When you are a tourism researcher, it is not so much that life reflects art but that life reflects research. As such, it has been fascinating to take a visiting friends and relatives trip so soon after completing the research on VFR travel in Australia.
I’ve returned to UK for a major family celebration – my father’s 40th wedding anniversary. In doing so, I observed something that gave me an ample opportunity to tackle once again one of the most enduring myths of VFR travel: that this is not a segment that is relevant to accommodation providers.
When we first began marketing our study, a lot of destinations were reluctant to commit because ‘there’s nothing in it for our accommodation providers’. Setting aside the issue of the benefits this segment brings to the broader economy, I would like to point out that this is resolutely NOT true.
If I consider my own family occasion, I can see this. My father is part of a large family (6 siblings still surviving). In total, 4 generations of my family comprising more than 40 individuals travelled to the event and most of them stayed overnight in paid accommodation. Although I stayed with my father, I paid to put my father in law up for the night as he travelled to join me. [insert some family pictures]
The evidence is that this pattern is true in Australia as well. Estimates of VFR travellers’ use of accommodation varies from 20% of all trips (NVS Year to March 2014) to 50% of most recent visits (our study). More than 1 in 8 of all nights in commercial accommodation in Australia are used for Visiting Friends and Relatives visitors and the revenue to accommodation providers was over $3.5bn.
Whilst holiday visitors are larger as a segment, many will only visit once. But VFR visitors have a strong likelihood of being repeat visitors. We know families love to be together – so instead of people who will visit once and never come again the lifetime value of is significant.
But how do we reach them?
The first and most obvious way is through your VFR hosts. My sister who organised the event provided suggestions on hotels. But as a time poor working Mum she basically ended up recommending major chain hotels as they were the easiest ones to find information on and be sure people could book for themselves online. It was also the case that most of the family preferred to be in groups for additional meals like breakfast.
So ask yourself how easy are you making it for local hosts to find you? 25% of our VFR hosts told us they needed easier ways to find information.
The second and most obvious way is via search. My father in law opted into the event quite late and as a result, the two main hotels were fully booked. So I did a search. This netted me a few choices (it was also a holiday weekend so some choices were sold out). I then checked the website for the hotel (hint: if you didn’t have a website you were off my list straightaway – you clearly don’t want my business).
Of course, I then reviewed my choices on both TripAdvisor. This gave me a clear favourite – and it wasn’t the cheapest. I opted to pay a bit extra for my father in law to have breakfast included. As I work in the industry, I knew the cost of that breakfast to the hotel was well below what I paid, but the reassurance and enjoyment he got from that was worth it.
So if you want a bigger share of that $3.5bn accommodation spend from customers with a great lifetime value, equip your hosts and make sure everyone else can find and book you easily.
If you would like to know more about the results of the VFR study, you have access to the study results and we show you exactly how to use them to stimulate your visitor economy at www.MyVFRResearch.com.au
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