Quarterly Publications

Destinology’s Voice of the Visitor

2019 Outlook on the Attractions Industry

Time to Change

“Just because something works, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved,” says Black Panther’s show-stealing Shuri, a brilliant engineer innovating on her king brothers super cat-like suit. The 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe quickly rose to become the highest grossing solo superhero movie in history, and the 3rd largest US box office gross of all time.

Marvel Studios has recognized the immense and growing influence minority audiences and subjects are having on culture – and the economy that accompanies it. In our fourth annual Voice of the Visitor: Outlook on the Attractions Industry, we’ve uncovered the same: what were once deemed “minority” cohorts are quickly gaining momentum to have the majority voice at attractions – from the front gate to the boardroom. Destinations who fail to adopt nimble, diverse, and responsive cultures may be queued to become irrelevant.

The first and most comprehensive report of its kind, 2019’s Voice of the Visitor has evolved to uncover more actionable insights, bringing underlying trends front and center. PGAV has now added five new attraction types – bringing our total destination exploration to 20 categories. Our long-standing partner H2R Market Research conducted this year’s fieldwork and interpreted the insights gathered from 2018’s destination guests, surveying 1,500 U.S. leisure attraction visitors who either visited an attraction in 2018 or plan to do so this year, providing a margin of error of +/- 2.5% at a 95% confidence interval. In addition to the aforementioned cultural shifts, the results have revealed imperative insights into travel motivations, guest satisfaction, the Millennial influence, and forecasts to watch for 2019.

Your teams no doubt have worked tirelessly in recent years to innovate your programming and performance, and your boards have approved significant capital investment to make your wonderful attractions even better. As Americans’ intent to travel for leisure and return to attractions continues to decline, we can’t ignore Shuri’s wise words: “Just because something works, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.”

Let PGAV’s Voice of the Visitor be your guide.

The Travelanche of the Unheard Voice

According to the Brookings Institution, America is on track to become minority white by 2045. As the result of slowing population growth in the country’s White population and accelerating growth in minority populations, the next quarter-century will see American…

On track to be the “minority majority,” America’s Hispanic population has grown six-fold since 1970 to an estimated 57.4 million just three years ago, cites National Geographic. Our data revealed minority groups accounted for 21% of attraction visitation in 2018, while currently comprising 39% of the US population.

Unlike Whites, these groups are less likely to travel for leisure (76% vs. 84%), are less satisfied with their last attraction experience (76% vs. 89%), are less likely to recommend their last attraction to friends and family (Net Promoter Score of 39% vs. 50%), and are less likely to travel this year (77% vs. 82%).

While Whites visited attractions at a higher incidence rate last year, minority groups visited Theme and Water Parks at significantly higher rates, and similar rates at Zoos, Aquariums, Children’s Museums, Science Centers, FECs, Dinner Theaters/Cruises, and Large-Format Screen Theaters. The largest disparity by a significant margin lies within Historic Landmarks/Places, where Whites visited 19 percentage points more than minorities (the next closest category was Breweries/Wineries by 10 percentage points).

If attractions are to remain relevant, it’s the Golden Hour to conduct a Brand Audit. Review the make-up of your board, staff, and volunteers: do they proportionally represent the cultures of America? Engage local communities and openly and transparently review your copy, from collateral to wayfinding; examine your permanent and traveling installations; and work to better understand what programming would appeal to the real and future make-up of your guests. Failure to do so may cause you to be buried in the Travelanche on the horizon.

What Makes Travelers Want to Visit You?

By understanding what motivates Americans to travel and visit attractions, destination managers can develop relevant content and programs to better attract these travelers. Our results show that “Logging Out” might just be the new “Rocking Out.”

In 2018’s Voice of the Visitor, we explored the State of Permanxiety – the stress-inducing phenomenon of minute-by-minute jarring and shocking political, societal, and natural-disaster-filled headlines. The trend has unquestionably continued, and travelers continue to seek opportunities to tune it all out, regroup, and find peace. Americans are seeking out more authentic time with their compatriots at home to “relax and chill out.”

Most importantly, however, is the effect the State of Permanxiety is having on where people want to go. For the first time in the four years of our study, the number one emotional driver which inspired people to visit an attraction was the desire to seek out “a place that made me feel that I am welcome” (29%). The world is in a difficult period of divisive transition, with – at times – unfortunate marginalizing consequences. In this environment, people are seeking places where they are welcome and safe; and we have to ask ourselves, “Is my attraction welcoming and safe for everyone?”

Similarly to previous years, travelers are commonly motivated by something that’s good for the family (26%), and continue to seek new and unique experiences (27%), even more so than five years ago. Both Trailing Millennials and Blacks lead the pack in seeking out these fresh experiences.

