Business Travel in the New Normal
For most of us, we want to know what post-pandemic business travel will look like in the “new normal.” In this episode, Erin Francis-Cummings, the CEO of Destination Analysts, joins us to talk about the present and future state of business travel. A go-to resource in the destination marketing industry, Erin has spent the last two decades studying travelers from across the globe and translating their fascinating behaviors and opinions into marketing insights.
Let’s meet our hosts to hear about their recommended travel adventures and more about sourcing the best business travel destinations from The Destination Everywhere Podcast. As Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “I travel not to go anywhere but to go. I travel for travel’s sake.” In this inaugural episode of The Destination Everywhere Podcast, Andy McNeill and Todd Bludworth share their passion for travel and what the show is all about.
Andy McNeill and Todd Bludworth are travel and hospitality entrepreneurs and owners of the global meetings organization, American Meetings, Inc. From sourcing venues and managing business travel arrangements, to corporate event management around the world, their team selects corporate event venues and meeting planners for a wide array of enterprise business clients, providing ideas for convention themes and strategies for running global meetings and events. Learn more at www.americanmeetings.com.
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Traveling After COVID
Ever since the early days of nomadic life, humans have had a need, an urge to travel. As the industry has grown and we’ve become a global community, travel has become a part of every day from the desert of Africa to the snowcapped mountains of the Alps, to distant islands in the Pacific. This show will showcase not only bucket list adventures, but also reveal to our readers the world’s top venues, exotic foods, and best places for work and play. We are ready to share the secrets about the destinations you didn’t know you needed to add to your bucket list. In this episode, you will also meet Erin Francis-Cummings, CEO of Destination Analysts. Erin will share about the present and future state of travel as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all excited to get back to exploring. As Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “I travel not to go anywhere but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” Let’s get moving.
We’re excited to have you here for our first episode. Destination Everywhere is about going back to where Todd and I have been. We’ve been to over 100 countries, so now we’re going to take you with us. We have been in the travel and hospitality industry for going on 25 to 30 years. Todd, the first thing I want to talk about is our cover art. I actually think they did a pretty good job. What do you think?
I think that is great. I’m wearing the same outfit. I think it catches the spirit of what the show is about. I haven’t looked like that since high school.
I have a 32-inch waist. I haven’t had that since high school. I’m glad the graphic artist did it. Thank you, whoever you are. Thank you so much. We’re excited to be here. We’re excited to talk about all the different types of people we’re going to be speaking to. We’re going to need to be speaking to some of the top chefs in the world, Michelin-rated restaurants. We’re going to be talking to the top hotels, celebrities who’ve been to these destinations, local connoisseurs. It is going to be a lot of fun. We’re going to get started right away. Todd, who is our first guest?
We thought it would be appropriate for our first guest to be somebody who is a market researcher. Her name is Erin Francis Cummings. She is the President and CEO of Destination Analysts. She provides information from the traveler’s perspective on when people will start to travel. When will people be comfortable to get back to plane? We’re looking forward to hearing from her and it’s a great kickoff for our show here.
Another segment, which I think is going to be actually my favorite segment, is going to be the bucket list where we’re actually talking about the unique bucket list items and each one of these destinations, so our audience can go and do those very special things. We’re going to be pushing our guests to find those unique things to do.
We’re going to interview each other so you can get to know us a little bit personally, why we both have a passion for travel. First one, Todd, you were an Army brat. You traveled all over the world as a young kid. Tell us where you landed? What your parents were doing and why they dragged you across the globe?
In a nutshell, I was born in the States. I was born in Daytona Beach, Florida, we moved to Germany. We lived in a couple of different places in Germany. We moved to Hawaii and lived in a couple of different places in Hawaii. We then moved to the Kansas in the Fort Leavenworth area. We moved to Pensacola up to the Panhandle of Florida and then we ended up in Northern Virginia right outside of Washington, DC. As a kid, we were always changing schools, but I was lucky enough to have one high school that I went to for most of my time.
Did it give you the travel bug?
[bctt tweet=”There are so many elements to making a destination great, other than just a property.” username=””]
Yeah. There’s an education that comes with travel. Everything is experiential. It lets you meet different types of people quickly. You become friends with people quickly and you’re ready to meet new people when you move again. It wasn’t intimidating for us as kids. We were excited to go to the next place because everywhere that we went, the kids were all new. It was a bunch of kids that were feeding off of each other and getting to know each other, and then you would all separate and go to other parts of the world. That was the life from the military.
Of all those different places, 6 or 7 places you went over the course of your first twelve years of your life, what was your favorite one that resonated with you that you had the overall best experience?
Are you talking about when I was a kid?
Yeah, when you’re a kid.
I remember little things from each that are each unique. Germany was great because I remember tons of snow, the mountains in Germany. You then go to Hawaii and we lived on the water in Hawaii. We had these tide pools behind our house. The cultures were different. You have an October Fest in one area and then you have luaus in another, and then you go to Kansas and it’s canyons, fields and buffalo. Every place offered something different and unique, which was interesting.
You landed in DC and your father worked for the US Army and he traveled extensively. That probably had an impact on you as well, right?
Absolutely. He would go on trips. He would be gone for sometimes long periods at a time. He would come back and I knew he was on Safari or he went to the former Soviet Union and he would bring back trinkets and things for us. He would bring back wood from Africa and we would have to freeze it. We’re like, “Why do you freeze that?” There could be bugs in the wood and you want to be sure that they’re all dead before you bring them out. He brought back these relics from the Soviet Union, military belt buckles and things that seemed foreign to me because nobody could go to the Soviet Union and it’s like going to Cuba. You want to see these things before they become commercialized if you can. You can see what authentically was there before it popped with tourism.
