The Hispanic market holds significant and growing potential for the U.S. travel industry – agents included – but much more education and organization is needed for that potential to be realized.
That was the key message from the inaugural meeting of the ASTA-NTA Hispanics in Travel Caucus, held last week during ASTA’s Travel Retailing & Destination Expo in Los Angeles.
“Hispanics are a huge growth market that brings in all the generations. We travel in herds, not small groups,” said Olga Ramudo, chair of the ASTA-NTA Hispanic Business Development Task Force, which organized the caucus. The task force was launched in December to help agents and tour operators better service the $1.3 annual Hispanic travel market. (See story “Hispanic Task Force Focuses Strategy on Education, Marketing,” April 19, 2012)
Encouraging more Hispanics to travel and educating the travel industry on how to tap and serve a complex market are among the goals of the task force and subsequent caucuses, Ramudo told the audience of tourism reps, suppliers and travel agents.
“There is still a lot of work to be done,” said Ramudo, who is also president of the Miami-based travel agency Express Travel and a member of the U.S. Travel & Tourism Advisory Board. “Hispanics are vastly underrepresented in some areas in travel – for example, visiting the national parks.”
A win-win situation
Both agents and suppliers have a lot to gain from involvement in the Hispanic travel market, said Stephen Richer, NTA’s public affairs advocate, during the caucus.
“Why are we here? For more business,” he said. “ASTA and NTA have great customer programs and education that can benefit Hispanic-owned businesses. And Hispanic-owned businesses have the customers that ASTA and NTA want to reach. Our overall goal is to bring everyone together.”
NTA is currently in the process of developing a training and certification program about the Hispanic market, he said.
Ramudo praised the ASTA-NTA partnership. “It’s great that ASTA and NTA are working together on this. Hispanics are all about relationships – they purchase based on trust.”
The Hispanics in Travel, caucuses are open to “anyone who wants to serve the Hispanic market,” Ramudo noted. The second caucus is scheduled for Jan. 22, 2013, at NTA’s Travel Exchange in Orlando.
Ramudo advised those who want to develop the market that understanding the customer is essential. “You don’t start tours for Hispanic travelers at 8 a.m.,” she said. “And we need hotel suites that are big enough for our families.”
Strength in numbers
The market potential of Hispanics for the travel industry was driven home by speaker Kirk Whisler, director of research for the Latino Print Network, a newspaper group.
Demographic trends favor marketing to Hispanics, Whisler said. He cited figures showing that 50% of population growth in the U.S. is Hispanic, and that by 2050 the Hispanic population in the U.S. will increase by 488%.
“Everyone assumes Hispanic means immigrant or illegal, but the vast majority of Hispanics are born here,” he said. “And most who are foreign-born are here legally. That means a population that is free to travel.”
Understand the nuances
A desire to serve the Hispanic market is not enough – you need to understand its cultural diversity, said the event’s keynote speaker Glenn Llopis, CEO of the Center for Hispanic Leadership.
For instance, he said, Hispanics are more likely to identify themselves with their country of origin – Cuba, Mexico, El Salvador, etc. – rather than as Hispanic.
“The Hispanic market is wide open, but you cannot ignore the cultural nuances,” he said. “Hispanics don’t want to be sold – they want you to invest in their cultural relevancy. It’s not just about having a bilingual website and marketing materials.”
What Hispanics do have in common is an entrepreneurial spirit and a preference for long-term relationships with those with whom they do business, he said.
“Hispanics would rather invest than buy. You need to earn a relationship that resonates with their identity and is influenced by their culture.”
Industries that “do the Hispanic market right” will dominate in the U.S. over the next 25 years, according to Llopis.
The likely outcome of failing to tap the potential of the Hispanic market extends far beyond the travel industry, he added. “What happens if 30% of the American population is underutilized? It means a poor economy and falling further behind in global competition.”