Last week New York City launched a campaign aimed specifically at travellers under the age of 30. The microsite is full of useful information on cultural events, live sport and shopping ideas, plus tips on where to get cheap eats, the best nightlife and useful mobile phone apps. It’s well thought out, has genuinely useful content that has been put together with editorial judgement, and it targets people that are all too easy to ignore.
About 18 months ago, I wrote a piece on India’s approach to tourism. To summarise, India wants wealthy upmarket travel, not the backpackers – and I think that’s a mistake. It’s a mistake I’m seeing increasingly when I talk to people within the travel industry about target markets. Everyone wants the well-heeled middle aged and older clientele that has got money to spend.
There’s an obvious logic to this – go where the money is. But it’s a dangerously short term approach.
Younger travellers don’t necessarily have the money, but they do have an integral part to play in shaping the perception of a destination. They’re the ones that fill the bars and nightclubs, the ones that give the streets that buzz and feeling of life.
They also tend to be the ones that make the discoveries. Do you think you’d be seeing five star resorts in South East Asian countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam if it wasn’t for the cumulative buzz generated by thousands of backpackers over the last fifteen to twenty years? Budget tourism creates a scene, higher end tourism spots an untapped market, and follows. Enough people need to tell the world that a beach is beautiful before a developer is going to risk spending millions on building a swish resort there.
The elephant in the room is that while older travellers spend the money, no-one wants to feel old. They might in practice go for the quieter terrace café rather than the standing room-only bar with loud music down the street, but they quite like being close to that rowdier bar. They may go to bed at 9.30pm, but it’s good to know that they could have stayed out until 2am if they wanted to. Vibrant is a good, attractive thing – sterile isn’t. People who go to bed at 9.30pm want to go somewhere that’s vibrant, but a place that only has people who go to bed at 9.30pm will not be vibrant.
It is far better not to get a reputation as stale, lifeless and staid in the first place than to desperately try and counter that reputation later on. Look at the likes of Malta and Madeira, two destinations desperate to show that they’re not essentially God’s waiting room. “It’s not like that really” is the sort of pitch that starts off on a losing footing.
Discourage the younger travellers from coming, and it’s not just them that won’t come. Over time, precisely those you want to target won’t come either. That affluent 50-year-old won’t see a destination as sexy if they think it’s full of 70-year-olds. Whether it is or not is irrelevant; perception is key.
What New York City is doing isn’t just about attracting visitors; it’s about maintaining the product for those who are going anyway.
The other important thing is who those young visitors are. They’re young now, but they won’t remain that way. They’ll grow older, they’ll settle down, they’ll get jobs – possibly high paid ones. They are the affluent target market of the future.
If someone in their early 20s goes to New York now and has a great time, it’s a fair bet that they’ll want to come back. There’s a decent chance that they’ll come back repeatedly. Even if they don’t, they’ll probably speak fondly of New York for the rest of their life – that’s word of mouth publicity for 50, 60, maybe 70 years.
So while the NYC<30 initiative is essentially a 2012 marketing campaign, it’s also doing a significant part of the 2022 campaign’s job. And the 2032 campaign, and the 2042 campaign, and the 2052 campaign…
All content copyright David Whitley.