Executives from AAA, NostalgiaCon, TripAdvisor and THAT U.S. Travel Association met at the 14th annual Best Western Hotels & Resorts Leisure Travel Summit in New York City last week to discuss current trends shaping travel. They also shared insights into the outlook for the travel industry as well as a new summer travel forecast. Led by Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Best Western, the group highlighted the growing trend of accessible and aspirational travel, showcasing the fact that today’s travelers yearn for exceptional, memorable and otherwise unique experiences. Also present were Paula Twidale, vice president of AAA; Greg Staley, senior vice president of communications for the U.S. Travel Association; Brian Payea, head of industry relations for TripAdvisor; and moderator Neil Hornsby, director of marketing and strategic partnerships for Best Western.
The event theme “Best of Both Worlds” highlighted Best Western’s recent acquisition of WorldHotels, a collection of approximately 300 unique and special properties in premier destinations globally and underscored the importance of accessible travel options in every hotel chain segment, from economy to luxury. Dowling spoke about Best Western’s objectives with the acquisition, highlighting her company’s desire to bridge the gap between aspirational luxury travel and accessibility, which will be aided by the launch of a new WorldHotels Rewards program this summer, built upon the infrastructure already in place for Best Western Rewards.
“Sharing industry predictions and perceptions is key to helping the industry evolve and I’m truly grateful to have gathered yet again with this insightful group,” said Dowling. “Learning from industry partners what today’s travelers desire helps shape the best experiences for our guests. This year’s Best of Both Worlds event theme helps illustrate how companies like Best Western, and our esteemed co-panelists, are connecting travelers with the best experience, no matter their preferences or budget.”
As reported last week by ITR, AAA’s annual Memorial Day Summer Travel Forecast was announced at this event, which disclosed that nearly 43 million Americans will kick off the summer season with a Memorial Day vacation. This year is predicted to be the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes. An additional 1.5 million more people will take to the nation’s roads, rails and runways this summer compared with last year, representing a 3.6 percent increase.
Supporting the AAA forecast of 37.6 million of those Americans traveling by automobile, Dowling shared that projected room nights for highway properties in the U.S. are up by 21 percent relative to last year. This coincides with the Best Western Reward summer promotion. From May 20 through September 2, 2019, Best Western Rewards members will earn a $20 Best Western Travel Card after their first stay.
Top summer destinations in the U.S. according to U.S. News & World Report, continue to be those near National Parks, with Yellowstone listed as the number two place to visit and The Grand Canyon and Yosemite also on the list of top 20 global destinations.
Hot topics during this year’s Leisure Travel Summit were the trend of personalization, social responsibility, foodie travel and experiential getaways. According to TripAdvisor, iconic landmarks continue to drive travelers to major destinations as they look to “check the box.” An increase has been noted in “skip the line” tours, saving time and enhancing the experience. The influence of social media also was discussed, with NostaliaCon recognizing the emergence of travel photography as a key part of the vacation experience.
The power of peer reviews was mentioned as extremely important in today’s landscape and a huge factor helping to shape travelers’ expectations, as well as how they research and book. Dowling noted an increase in the number of Best Western hotel reviews from 2017 to 2018, up 8 percent. The company has a considerably higher response rate than hotel industry norms, responding to 77 percent of negative reviews and 55 percent of positive reviews.
“At Best Western, we understand the power of reviews and have made it a priority to excel in responding,” said Dowling. “Listening to and engaging with our guests has always been a staple of Best Western’s superior guest service. We are committed to incorporating this valuable feedback into our continuously evolving product.”
By Alan Fine