You graduated high school, you went to Virginia Tech.
Go Hokies, yes.
After that, you started your career in the event marketing space and you landed where?
It was about that time for me to move again. I get a little restless if I’m somewhere too long, so I packed up the car, drove down to South Florida. I ended up getting a job there. It wasn’t a place I was going to do roots. I was going to go from there to the mountains in Colorado. Ultimately, you do have to grow up a little bit I did get a job and I was doing special events for a beer company. I saw people traveling for work and I wanted to travel for work. I didn’t want to be stuck in the same place. I wanted to get on an airplane, pack a suitcase and go to a hotel. I ended up getting a job with a meetings and events company.
Does that take you to a lot of different places?
Absolutely. That changes your whole perspective and then you become enlightened with what’s out there. My first trip, they sent me on, they were like, “We’re going to send you out to LA. It’s Beverly Hills. You’re going to stay The Regent Beverly Wilshire,” and I’m blown away. My experience with that The Regent Beverly Wilshire, that’s the hotel that was in Pretty Woman. I’m like, “This is cheap.” I go and they pick you up in a car and then you get a suite at the hotel and you’re working. It’s hard work, but you don’t mind doing it because you’re in this place that you’re like, “I can’t believe I’m here.” You think about your next trip and your next trip and then hundreds of trips later, you’ve seen quite a bit. You can tend to get a little lazy in some of these places where you’re tired and you don’t want to go out and see the city, but when you force yourself to do that in your downtime, it makes it all worthwhile. I’ve got some great memories and had some great adventures.
You’re unique in the fact that you look for those unique bucket list things to do that you do quick, and it’s not when you go to Paris, find something unique and local that has once in a lifetime experience that will resonate with you for the rest of your life. Of all the places that you’ve been, I know you’ve been to dozens and dozens of countries, what are the top three locations you would say, “I want to take the readers back to this country, city or hotel?” What are the three things that you’re like, “I’m going to take you back here and we’re going to be able to share some special things with you?”
There’s a bunch, but one that comes to mind that for some reason, I don’t know it was the weather and the culture and the diversity was we were doing a program in Copenhagen. We ended up staying in Malmö, Sweden, and that’s over the bridge. You’re taking a bridge back and forth. We had a van and there were no Waze. There was no Garmin that lets you drive around. The difference between Sweden and Copenhagen, it was unique. They were both beautiful and I’m glad I got to see them both. You’re driving and then you look over, and Santiago Calatrava has a building, the Twisting Torso, and he’s an amazing architect who’s done things in the United States. He did the Minneapolis.
That is bucket list item for people to try to go and see is that Twisting Torso building. I’ve seen it and I was blown away.
It pops out of nowhere. It was nowhere that I had seen as a destination but when you see it, you’re like, “That’s an amazing building.” Afterwards, it is on certain spots for the touring.
That’s in Malmö, right?
If you’re reading and you want to see that, google Twisting Torso, Malmö, Sweden, it should pull up. It’s an amazing building, a bucket list item. I’ll give that as one location because you cheated on me.
That was two.
That was two but I’ll give it to you as one, so give me a second one.
I want to talk about this other place and it’s on the Denmark side.
Readers, if you haven’t met Todd, you understand that he has a gift for gab. He talks a lot. It’s a family thing.
There’s this one place and I don’t know if it exists to where it was in the past, but it’s in Copenhagen, it’s Christiania and that’s this old military fort that was abandoned. I don’t know if you would call them squatters. As a culture, people developed this Christiania and it’s a hash community. To go in there as an outsider and to see this and how they built it up and they have their schools and their own way of protecting this community, it blew my mind, artists and pubs.
I don’t know if it’s still there, but that would be an incredible bucket list item for people as well.
Just go. I don’t think they like cameras in there for some reason. Cops were in there for a small portion of the day, but you felt embedded in something that you’ll never see again. Another trip was up in the Vancouver Whistler area where we did seaplanes and got to see orca pods. We went to Whistler and you go to the top of the Gondola and you have an amazing meal, and you’re seeing totem poles. That whole area in that part of the country, especially in Canada is absolutely gorgeous.
It’s a beautiful area. One more.
I’ll say Costa Rica. We have a friend, his name is Lee Banks, and he’s got these two amazing properties. If you’re ever in Costa Rica, one is called The Springs Resort & Spa, and the other one is Waterfall Gardens La Paz. They provide one conservation space for local animals, where people can go and learn about them. There’s that element to it. There are these hummingbirds that will come right up to you if you hold a hummingbird cup. We have pictures of our kids holding these little cups and hummingbirds are all over the place and they’re not fearful of people. The rooms at both resorts are the nicest type I’ve seen anywhere. The Arenal Volcano, the one at the Springs, every room has a picture window of the Arenal Volcano, and it’s spectacular. You’ve got to check it out.
Everyone, put that on your bucket list. That sounds incredible. What do you hope to convey to our readers through this show that we’re starting?
Travel is an amazing thing. If you’re fortunate to be able to do it, there’s no better education in terms of learning about tolerance and other cultures. If you don’t take advantage of it while we can do this freely, it’s such a waste. The things we learned from other people, we’re bringing it home. Everybody has a different version of hospitality, depending on what country you’re in. You can go to Europe and people would invite you into your house. That doesn’t happen in the States, but it’s education.
