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Toronto, Canada – Canadian travellers are savvier than ever when it comes to finding the best vacation value, participating in loyalty programs, and are expected to travel in greater numbers this summer, according to top travel executives from Best Western International, CAA and the Hotel Association of Canada at the seventh annual Leisure Travel Summit in Toronto last week.
Advance bookings at Best Western hotels in Canada for peak summer travel, late May through early September, are up 17 percent and the length of stay is up three percent over 2011.
“We’re seeing that the moderately higher gas prices this summer will not be a deterrent for Canadian travellers given summer hotels stays are up over 2011 across the board in Canada,” said Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Best Western. “What we do expect is for travellers to pare back on spending and entertainment while on the road and prioritize value offered through travel loyalty program offers and midscale hotel brands that provide key amenities within the price of the room rate.”
Panelists agreed that Canadians are also discerning when it comes to price. CAA’s Vice President of Travel Brenda Kyllo said, “Hotel stay and airfare price transparency are important for Canadian travellers so they know exactly what they are paying for as they confirm travel plans. Canadians are becoming accustomed to price fluctuations and are still going to travel this summer despite the ups and downs.”
Dowling noted that price transparency is also a crucial priority for Best Western given the more value oriented and astute traveller. In order to help travellers navigate the vast sea of travel websites and find the best price, the chain recently launched a “Lowest Rate Guarantee” program that ensures consumers will find the lowest available rate on bestwestern.com.
Travellers more than ever are also prioritizing outstanding customer service experience when they travel. “People just want friendly service at hotels,” said Tony Pollard, president of the Hotel Association of Canada. Kyllo echoed this sentiment: “Travellers want to be made to feel special, and customization along the travel experience, even when booking, is key.”
According to the three panelists, loyalty program participation and popularity continue to grow amongst Canadian travellers. Pollard said that six years ago 26 percent of Canadians said loyalty programs were important and now that figure is up to 40 percent according to the Hotel Association of Canada 2012 Annual Travel Intentions Survey. He noted that among business travellers it’s even higher, at 60 percent.
“Loyalty programs are increasingly important for leisure travellers, especially during the summer months when there are seasonal promotions in play such as our annual Summer Promotion,” said Dowling. “Our international loyalty program, Best Western Rewards, has more than 14.5 million members globally and in Canada alone, the number of Best Western Rewards members has grown 24 percent year-over-year.”
While Dowling indicated travellers visit on average 27 websites before they book travel, the emerging travel research tool for Canadian travellers are social media and mobile platforms.
With the rise of consumers using social media, OTAs and online research to plan and book trips, there is still value in using a travel agent when planning and booking experiential travel. According to Kyllo, “Social media and crowd sourcing and sharing has blurred the lines as to who is considered a trusted authority. In the travel space, there is some really great user generated content that helps brands engage with travellers as they research travel plans but for more complicated cruises and tours, our Members are still turning to their CAA Personal Travel Planners who bring real added value to the travel experience.”
“In addition to the emergence of social media shaping travellers’ options and choices, mobile use is greatly affecting the travel industry in a good way,” said Pollard. “Our research has shown that 41 percent of Canadians check their flights on mobile and 12 percent are booking hotel rooms on mobile devices.”
Kyllo noted that tablets are “game changers” in the travel space as well, especially when it comes to delivering content, and cited a recent study from The Conference Board of Canada that indicated 63 percent of Canadians will travel with a tablet and/or smartphone.
As international travellers are being courted in greater numbers to the U.S., it’s at the expense of Canada, according to Pollard, as inbound traffic is down and Canada has dropped from the 7th most popular destination in the world to 15th. “While some of the provinces, such as Alberta, are stepping up marketing efforts to showcase Canada as a destination, as a country we need to do a better job advertising and marketing the destination in order to compete,” said Pollard.