Banff (AB), Canada – On the final day of the Mountain Travel Symposium (MTS) in Banff on Thursday, top executives from prominent Canadian tourism companies delivered an insider’s perspective on new realities transforming the mountain travel industry. Julie Canning, president and CEO of Banff Lake Louise Tourism; David Barry, CEO Alpine Helicopters/Canadian Mountain Holidays; and Thomas Storey, president of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, addressed the fundamental technological and cultural shifts changing the way travel and tourism should be approached, marketed and sold.n“Technology has taken us on a journey that has absolutely changed the way we communicate,” declared Canning as she highlighted the explosion of social media use and how the prevalence of connectivity empowers the individual consumer. The conversation established between businesses and their customers by social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook has, according to Canning, revolutionized the traditional concept of sales, especially for tourism businesses. “Campaigns are no longer about the message,” she explained. “They’re about the conversation.”
Each panelist emphasized that this communication must be authentic. “Authenticity is the voice that an organization or brand has,” Barry explained. “And the use of that voice is really precious.” Barry believes the shift in communication has made stories more important than traditional marketing campaigns. “Stories motivate, explain, inspire and provide context,” he said. “The backstage pass concept is something people look for.”
Storey added that more travelers are choosing authenticity over glamor, and that his company, the Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, works to “focus less on making a lifestyle statement and more about making a statement about someone’s life.”
Expanding on the idea of authenticity, Barry noted that technological advances have not fundamentally altered the reasons why people travel, but all panelists agreed that the way travel is marketed and purchased has changed completely. “The product is the experience and the memories it creates,” Barry explained. Storey agreed. “Brands that represent value, pleasing design, functionality and social awareness are becoming the new ‘must-have’ products,” he said. “People are buying these products not because they are the cheapest or because they make them look good, but because they make them feel good.”
Another challenge the panelists addressed was the impact of instantaneous search results as people utilize the Internet to research travel options. Describing how online comparison shopping has changed price distribution, Canning said, “It’s like a puppet show where we had all these different points of distribution in our hands and someone came by, ripped the curtain and now we’re left standing there. It’s a game changer.” Since consumers can now compare prices with a single click, Canning emphasized the importance of differentiation for tourism businesses. “It’s challenging us to become more meaningful marketers,” she added.
The presentation was the final general session of the Forum, the educational portion of MTS. The Forum brought a variety of travel experts together to discuss important new realities that are changing the business. “Yesterday’s presentations gave people the facts,” noted attendee Carl Ribaudo. “Today’s panel gave people hope.”