I don’t know, I was in Salt Lake City once and I was supposed to go out to dinner with some clients and they said, “No, you’re coming to our house to have dinner.” I only knew these people over the phone and it was a great experience. I had a gorgeous view that I never would’ve gotten from Downtown Salt Lake.
Did you end up staying there?
I did not stay there, though they wanted me to stay there. I politely turned them down and went back to the hotel, but that’s a whole other story. Todd gets to interview me and you get to hear about how I got the travel bug.
Now is the time where you get to meet Andy McNeill. I’ve prepared a list of questions that we’re going to ask Andy, and we’re going to go ahead and get started. Andy, let’s talk a little bit about your childhood. I know you started leaving the country very early. Tell us a little bit about some of the experiences you had when you were a kid.
I’m born and raised in Florida, but my father was an avid scuba diver, so we spent a lot of time in the Caribbean. Probably the first country I went to outside of the US was The Bahamas. I spent my entire childhood going there, diving, fishing. It’s a beautiful a country that has been hit really hard. We’re going to actually go back there and see how they’re doing. The Bahamas was my first experience and had a lot of a lot of great experiences going there.
As you were growing up, when did the travel bug really grab you? Was it as a young adult? Was it after college? When did you start to say, “This is something I’m going to pursue?”
[bctt tweet=”Travelling is an eye-opening experience and allows you to expand your worldview very quickly.” username=””]
We travel a lot in the domestic US as a kid, and I always enjoy it. Probably, right after college with my first job and I started to see the world and opening up. My first big job took me all over the world, which was a great experience, to Asia, to all parts of Europe. I’ve been to almost every state in the union. It was an incredible way to see the world on somebody else’s dime, which was great, and see all the different cultures that really got me started.
In your 30s, you started AMI. A big portion of what AMI does is traveling. Not only are you going places, but the entire staff is going all over the world. How did that change your perspective on travel? Whether it’s traveling for work or pleasure, what did you get from that?
One of the core tenets of AMI is we’re always looking to provide unique and high-level experiences for our customers through meetings and events. Every single engagement and interaction that we do with our clients, we end up trying to do something special. That makes us dig in and look at a destination and figure out what makes us special, how can we bring our guests with us to make sure that they’re having a great experience? We’ve done that all over the world. We’ve been to over 100 countries and counting, and we’re looking forward to going back.
Let’s talk about some of your favorite trips. What’s one that first one pops in your head and tell us why that was one of your most memorable trips, and where was it?
Back in ‘94 was the first time that I ever went to Ireland with my family. I share heritage on both sides of the family. We’re from pretty much all of Ireland and Northern Ireland. We got to spend a lot of time and meet my family, and go to farm houses that had 16th century abbeys on them. See graveyards with my ancestors in them, and then enjoy the vibrancy and the eclectic City of Dublin over the course of two weeks. It was an incredible experience, and probably one of the top individual trips that I’ll always remember as a great experience.
What’s another one outside of Ireland? Whether it’s in Europe or in the United States, what’s another one that pops into your head?
One that was probably the greatest surprise because I really wasn’t expecting how beautiful it was, even though I had heard about it was Croatia. It’s a small country that’s nestled on the Adriatic, and it has lots of islands and lots of coastlines. I was really taken aback with the sheer beauty of the country. That was a great experience.
Before you go somewhere new, you always have a misconception of what it might be like. You hear a news story and you hear about a war or some violence, but then you go to these places. You put this wall up in your head about some of these destinations, then when you actually get there, you’re like, “This is nothing at all.” Croatia for me was one of those countries. I thought it was war-torn, but it turned out to be absolutely gorgeous. It was very hospitable, which was a great surprise.
It’s beautiful country.
As we move into this show, what kind of message do you want to convey as a traveler, as someone who’s been around the world to the audience?
We can fast track people on doing something really unique, not just going to a country and doing the same tours that everybody else is doing. Dig in there and we’re hoping to help you guys find those unique things that you can do. We’re always looking to do that for our clients. We’ve got a lot of great ideas. We’re also bringing in guests, local guests and people who have been there and asking them unique things. Bringing all those things together are going to add to everyone’s bucket list collectively. I’m hoping we can improve everyone’s experience when they go somewhere special.
We’ve hit some international destinations. What’s a great domestic US destination trip that you like?
A lot of the national parks, but I’ve got say, I went to Acadia National Park in Maine for the first time. I was completely blown away with this beauty. Not only did it have some of the best hiking I’ve ever done, but the coast is so beautiful. You can’t beat the weather in July and August. It was absolutely spectacular. I would say that’s one of my top bucket list and highly recommended for anybody.
There’s a large percentage of the population that don’t think of national parks. When they think of travel, they think of cities and they want to get on airplanes. National parks are a treasure and that there’s a reason. They are affordable and you don’t have to get on airplanes. What was it about Acadia that you liked? Was it the scenery? Was it the hospitality? Was it the food?
One of the big things is the hiking is amazing, and there are all levels of hiking. You can do a very simple walk with an elder in the family, and then you can take your kids on a much more aggressive hike in the afternoon. Then whale watching and hopping over to the islands. You get many different facets of the environment when you go to Acadia. I’d highly recommend it. It’s unbelievably beautiful and unspoiled.
I know your father who passed, Sam McNeill, he was a big traveler as well. Did he influence you in the way you approach life and getting out there and seeing things?
Yeah, absolutely. He made a big difference in the fact that he was always on the go and always looking for the next thing to do. That’s definitely in my blood and how I approach life and family and travel. That’s what we want to convey here is let’s go do the next thing, let’s go find the best and find those bucket list items that everybody can enjoy.
Andy, thank you for that.
