Opinion » Editorial


No time for nostalgia



At this time of year we usually afford ourselves a nostalgic look in the mirror at what has transpired in the previous 12 months. And a return to years past - such as 2006 or 2007 - seems to be a popular sentiment among lots of business people in Whistler.

But as Peter Yesawich said (and I have repeated ad infinitum ) the tourism industry is not going to return to the way things were before the Great Recession.

During his October presentation in Whistler Yesawich, a tourism industry analyst, outlined a number of ways consumer behaviour has changed in the last few years, much of it driven by Internet technology. Price is very often the prime motivator in consumer decisions today, whether it is purchasing a week's vacation or a washing machine. The Internet provides plenty of choices, plenty of ways to compare prices and now, ways to harness the purchasing power of large groups of people to drive prices down further. Rarely does anyone have to pay full price for anything anymore.

The impact these changes have had on the tourism industry was reinforced recently in interviews the Denver-based Mountain Travel Research Program did with three resort property experts. Asked what changes in consumer behavior are here to stay, Scott Bunce of EpicenterSpark Hospitality International said: "Consumers are now driven by value: they want to stretch their vacation dollars as far as they can. To do this, people are using social media to find the best deals, shortening their trips and using the Internet as their primary search and booking tool, all trends that I think will be here for the long haul."

Yesawich, and others, have discussed what the new emphasis on price and value has done to quaint notions like (brand) loyalty: good for dogs, not so important to consumers anymore.

"It's almost a badge of honour to find a bargain," Tourism Whistler President and CEO Barrett Fisher told members earlier this month.

That approach, combined with search engines, has brought another profound new reality to the tourism industry: last minute bookings. The response by many hotels, airlines, resorts and cruise ship operators with empty beds and seats to fill has been last minute "flash" or "fire" sales.

Combined, these things have changed the tourism industry, and consumer behaviour, in a very short time - basically since the recession started in 2008.

But while many of us in Whistler were concentrating on preparations for the Olympics during the recession, much more than tourism was changing. The economy, obviously, stagnated. But there have been more significant changes than just people and businesses having less money. Some examples: