Travel predictions for 2010 have been befuddling to say the least; some experts predict tourism to continue to slide, while others see tourism in 2010 increasing, if not exploding out of 2009’s slump. What cannot be denied, however, is that 2010 tourism will be the “Year of the Deal.”
Economic problems of the last two years have crushed the tourism industry all over the US and the world. Few places have weathered the storm as well as Panama City Beach. All around the state of Florida 2009 hotel occupancy and ADR have dropped considerably since 2008, yet Panama City Beach has managed to keep itself in the black ink. In fact, 2008’s total economic impact for Panama City Beach spring quarter yielded 247 million whereas the 2009 numbers surged to 261 million. This trend is as much a sign of the times as it is a paradigm in social transformation as far as the frequent traveler is concerned.
Prior all of us living in, let’s call it, an economic rat’s nest, the frequent traveler was seen as someone who treasured location more than cost and circumstance. As a longtime hospitality manager, I can tell you personally that if front desk clerks didn’t specify “Gulf View” status, that customer could very well be lost. It goes without saying that cost and circumstance hold compelling positions in the pre-rat’s-nest-traveler’s decision making, but on most occasions, location meant everything. In fact, TIA reports suggest that “travel costs and affordability are not necessarily the first consideration when planning a trip” and travelers will, “most often decide on the trip destination first before other decisions are made.” The post-rat’s-nest traveler is the opposite.
The new traveler, spawned from our agonizing economic rebound, has become much more analytical in the travel process. The new traveler spends a great deal of time on the internet. Travel Daily News reports that “in 2009, more than 55% of all travel bookings and up to 40% of all hotel bookings in North America will be generated from the Internet (eMarketer, HeBS), which represents a double-digit growth over 2008.” The new traveler spends this much time on the internet researching deals, planning budgets and trying to find a balance between location, cost and circumstance rather than allowing location to dominate the decision. Overall VALUE, trumps everything for the new traveler. The new traveler is out to find the best deal that offers the most balanced combination of location and cost. This is where the demand for Panama City Beach will intensify over the course of 2010.
Evidenced by current tourism trends that have kept Panama City Beach’s numbers steady, 2010 could be one of Panama City Beach’s best years in recent memory. Panama City Beach’s remarkable and ever-cultivating balancing act of location, cost and activities has and will continue to provide the new traveler with the ideal vacation. What has held Panama City Beach back in the past has been the lack of a low-cost flight and the lingering negative perspective on the city as a whole. Those two obstacles could be attenuated in the near future by Panama City Beach TDC rebranding efforts and the opening of the new (fingers crossed) Emerald Coast International Airport. 2010 could be Panama City Beach’s coming out party, providing better deals, low-cost flights, exceptional accommodations, attractions and of course one spectacular strip of beach to the new traveler. A city known for being a low cost option in the ruthless realm of vacation destinations, if Fiona Lake Waslander, director of Yahoo! Travel is correct in his recent travel article, even in these economic circumstances it isn’t a stretch to think 2010 could be a banner year for Panama City Beach. She noted back in 2008 that travel trends have travelers looking for small, weekend-type destinations, with people staying closer to home and doing shorter getaways. Panama City Beach is already one of it’s areas top drive-market destinations and with the airport profoundly boosting fly market access, the potential is seemingly without limits.
Although this possible increase in tourism to the Panama City Beach area is all well and good, the question remains as to whether or not Panama City Beach is prepared to handle the influx. The city still lacks in hospitality training, high-quality service and technology. A recent Travel Trends article stated, “Travelers are looking for an optimal price/quality balance when they are selecting their vacation. Proficient travel advisers are expected to provide the best available services in the top vacation destinations around the world.”
To make up for the tourism detour to smaller market destinations like PCB, large market destinations are stepping up their game, preparing to let the bottom fall out on deals while still providing top services. Let’s hope that Panama City Beach in 2010 has the wherewithal to take advantage of the opportunity to blow away its small market competition.Print Story