We’re going to talk about a couple of bucket list items. This is just to get us started on our journey. By our journey, I mean every show is going to address a different bucket list item. These are just a couple that came off when we started brainstorming that we think would be fabulous trips and adventures for a couple, a family or a group of friends. Andy, what’s the first one that you came up with?
The first one is the Northern Lights in Finland, which you can see the Northern Lights in a lot of different Northern countries, but Finland is one of the best. Some of the things you can do is you can stay in a glass igloo or an Arctic Treehouse, and actually get to see through the igloo at the Northern Lights. Can imagine? It’s got to be incredible. You can also see glaciers while you’re there. The entire seeing the Northern Lights trips in Finland would be an incredible bucket list item. That’s definitely on my list.
In a future podcast, we’re going to take this and we’re going to blow it up so that you get to experience Finland and the Northern Lights like nobody else has, until you get there yourself. Another great trip that I thought would be pretty awesome, and it can change because it’s such a changing variable, is a trip down Route 66. You don’t have to break the bank when you’re planning a family vacation or a personal vacation. Sometimes a road trip is just the thing to do that. Stretching from Chicago to Santa Monica, you can change it every time you do it. There are many things to do. You’ve got the Grand Canyon, Vegas, Disneyland and you get to see the US for what it is. It’s such a varied space, from mountains to plains, to beaches. No better way to see it than by ground and by your car. A Route 66 trip would be pretty amazing.
I’m going to head over to Italy for the next one. We’ve actually done several incentive trips to this area of Italy, it’s Cinque Terre. This is where if you look at those famous Italian photos of seaside villages with all those colors, that area is called Cinque Terre, and it’s absolutely beautiful. Some of the best seafood in Europe, and a great experience to go with your family or with a group. There’s a famous trail there called the Blue Path Trail, which allows you to walk and see all these beautiful towns together. They connect all five towns. If you haven’t been to Cinque Terre, put it on that bucket list because it’s definitely something that you want to do.
Our next one, I’m going to take you in another direction. I’m going to go all the way to South America, obviously Machu Picchu. I remember the first time I saw a picture of Machu Picchu in a book when I was in grade school or high school, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. If you don’t know what those are, those are also great bucket item lists.
They’ve got a great website by the way.
Machu Picchu is the Lost City of the Kings. It’s the Lost City of the Incas, up 8,000 feet into the mountains. It’s also one of the newer Seven Wonders of the World. Not only do you get to see Lima and Cusco and some of the other towns, but then you can also take a train or hike to the top. It’s actually amazing. You can get Sherpas. There’s actually a place called Sanctuary up at the top, which is a very exclusive spa and hotel, very hard to get in there. This is one of those places that because it is over-hyped, they’re regulating it immensely and it’s a very fragile ecosystem. We want to preserve it. If you do get a chance to go, I think Machu Picchu is an amazing place.
I’m going for our last one, I’m going to go all the way over to Africa. This should be on everyone’s bucket list is a Safari in Africa. A Safari in Kenya where you can see the big five animals, which is the lion, the elephant, the rhino, the leopard and the buffalo as part of the great migration. This is one of those things that you definitely want to put on your bucket list and a great once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s not easy to get to, there are lots of preparation for it. We’re going to have a whole show on Kenya to help you guys out as well. It’s a great place to take the family, a great place to do an incentive trip for business. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime things. Those are our top five to get us started. It’s a pretty good list. We’re going to get into a lot more down the road.
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We’d like to talk about the elephant in the room, especially for everybody who’s a traveler and that’s COVID. The impact that COVID has had on travel and hospitality in hotels, restaurants across the globe has been, if nothing less, just detrimental. We’re going to hit a little bit on traveling, the ways that we travel and what you might expect during this pandemic. I’m going to start off with airlines. Airlines have changed and they’ve changed not significantly, but I think it’s probably changes that we’re welcome to anyways. I’ve been on two flights. What I was asked to do was download the app and provide a cell phone number in the app, which actually worked out great because I was getting live updates on when the plane was being sanitized, this was on two different airlines, when I needed to be there. The information was lifetime while I was traveling. I didn’t have to gather the gate agent.
[bctt tweet=”Whenever we travel somewhere, we are a guest, and it’s important for us to always maintain that mentality.” username=””]
Everybody was wearing masks. You go in the plane, we’re not at 100% capacity, which was a pleasant surprise anyways because right before this, everything was oversold. There was space. I did make a point actually to book first class because I know that most planes are putting their first-class cabins at 50% capacity. Especially on one of the flights, I did have to travel with my kids and I felt safer knowing that there weren’t a lot of people around. Everybody had masks and were very diligent about that. The only time you could remove it is if you were actively eating or drinking. That was in the airport as well. If people would take a sip of water, mask would go back on. I didn’t see anybody not being compliant or being belligerent about it, which was nice to see.
They’re not serving food on airlines right now, are they?
On one flight, it was a Delta flight. They gave everybody a Ziploc bag, and in it was water and a snack. Everything was pre-packaged. You didn’t get to make a selection. If you didn’t want it, fine, but if you wanted it, take it. On another flight, they were doing snack boxes, and they offered you a drink and they were pouring them into cup. At no time did I felt like anything was dangerous. I felt like the gloves and the masks and the way things were packaged, it was a very safe environment. I was happy to see that.
Let’s talk a little bit about what happens when you land. Uber and Lyft had changed the landscape of ground transportation.
Once we landed, the only thing that I saw that there wasn’t a process for was collecting your bags and baggage. Everybody knew where to go and everybody would still go, but I did still see people flocking around the carousels, not social distancing, waiting for their bags in certain areas. I don’t think anybody’s really thought about that yet.
