What’s the biggest challenge on the horizon for tourism right now? The biggest opportunity?
Pantuso: I think the biggest challenge is ourselves and our preconceived notions of what the customer wants, without doing the research to find out what they really want. I’m always amazed when I talk to someone who says they’re doing the same tour that they’ve done for the last 10 years, but they’re not seeing the same numbers they used to. People are still traveling, but do you not have the right product put together for them? I see that all over the place.
We need to get out of that box and look beyond what we do, and look at the different ways to do it. That’s also the opportunity. By looking for new products and destinations, there’s always new opportunities to provide products to the customers.
Simon: We asked our members this question, and the No. 1 trend that they saw that could impact all categories of our membership was the demographic shift and the age shift. That’s changing our consumer needs. The baby boomers are both a challenge and an opportunity. They are wrapping up their working years and entering retirement. It’s the largest consumer group ever, and it can shape the product that our members are offering. They’re more sophisticated and experienced travelers, so that could change what they want to buy from packaged travel providers.
The other thing that people are remarking on is that as baby boomers are leaving the workforce, it’s giving the Gen Xers and millennials leadership roles. That’s why a lot of people are looking to the young professionals to help incorporate more technology solutions, social media and e-marketing to their businesses.
Assante: One of the greatest challenges in the student market is that the largest growth in student population is in inner-city schools, or schools where students are more financially challenged. How do you tap into the student market potential in these growing populations? How do you create travelers out of these young adults if their families are not traveling? So the challenge is helping more students from diverse and inner-city schools that are financially challenged to experience travel. How do we help make it affordable to everyone? I see that as the biggest challenge but also as an opportunity.
Dale: The biggest challenge is the continuation of regulations coming out of the nation’s capital. We support a framework that make sense but allows us to operate as businesses. But it seems like there’s a very proactive regulatory machine in our nation’s capital that has a potential to stifle growth. We want to be very sensitive to communication and working with the agencies in D.C.
I think that the opportunities are around innovation. We have to continually reimagine what group travel is all about and what is going to make it appealing for future generations. One of the best ways is through multigenerational travel because you’re introducing young people to how these experiences are unique and rewarding. I think we have to be innovative in how we create these group travel experiences. If we are, it will make us relevant and prosperous.