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What We Learned at the U.S. Travel Association Trade Show and How it Impacts Your Attraction

Updated: June 22, 2022 | Share on LinkedIn

Our Galaxy Connect team recently attended IPW, the U.S. Travel Association’s annual conference and the leading inbound travel trade show in America. They spent the show meeting with industry professionals, and they identified clear trends that will impact the industry and your attraction in 2022 and beyond. We published a similar tech trends story about the Arival 360 Conference earlier in the year, and you can view this article as a progression. Here’ what they came home excited about:

The Industry is Fully Rebounded and Excited About the Future

The general consensus is that performance numbers are returning to 2019 levels – the guest volume and revenue is back. In fact, about two-thirds of the industry is projecting numbers around or above 2019 levels. Just anecdotally, we spoke with attractions that have wait times to get in up to 90 days. We were also hearing that retail spend is up astronomically, likely due to guests spending the prior two years saving for their next outing, and pent-up guest demand to feel connected with their favorite venue or vacation attraction. Another trend that will drive improved performance through 2022 is the U.S. dropping Covid testing requirements for international travelers. Guests coming from abroad will no longer need to provide a negative Covid test a day before traveling or returning to the U.S. which will surely increase tourism across the U.S. and abroad.

Online Travel Agencies Are Feeling the Love Too

OTAs aligned with our Galaxy Connect platform are reporting similar returns to 2019 numbers, and in fact, they were still experiencing some successes during Covid due mainly to their ability to provide timed and capacity tickets through Galaxy Connect, as well as to cater to the increased demand for last-minute ticket bookings due to a guest’s day-to-day uncertainty about whether a guest could actually visit a particular venue.

Again, anecdotally, we had some discussions with attraction suppliers about how their guests were returning to using OTAs to purchase tickets. During Covid when timed tickets were required, it seems guests felt more comfortable purchasing those types of tickets directly from the attractions – perhaps there was the perception that times wouldn’t be accurate on a third-party OTA site (which is not true). Regardless, the elimination of the requirement for timed tickets seems to have driven guests back to purchasing tickets on OTA sites.

But we also saw very clear growth in demand for the adoption of API technology to facilitate the sale of attraction tickets on OTA sites. In 2019, the last time IPW was held in-person, all attractions knew about API connectivity, but they weren’t 100% convinced of its use cases and necessities. This year, the sentiment was entirely different: everyone knows they need API connectivity and they’re trying to figure out which direction to head. They may also have already selected a platform, like Galaxy Connect, and they’re trying to determine next steps. The pandemic created a huge bump in the awareness of digital technology and how it fits into an attraction’s overall business operations.

OTAs are seeing the same type of evolution. In 2019, we could name countless OTAs that only worked with one or a very select few attractions to sell their tickets leveraging a platform like Galaxy Connect. But the pandemic taught them that they need to diversify their revenue streams. Now many more are taking advantage of these platforms like Galaxy Connect by forming relationships with countless other attractions that use the platform. They’re selling attractions tickets via the API without having to setup additional integrations. Similarly, we’re hearing of fairly large OTAs that sell through integrations with other aggregators that are now asking themselves: Why can’t we sell on our own?

Direct Marketing Organizations and Going Local

Here’s a little insight into the logistics of the IPW show: historically we meet many of our current customers at their own booths. But this year, we met many of them at shared booths sponsored by their local Direct Marketing Organization (DMO – for example: Visit San Antonio or Visit Long Beach). And of course we were wondering: Why?

One reason is likely that this was the first year back in-person. Attractions were hedging their bets about the amount of prospective business that would show up to IPW by spending less on a joint booth. But beyond that, we think Covid drove an intense focus on local guests to drive attendance because outside tourism dropped immensely. The only revenue stream for a long time was the locals. DMOs offer attractions another marketing channel to reach a local audience and to capitalize on business or operational relationships with other local venues. But even as tourists are now coming back, both national and international, DMOs offer the opportunity to reach these audiences as well.

DMOs also offer the network effect. The more fun and cool things there are to do an area, the more tourists that will come. So attractions listed on these sites aren’t really in competition with each other, they’re collaboratively driving more guests to come to their city.

Open Connectivity for Tours, Activities and Attractions (OCTO)

We spent some time in the Arival article talking about standardization in the airline industry and how the attractions industry needs the same. A leader in this realm is emerging, called OCTO – Open Connectivity for Tours, Activities and Attractions – and they were very present at IPW.

OCTO aims to provide open API standards for our industry, making connectivity easier and more efficient. If an OTA wants to sell attraction supplier tickets, generally speaking, they need to establish an individual connection with each supplier. That’s a lot of work. And a lot of maintenance. When Galaxy Connect came around, we simplified that process by enabling OTAs to establish just one API connection with Connect to gain access to the data for every Galaxy attraction on the Connect platform. But that only works for attractions using Galaxy Connect. What about all the other attractions out there using all the other ticketing systems and their API platforms? OCTO is working to solve this problem and it will be incredibly interesting to see their progress in the future.

A Recession May Be Coming, But Shouldn’t be the Focus Right Now

One elephant in the room was the potential looming recession, but we have to admit, no one actually danced around the subject. In fact, there was a panel of four major U.S. attractions that addressed this issue directly.

The consensus is that 2022 will not be impacted. Attendance is skyrocketing. Guests didn’t go anywhere during Covid or spend much of their saved dollars, and that pent-up demand is playing out right now and will continue to play out through the rest of the year.

Will we hit some sort of recession in 2023? Likely. So it’s important to create contingencies right now: line up your marketing promotions that drive increased revenue; start thinking about operational costs savings; but don’t act too soon. Keep capitalizing on this increased demand, fill the proverbial coffers and then make sure you act if it becomes necessary. And the overall final message:

The recent past has been really tough… so just enjoy the present.

 

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