You just maybe hold back a little bit before you get your bags.
That’s what we did. We held back until all the bags were out there and then people got there. You could clearly see yours. I wasn’t in a rush, but there was that big flock that everybody sees when they go to carousel. That was a little discerning. Other than that, it was a great flight experience on both airlines.
Before COVID, Uber and Lyft had changed all of our lives, especially those of us that travel a lot, but that’s definitely changed now. We have some tips for you for when you go actually into an Uber or Lyft. The first one is to advise your driver that you’re going to handle your own luggage, which is pretty common now, because that was a service that they offered. It was nice, but you want to handle your own luggage. If possible, sit in the back seat and keep the windows down to increase ventilation, which is really important in this new normal. Wipe down commonly touched areas. Bring a little a packet of wipes with you and wipe down those common areas like seat buckles, door handles, things of that nature. When tipping, most of us were doing this anyways, Todd, you’re tipping through the app. Go ahead and continue to do that so there doesn’t have to be any type of physical exchange. Lyft actually has policies where they’re offering face masks and sanitizers to all their drivers. All share-rides had been suspended until further notice. Uber don’t have a required cleaning policy, but they’re working with their drivers to provide them with sanitation and cleaning supplies, which I think is great. If you are going to take a ground transportation service, keep these things in mind to have a safe ride.
You’ve mentioned wiping down. That was another thing I failed to mention was they gave everybody alcohol wipes when they got on the airplane. There were tons of hand sanitizing stations all around the airport. Keep those wipes. If you don’t use it on the airplane, you might need it in the Uber. That’s great advice if you’re not traveling with them yourself. There were lots of PPE being sold in the gift shops. If you do forget something, I guarantee you they’re going to have it in the gift shop for you at the airport. Let’s talk a little bit about hotels. We’ve stayed in quite a few hotels this summer 2020, and the ones we’ve stayed in actually worked in hotspots. Some of the experiences that we saw in hotels were pretty apparent. We saw, when you go and check in, masks are being worn in all common spaces inside the property. When you go outside the property, you do see there’s a little more flexibility, but if you’re in crowds, they ask you to put it back on. There really weren’t crowds because most of the hotels we saw weren’t at capacity.
At least about 50%, I would say.
When you check in, you go to your room, there was a sticker on our door that says, “This room has been sanitized for your protection.” It’s some things that they’re not offering, or you can offer on requests or housekeeping services. For sure, you can get new towels delivered, but if you don’t want someone in your room, they’re making it very accommodating for you. I checked in at some of the properties, each member of our party got a PPE kit, which included a mask, sanitizer and wipes as well. You’re probably not going to see room service come into your room anymore, but if you do, it’s probably packaged in disposable containers. Those beautiful trays of food with plates, you’re not seeing very much of that right now. Things like spa, children’s activities and children’s camps, they are suspended right now.
We did notice that spas are open. I think if you go into a spa, you’re also going to see the head circle that you usually place your head in. They’ve covered those now. When you’re facing down, you’re not breathing out, which I thought was unique. Everybody is wearing masks at all times, even in spas. Pools, we saw you had to make reservation times. If it’s just you or you have family and you’ve got kids, call ahead and get that time in the pool, because when you’re onsite, it’s probably too late. They are limiting pool. In some hotels that we were in actually separate the pool into quadrants, so that your family gets this quadrant and the other family gets this quadrant. It’s usually for about 45 minutes at a time, then they sterilize the pool decks again. What were some of the other things that we saw happening at some of the properties?
I think we’ve covered most of the hotel stuff. I also want to talk about house rentals as well, Vrbo Airbnb. Those become even more popular because you have your own safe, secure space, but there are some things that you need to be aware of. The homeowners can report to these that they’ve been cleaned with certain disinfectants and also use contactless check-ins. You don’t have to have that one-on-one interaction, even though you’re running the place. The property should have a 24-hour booking buffer. They should claim the property, then have the 24 hours before they let the next guest in. You should ask for that. You’re ensured that it’s cleaned, sealed and taking care of. You should ask the property owner to commit to whatever policies and cleaning protocols and that they are doing that. It’s good to verbalize that with them, make sure they know that you consider that important to make sure that you’re safe and your family is safe. Over all, that has become incredibly popular, so has RV rentals and we’re actually going to have the CEO of RVshare on in one of our upcoming episodes, to see what he’s doing and how popular RV trips have become. We’re excited about that. Overall, it’s been a great summer and people are starting to pick up on travel. These tips hopefully will help you as you go through your first travel experience.
We’re also here with our next guest and that’s Erin Francis-Cummings. Erin is the CEO and President of Destination Analysts. Thank you for joining us, Erin.
Thanks for having me.
We want to just start right away. You’ve got some great information that you’re going to share about the American traveler, but before we go there, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your company?
Destination Analysts is a full-service market research firm. We serve the travel tourism and hospitality industries by providing insights into audiences, brands and marketing performance. Our work is to help grow the positive impact of tourism. We provide a number of research services towards that and we believe in the power of tourism to bring good into the world. I have spent my entire career in the travel industry. My first job out of college was in the marketing department of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau. I then went on to be the advertising manager for Amtrak for the Western United States before joining Destination Analysts with my business partner, Dave Bratton. We’ve done this for many years. It goes by quickly.
Jumping right into it, Erin, have you traveled at all yet since COVID hit and we’ve been all sitting at home? Have you got on a train, plane and a car?
