Nature Trail. The project itself started with passionate members of the community, who found partners in the regional asset that is Letchworth State Park.

Creating the Future Now

Bit by bit, small changes add up. The trends coming up now had their place on the sidelines, and have been working their way to the limelight for awhile. These 2023 tourism trends are not earth-shattering news. But they may not be apparent when we’re working on our own. When we come together and talk about what we’re working on, we can see how much we have in common.

What else does the DMO of the Future have in store?

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Camille Zess

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