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Emerging Travel Groups

A few group travel markets are booming and promise to keep growing in coming years: inbound international tourism, Hispanic and Latino travelers, alumni and educational groups, and chamber of commerce travel. Industry leaders would do well to tap into emerging travel group markets now, but travel operators must first understand these groups and then market to them.


International Inbound Travel

When Americans think of international travel, they sometimes forget that it works both ways. People from all over the world want to come to the United States, and the international inbound tourism market has exploded in recent years, in large part because the United States has eased its travel regulations and made it easier for foreign tourists to get into the country.

But travelers who are coming to the United States are “incredibly more diverse” than in years past, said Matt Grayson, executive director of the Receptive Services Association of America, an organization that represents and advocates for the international inbound travel industry.

For 10 to 15 years, Western Europe and Japan dominated the market, but in recent years, “we’re seeing a lot more inbound visitation from China and Asia, and South America is booming right now,” Grayson said.

Nearly 70 million international visitors came to the United States in 2013, up every year from about 60 million international tourists in 2010, according to the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries. Although more people still visit the United States from countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of nearly 40 participating countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Sweden, to travel to the United States without a visa for 90 days or less, the nonwaiver countries are “meeting them in the middle,” Grayson said.

“We keep setting inbound visitation records,” he said. “A lot of that is because the Western European markets are stable, not growing significantly; but the influx is really being seen from Asia, primarily China, and South American countries like Brazil and Argentina and Colombia.”

Part of the reason the international inbound market is growing so much, in Grayson’s opinion, is the increasing recognition that international tourism is an economic engine for the United States. The Obama administration even set an international tourism and travel strategy a few years ago “that really got the ball rolling,” he said.

“People have never connected the tourists running around posing for pictures and buying T-shirts … to economic activity; somehow, it got shoved to the side,” he said. “There’s a growing recognition that this is jobs, this is commerce, this is revenue.”

The United States has also smoothed out travel regulations and restrictions, which became cumbersome after 9/11. In the past few years, the visa process and customer service have improved, Grayson said.

“You don’t hear of people waiting 30 days for a visa anymore,” he said. “The experience coming into America is so much more efficient, and it’s given an overhaul to the way we’re presenting ourselves. It can always be improved, but it’s so much better. That’s why we’re seeing record numbers of visitors.”


Hispanic Travel

The U.S. Hispanic population is projected to reach 132 million people, or 30 percent of the nation’s population, by 2050, up from the estimated 52 million Hispanics in 2011. And that’s why every industry is wooing the Hispanic demographic; that is, almost every industry. Some, like travel and tourism, have been slow to catch on.

“When you see the Walmarts and the McDonald’s are after that Hispanic consumer, you can’t help but wonder, ‘Why hasn’t the travel and tourism industry done the same?’” said Olga Ramudo, CEO and president of Express Travel. “I think it just got lost in the shuffle.”

Ramudo serves on the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board and chairs the Hispanic Initiative Committee, a joint task force with ASTA and NTA. She even spoke with former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar about failing to reach out to Hispanics, a conversation that prompted Salazar to make Latino heritage tours available at every national park, Ramudo said.

Tour operators should be on the lookout for “growth, growth, growth,” and the industry needs to do three things to take advantage of the booming Hispanic market, Ramudo said: get educated, make changes and reach out.

The first step is to understand the market. Hispanic travelers have distinct differences that the industry should address. Hispanic and Latino cultures are very family centered, and “family” isn’t limited to blood relatives; family includes friends, neighbors and other people’s children.

“We travel — I wouldn’t even say in groups — I would say in herds,” Ramudo said with a laugh. “It’s a community culture.”

As such, Hispanics tend to need larger hotel suites or three connecting cabins on a cruise. Hispanics also eat dinner later — at 9 or 10 at night — and don’t expect them to eat breakfast at 7 and start a tour at 8, Ramudo said. They also want longer lunches and free time to shop, she said.

Next, the industry needs to make changes. Although most Hispanic travelers speak English, it would be smart to hire a Spanish-speaking employee to “identify with them,” Ramudo said. Tour operators should also create itineraries that highlight Hispanic heritage and adjust schedules to accommodate those cultural differences, she said.

The travel industry also needs to reach out to Hispanics, whether that’s getting involved with organizations or marketing directly to the demographic.

“[Tour operators] either get immersed and familiar now, or they’re going to be behind, simply because of the numbers,” Ramudo said.

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.