Yes, in terms of research, we define a trip that’s 50 miles or more from one’s resident. I was fortunate it would be considered a trip for two months to my husband’s family place in Tahoe during the height of shelter in place and have made a few other trips since then here. I have visited my parents in Los Angeles a few times and I flew on a plane back from visiting them. I took pictures to document the experience. Sadly, I did try to go on a trip to see two good friends of mine who also work in the travel industry, it didn’t work out and it put me in a depression for a week after working in the travel industry. One was in Florida, one was in Puerto Rico. It was difficult for us to see each other that it made me sad and I was like, “Certain types of travel are difficult and stressful to plan now.” Working in this industry is a bummer.
You’ve got the same blood that me and Andy both have, you’re used to getting up and going whenever you want to, wherever you want to. When these restrictions are binding us, it can be a little depressing.
Tell us a little bit about your plane trip itself. How was it? Was it early on? Did it happen? A lot of our readers haven’t done it yet. A lot of people are apprehensive to get on a plane. We’d love to hear your thoughts about that.
I’ll share my last plane trip and I’m like you, I was on a plane all the time before this hit. My last trip was to Montana the first week of March 2020 and already, the planes were empty and it was odd. It was a short flight from Los Angeles back to San Francisco. I used a smaller airport and the flight was supposed to be almost canceled, I’m assuming because there weren’t enough people, which was fine for me because I was going back home and I got to spend more time in LA. I felt that the airports had put a lot of work into what they could do to keep people safe. I happened to fly Southwest for this trip. It’s interesting. I’m sure you have flown Southwest many times but their boarding procedures now is only ten people at the time. It was different from the mad rush to get your spot.
Get your ABC.
On the plane, Southwest made the policy, no middle seats, so we didn’t even have to worry about that. Unfortunately for Southwest but fortunately for the passengers, if you were nervous, we all had our own row. I didn’t feel like I ever had to be close to anyone. I saw on my plane, everyone was good about wearing a face covering.
That was one of my first questions for you, is almost everybody compliant that you saw inside the airport and on the plane?
On this trip, I saw 100% compliance with that, which I breathed a sigh of relief because in my research, we’ve shown repeatedly that when people see others not being compliant, that makes them less likely to travel. It’s this horrible cycle. I’m like, “For the economy, please wear the face coverings because there are many people that make them feel comfortable.” I was also going to share this in our survey, we asked if people had taken a flight in the last couple of months, and 11.1% had. We asked them if they were satisfied with what they saw at the airport and what they saw on their flights. I was happy to see that the vast majority were satisfied with the Coronavirus safety protocols, both at the airports and by the airline.
[bctt tweet=”We always saw time and cost to be the biggest deterrent to travel. Now, safety has replaced them as the king of travel deterrents.” username=””]
Getting into the questions that you’re asking travelers, tell us about some of those surveys. Are they domestic travelers? Are they international travelers?
We’re talking about your COVID index, which is a valuable piece of information. The information is valuable.
Thank you. We started that on March 15th because we could see what was coming. We had done a first read on COVID back in February, but back that then I was like, “This is some nice to have thing on how Americans are feeling about this.” As Americans, we did not think we were going to have a pandemic. It was not in our psyche. I did have an early meeting in February about if it was affecting travel and it was a little bit then. March, when we first did read, it was like this thing. The week after that, I keep saying this, the wheels fell off the bus. It’s a survey we’ve done every week of 1,200 American travelers. We define travelers as people who traveled pre-crisis when we started surveying shelter in place orders in effect so people couldn’t travel. These are people who have the propensity to travel.
Are they the same 1,200 people you’re surveying each time?
No. To get a little insight into how market research works, we contract with these panel companies whose whole corporate existence is to get people to take surveys. We tell them like, “We can’t have the same people every week. We’ve got to send this out to new people.”
It’s important to point out that your research is independent. It’s not sponsored, it’s trustworthy. It’s important for our readers to know that what you’re seeing is not being pushed by the travel industry. You’re funding this yourself.
Yes, we are. We have clients that purchase subscriptions to it. There’s no influence from any marketing or sponsorship standpoint. Our clients who are in the travel industry, they ask us to ask questions which we publish. We invite everyone, or Andy and Todd, if there’s anything that you want to know, we welcome the entire travel sphere to send suggestions because it is an independent research study to help us all understand what’s going on.
If someone wants to do that, who should they email or where should they go?
It’s at Info@DestinationAnalysts.com. We respond to everyone that sends ideas. If we can get them in, we will but we will respond to any requests.
For this particular study, who are your clients? What industries are looking at this information that you’re providing and making their own marketing decisions on it?
Prior to this crisis, the majority of our clients were destination marketing organization, The City and State Tourism Board. Those are a lot of who are subscribing, but the researches had a far reach because people need information badly. We know there are airports, hotel groups, lots of the major attractions come to our webinars each week, because there’s not a single aspect of the travel industry that doesn’t need to know what’s going on with the American travel psychology each week.
What were some of the biggest surprises that you’ve seen or things that stand out in your mind in terms of your research that people should be made aware of whether they’re in our industry, the hospitality industry, or a traveler themselves that wants to know what are the masses thinking as it relates to domestic or even international travel?
I would say that from the travel industry side, we want things to recover as soon as possible, but the way it’s going to recover is if we have patience with our consumers. They have expressed to us over and over, “Please, we want to travel but be patient with us and make us feel like it’s safe.” For National Travel & Tourism Week back in May, I had an open-ended question on the survey and I let the survey respondents know, “It’s National Travel & Tourism Week. Are there any words that you’d like to share to travel and hospitality industry?” It’s very heartwarming. There’s a lot of, “We need you. Hang in there. We promise we’ll be back when we feel it’s safe.”
