American cities are hot destinations as Millennials flock to live in them—and tourists swarm their attractions, restaurants and events. How can agents get a piece of that urban action? Here are five reasons to consider selling the domestic urban market.
1. Cities are more appealing than they have been in a long time.
Chris Fair, CEO of Resonance Consultancy, which recently issued a report on tourism to world cities, notes a growing interest in visiting cities in the U.S. by both domestic and international travelers. Visitor numbers to many cities are rising and there are a few factors driving the growth: crime rates, generally, are lower than ever, and “as Baby Boomers become empty nesters, cities and the culture they offer become more attractive to this demographic. At the same time, Millennials are marrying and having children later in life and they too have an interest in the culture and entertainment that cities offer.”
Reagan Stulbaum, vice president of tourism development for the USA and Canada at NYC & Company, said, “New York City is the safest large city in the United States, and the number of domestic visitors continues to steadily grow. We’ve welcomed an estimated 60.3 million visitors to the City in 2016, with a breakdown of 47.6 million domestic and 12.65 million international visitors. Thanks to new hotel development growth (expected inventory of 135,000 hotel rooms by end of 2019), world-class attractions and unbeatable value, we are seeing a much larger interest in the American market to travel to New York City’s five boroughs.”
Daniel Schwartz, senior manager, tourism for San Francisco Travel, said, “Cities really offer something for everyone. It can be effective to keep a few key themes or selling features in mind for each city. For example, San Francisco Travel has four marketing pillars—arts & culture, culinary excellence, diversity (communities, neighborhoods and festivals) and icons – which we integrate into all our marketing and sales efforts.”
In Philadelphia, hotel room nights have increased 294% since 1997 when Visit Philadelphia began advertising. Last year was the first time the city reached 1 million leisure room nights, the result of an active advertising and social media campaigns, attractive hotel packages and a multitude of major happenings. This year the city will see the opening of Legoland Discovery Center, the NFL Draft and many major art exhibits.
One hotelier, Steve Shern, general manager of the Thompson Chicago, said, "The interest in traveling to an ever-evolving city like Chicago is continually increasing. People want to stay in the city for the convenience of walking around and exploring. The days of traveling to hit all the tourist spots and attractions are over. Travelers want exposure to local culture; that's what drives travelers to cities these days."
2. Cities are being marketed more aggressively
Resonance Consultancy recently develop the World Best City brands ranking and three U.S. cities landed in the top ten in terms of reputation and competitive identity. They were New York (#3) for of its wealth of attractions and marketing efforts; Los Angles (#7), for the reinvention of Downtown; and San Francisco (#9), for its natural attractions and promotion.
One example of this active marketing is Philadelphia’s deep dive into live video in 2016, taking to Snapchat, Facebook Live, Periscope and Instagram to preview events, exhibits and festivals – producing 141 videos that resulted in a tremendous number of views.
Patrick Harrison, chief marketing officer at Visit Tampa Bay, said, “We have marketed Tampa as Florida’s hip, urban escape and combined it with our state’s beautiful weather and potential for a two or three stop vacation has been very successful in our domestic markets.”
3. Agents are in a good position to sell cities.
Said Fair, “When it comes to domestic travel, travel agents are a great source in providing advice on the best times of year to visit, or not visit, a city. The number of festivals and events in cities is growing and agents can be helpful in matching a traveler’s interests with a city timed around an event and assisting with the logistics that can be more challenging during popular festivals and events.”
Tamy Martelli, regional director – U.S. and Canada for the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau, said, “Travel agents can offer insight to a U.S. city that a traveler may have not considered before, or even help guiding travelers on where they want to visit while ensuring they are not overloaded with information. Adding a human touch to booking and planning travel offers no hassles and keeps the vacation stress-free, as it should be.”
“Agents can help travelers make the most out of their time in a destination,” said Schwartz. “They often have special connections and insider tips to create an off-the-beaten-track experience. Big cities have an overwhelming number of options and agents help narrow them down quickly and effectively. With the ever-growing number of sources available online for making decisions, it can be out right daunting to settle on which is the best Japanese restaurant or rooftop bar at a boutique hotel.”
And Harrison said, “We are seeing a resurgence, through millennials, for the need for travel agents. They are looking for advice and curated trips.”
4. Cities are offering more help to the trade
Said Stulbaum, “We have several programs/resources designed for tour operators and travel agents to stay on top of what’s happening in NYC. These can be found at nycgo.com/traveltrade.” The three most prominent are: 1) NYC Travel Training Academy, an on-line training program that educates the trade about all five boroughs of New York. Those who complete the program receive a “NYC Specialists” accreditation; 2) NYC Trade Pass – certified travel professionals visiting the city receive exclusive discounts at restaurants, cultural and sightseeing attractions, theaters and more. Those who successfully complete the NYC Travel Training Academy also receive a complimentary New York CityPASS; 3) A Travel Trade Newsletter provides monthly updates on new happenings, itinerary ideas, etc.
Linda Stilmann, senior director of sales -USA and Canada for the greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, “Agents need to know the destination to be able to market it to clients. Agents today function in a different way as most travelers have already done research and know what they want or think they do. The agent needs to be educated on the destination and able to point them in the right direction and ask the right questions to insure they are offering the product that best suits their needs and budgets.”
Martelli said, “Our resources include a dedicated travel trade section on the Discover Los Angeles website, sample L.A. itineraries, a dedicated travel trade newsletter, supplier referral, collateral (maps, guides), a media library with assets and more. We offer trade discounts to help agents experience Los Angeles. We also provide assistance with itinerary and group planning, leads, supplier referrals and more. I’d also recommend using videos from a destination’s YouTube page so clients can see a destination in a unique way. There’s so much DMO content today to promote a city - we are the destination experts.”
Schwartz said, “Our efforts begin well before the decision to sell San Francisco is made and extend to fine tuning a scheduled trip with a restaurant recommendation. Through our activities on trade channels, we can refer business on a regular basis. Our partner relations are hugely beneficial to the operators and agents who book then book their products and services.”
Tampa, said Harrison, “can offer specific landing pages online, images, price packaging through our online booking and attraction liaison and more, itineraries, advice on choices and insider knowledge that can help sell the destination.”
5. Smaller cities have become more marketable
Said Fair, “We see growing interest and tremendous opportunity for so called second-tier cities to attract and serve domestic visitors in the years to come. Smaller cities are easy to get around and the quality and variety of lodging, restaurants and culture in cities like Tulsa, Cincinnati and Portland has been transformed over the past 10 years. Places like these that might not have been on travelers’ radar a decade ago are likely to be the next ‘it’ places a decade from now.”