Discounts and price-cutting aren’t even an option. It’s totally not driving usage at all.
I’ll share with you all after this the chart. It’s hard to talk about without seeing it. It would be up and down and then we’ve seen it fall off as a way of motivating people because, unlike the Great Recession or good times, it’s not the price that’s number one, it’s safety. We always would see time and costs are the biggest deterrents to travel and now, safety replaced it as the king of the travel deterrence.
I like hearing that. People are thinking about it as you see so much in the news and there are debates about the mask and not mask, but I like to hear that ultimately it is about safety and that’s what the consumers are saying.
Their psychology is okay, there’s some risk here, and then there are clearly people who are out already traveling and we see it over each week when we study them. They feel safer and they’re not as concerned.
Is there a breakdown between the leisure traveler and a business traveler in your studies?
We do look at that, yes. The business travelers, because they’re more experienced with airlines, they tend to feel safer about air travel. I will say though, it’s still not at a level that we want. Half of them still don’t feel safe yet traveling on an airplane.
What are traveling consumers looking for from the airlines and the transportation companies over the next twelve months? You talked about making us feel safe, how are they doing that? How should they do it is a better way to put it.
US Travel Association looks at our research and then they share it out with the industry. We helped with the guidelines on that back in April 2020, I believe. We asked the traveling consumer, “What could the airlines do to make you feel safest?” They wanted high-tech cleaning protocols with UV lights and social distancing. When we asked people who had traveled by air, “What could the airline have done to make you feel safer?” Number one was more strict enforcement of the mask-wearing. That was far and away number one with what they said, and it’s hard for the airline. It wasn’t close to mask-wearing, but second to that was they wanted less capacity so that they could be away from others. The third most commonly suggested thing was more cleaning, but they wanted more strict enforcement of the mask-wearing.
Are any airlines requiring that that you know of? Is there a reason why is there a federal law that doesn’t allow them to require it? Have you run into any of that research?
From what I have seen, all the airlines are requiring the face coverings. The thing is you’re allowed to take it off to eat and drink. I’m sure the airlines have told the customers, “Please don’t make our flight attendants have to police this. Their job is all ready to keep you safe in the air with all the other things.” What I’m imagining is, as we’ve all seen play out in our own local communities, there were some people that pull their mask down for some period of time and it upsets someone else. Our individual behaviors are the thing that no company can control.
Mine is they pull it down and their nose is hanging out. That drives me crazy.
Me too. Have you said anything to anyone, Todd? I’m like, “Should I say something?”
I was out and I thought about saying it. They looked defeated already. I don’t know if I did the right thing, but no, I didn’t say anything and I probably should have.
There’s that fine line of, what are you going to get on the backend of that? If they feel like it’s important to them for whatever, maybe they have asthma, maybe they can’t breathe on it as the rest of us can. Maybe they don’t feel like someone should be telling them what to do. It’s a fine line to do it. There’s a little bit of risk there when we take that step.
I looked at it as it’s the place of business, it’s their job to police it, not mine, but if they were in my space, I would have said something.
My thing was I felt like they didn’t know like, “It has to go over your nose.” I thought maybe they didn’t know that, that’s why I don’t want to say something.
Maybe it slides down eventually because their masks are too big and they don’t even realize that their nose is out at that point. There are 100 different reasons but I should have said something. Over the next twelve months, based on your study, what is it looking like for the traveler? What’s the confidence out there that in a month or two, they’re going to be back on an airplane and traveling again?
I’m not seeing great indicators yet for a month or two, although we did see some improvements in excitement for near term travel. When you say looking out over the year, some good news that we saw, we have another study that we’ve done since 2006, which is a quarterly study of American travelers, and that’s called The State of the American Traveler. We always ask these travel sentiment types of questions. In our weekly Coronavirus survey, we repeated some of those questions a few times so that we could help with benchmarks because everyone wants to know like, “How far off are we?”
Back in May 2020, we saw this huge falling off of people saying they were going to travel less, spend less, not prioritize travel as much in their budget but then when we asked lately, all of those numbers improved. It’s going in the right direction which to me looks like as Americans look out over the next year, there’s something that’s making them feel that something good is going to happen within that time period and so less of them are saying, “I’m going to travel less.” They’re moving more towards, “I’m going to travel about what I did before.” We saw the reported budgets rise. We saw the prioritization of travel and the budget rise. They look at the next year they’re feeling a little better. They think something good is going to happen.
A little bit of pent up demand too. People want to get back out there. They’re being cautiously optimistic to some extent. I know I feel that way like, “I want to get back out there. I want to travel again,” especially if you’re asking business travelers too.
Look at what’s already happened, when Disney World opens up, there’s already a floodgate of people. It didn’t affect their business. In fact, they would have gotten more people had they been allowed to accept more people. It’s pulling the triggers on opening things, but you can’t do that right now.
Pent-up demand on the leisure side, we see indicators of that and that Americans feel that travel is a wellness activity. It’s part of their emotional wellbeing. We’ve seen that in responses to questions we’ve asked. I want to remind everyone that the travel industry is complex. The travel industry relies heavily on meetings and conventions and also business travel and those are the more unknown.
A lot of that is driven by corporate policy saying, “No internal business travel.” When they start opening up those things, hopefully we start seeing an influx.
We’re seeing that in our business and everyone’s being cautiously optimistic. We’re booking some events that are hybrid now where people are doing regional meetings to pull people in on regionals things, still socially distanced. They don’t need to get on a plane, but then later that with a virtual hybrid for everybody else that can’t. Some of that we’re seeing some cautious optimism. The convention business is a big unknown. The smaller meetings and the individual business meetings, that will come back first with the convention business. Convention business is all about large crowds and shaking hands and kissing babies. It’s going to be a long haul. I know the virtual side of our business has exploded, especially on the convention and trade show side, which is an indicator for us that’s going to continue to grow. There’s nothing like being face-to-face with somebody. Erin, you’re great. You look awesome on our show, but it would be nice to be in a room to shake your hand. Those are things that are part of the American and world culture as a whole.
We do a lot of research on the meeting site as well. It’s not just people like us, Andy and Todd that are like, “We need to be face-to-face.” I interviewed a number of convention and business travelers to see how they were feeling, and it’s almost silver lining what they said that the COVID crisis has taught them, that they value the face-to-face even more. They all said a consistent thing. To do business, there’s much lost in Zoom. It’s much data that when you’re doing business, you need to take in being live that you can’t on Zoom and it affects the business process.
[bctt tweet=”Americans feel that travel is a wellness activity. It’s part of their emotional wellbeing.” username=””]
The relationship is not the same, right?
Yeah, they all said that.
You might see somebody 4 or 5, 10 times over the course of three days. Each one of those interactions creates a deeper connection. That’s why I’ve always loved the meetings and conventions businesses because that’s what it’s about. It’s about relationships and having a great time and believing in your product and service and selling it to other people. They’re doing the same to you back and forth. It will come back. I know it’s going to be a long haul though I fear.
The meeting planners that we surveyed, half of them said they were working on something that had a live component in the next few months. That’s good. You said you’re working on things and I know that a lot of them said that they were doing hybrid events. Once the early adopters show that it can be done safely and we all work together to show that, then it will help bring that side back to us.
I saw the first industry event happened in Maui. I don’t think anybody got on a plane to go to Maui, but they held an industry social distancing event. I thought that was a positive sign.
Erin, I do have a question and do your studies show this? Do people have more of a fear of the actual flying or do they have a fear of going into a hotel in a convention once they get to their destinations? Does one prove more harmful than the other to some of the travelers?
I will say we consistently see transportation be the stickiest point of travel. Staying in a hotel has not been seen as unsafe by as many people who feel in the airline is unsafe, but it’s all being driven by fear of other people. I’ve asked a couple of times convention travelers about coming back to these events and they trust the organizers. They trust the professionals. We ask them about the other attendees, then the trust goes down. We talked about the individuals and we’re all afraid of each other.
For all the planners in the venues, that’s a sign to them, do your job and you will get the trust of the attendee.
In that survey we asked too like, “Do you want to feel safe?” They want the enforcement of social distancing.
Masks, social distancing, sanitizer stations and all that stuff.
All this stuff that keeps them safe from other people.
This has been helpful, Erin. I love what you’re doing and it’s such a value to people in our industry and travel and tourism.
Erin, where can people go to learn more about the different reports and resources that you offer?
Everything is on our website at DestinationAnalysts.com. If you go to our COVID Insights page, if you’re interested, you can sign up to get our newsletter where we release our findings every Monday at 8:00 AM Eastern via that email. If you like being on top of the travel and consumer trends, you’re welcome to sign up for that.
We are a team of analysts.
Erin, we like to ask each one of our guests before they leave, once we get back out there and start traveling again, do you have any bucket list items around the world or down the street that you want to do that you haven’t had a chance to do yet?
I’m still stewing on the travel that I didn’t get to do this year. It’s funny, every often I do an inventory of all the trips that I missed that makes me upset. I’ll answer by saying this. It was a dream of mine to take my kids to do the Tour du Mont Blanc track in Europe. You walk through this beautiful mountain. It’s a famous walking track that the Europeans do, and I was going to take them this summer. That’s first on my list once they let Americans back in.
Is that like the El Camino the one that goes through Spain?
Yes, I do know that one, and that one looks amazing also. The first time I learned about that, I sat on an airplane on American Airlines with someone that had done that. All these things that we’re missing.
Hopefully, you’ll get back out there and do them soon.
I can’t wait.
Thank you for the service that you’re offering to the broader community and the travel industry. We hope to have you back sometime soon. Thanks for joining us.
Thank you all.
Thank you, Erin.
Thank you so much for reading. To let you know, we know this was a unique podcast to start with addressing obviously what we’re all dealing with. We are looking forward to releasing our future shows that actually go into these wonderful, great destinations. We look forward to taking you with us. Make sure you please subscribe, rate and review by listening on your preferred podcast app or visit us by going to www.Destination-Everywhere.com and subscribe. We’d also like to thank our team here. Thank you again for joining us. We’ll see you next time.
- Destination Analysts
- UNESCO World Heritage
- The State of the American Traveler
About Erin Francis-Cummings
Erin leads strategic research planning for Destination Analysts, a leading market research firm focused on the travel, tourism and hospitality industries. Prior to joining Destination Analysts, Erin held the positions of Senior Marketing Officer at Amtrak, where she was responsible for the marketing and advertising of Amtrak’s routes in the western United States, and Marketing Manager at the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, in which she directed and implemented the destination’s marketing programs and promotions. As Managing Partner of Destination Analysts, Erin has planned and facilitated marketing studies and national consumer research for numerous travel industry clients, including DMOs, attractions, and wineries.
Specialties: Travel and Destination Marketing, Website Usability Research, Branding Research, Customer Experience and Satisfaction Research, Economic Impact Studies, ROI and Conversion Research
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