A quarter of 2018 travelers noted that the opportunity to unplug and relax is what drove them to visit a specific attraction. As you make your plans for this year and beyond, what steps are you taking to make your destination more relaxing, and less tied to headline-enabling smartphones? Travelers are seeking places to get outdoors and reconnect with nature. While destinations like theme parks and zoos are naturally outdoor-prominent, how can other attractions add gardens, parks, and other peaceful places bathed in sunshine? Lastly, these visitors are looking for environments where they can reconnect and deepen their relationships with their friends and family – how are you innovating to facilitate that bond they so desperately seek?

More Vacation Days, Fewer Attractions

2018 marked the third straight year of Americans using more of their earned vacation days, as company cultures encourage them to do so. According to Project Time Off’s State of the American Vacation, these workers are working less while on vacation, all of which contributes to reducing work burnout and potentially contributing to this positive outlook for 2019. So where did these travelers go last year?

While the overall incidence of attraction visitation remained relatively stable with 2017 and our four-year average, individual attraction incidence either held steady or declined at every attraction type in our study.

First time visitors to attractions, however, reached its highest rate – 47% – in the history of our study. First time visitors are most likely to be Millennials, reinforcing the early observation that travelers are more than ever seeking out fresh and new experiences. Variety of attractions has decreased though, as visitors only visited 3.3 different attractions in 2018, down from 3.9 in 2017. Savvy travelers are better identifying what they like, and seeking more variety within those categories.

These numbers simply record the incidence of visitation, and don’t report repeat visitation or the size of their groups (e.g. simply, “did you visit this type of attraction in 2018?”). However, we are seeing decreased party size overall; so with smaller groups visiting a smaller variety of attractions, destination managers have a new challenge to face in 2019. The goal must be to inspire a greater number of households to visit your attraction to make up for smaller party sizes. Additionally, as travelers better define what kinds of attractions they love most, and reduce their variety, you

may want to consider regional partnerships that make more thematic sense. Whereas a museum might have once offered a reduced-price multi-pass to visit it, a zoo, and a nearby waterpark, 2019’s strategy might benefit from considering partnering with more museum-like attractions.

The Meaning of Minority Millennial Moms

With the ever-stirring American Melting Pot, 2018 saw Millennials become the most diverse generation in history, with 44% of their population representing one or more minority groups. This generation also represents the largest share (36%) of attraction visitors last year, but has dropped four percentage points from its historical average, in addition to a 13-point decline in visitation and four-point decline in satisfaction.

As Millennials represent both the largest attendee share and are significantly comprised of the two-decade minority Travelanche on the horizon, it’s time to take notice (if you’ve not already).  Millennials as a whole, despite being increasingly optimistic about the economy and more likely to recommend their last attraction to friends and family, are exhibiting a lower intent to travel this year – even though they visited attractions in 2018. It’s only when we divide this generation into Leading (ages 27 – 37) and Trailing (ages 18 – 26) Millennials, that we see some underlying causes.

Trailing Millennials represent an even greater portion of the US minority population than their older counterparts. These younger Millennials visit fewer attractions, and are significantly less satisfied (by 13 points) and less likely to recommend their most recent attraction to friends and family (by 18 points). If you want to turn the tide of Trailing Millennials, it seems like the most influential move might (and probably should) be out of your control: Children.

Leading Millennials who have children are significantly more likely than all other Millennials to visit every type of attraction, have higher satisfaction, higher rates of recommendation, and higher intention to visit attractions this year. Regardless of age, families account for 30% of attraction visitor households and they’re the most likely customer segment to check all the positive attraction boxes previously noted. Millennial Mothers found discounted admission to be a very high priority that they felt many attractions were lacking.

As attraction managers, it’s important to note that your core audience may very well be Leading Millennial families from minority backgrounds, and that patience may be one of the key elements in attracting their younger counterparts. When considering Baby Boomers and Millennials, review which types of attractions they’re most likely to visit and what portion of your annual visitation they comprise.

Looking inside 2019’s Crystal Ball

Attraction visitors’ desire for fresh and new experiences in 2018 extends into this year, with a steady, continuing decline in intent to return to the same attraction as last year. Water Parks (4.45/5) and Aquariums (4.39/5) have the highest repeatability in the eyes of American visitors, while Historic Landmarks (3.04/5) and Sightseeing Tours (2.66/5) have the highest potential to be “One-and-Done” experiences.

Whether they’ve been there before or not, the top attractions travelers intend to visit are Children’s Museums (84%), Art Galleries (79%), Water Parks (79%), and Large Format Screen Theaters (79%), while Dinner Theaters/Cruises (69%), Historic Homes/Mansions (64%), and Sightseeing Tours (62%) are less likely to capture their attention. Top-intended attractions carry key characteristics of this report’s core population needs: a desire to tune out and reconnect, get outdoors, and/or find something for the whole family. Fueled largely by Hispanic, Black, and Asian travelers, Americans’ intent to travel for leisure this year continues its downward trend, dropping to 81%. Some of America’s most iconic cities top the intended destination travel list, including New York City (34%), Orlando (32%), and Las Vegas (30%).

The ratio of guests who intend to visit “far more attractions this year” grew once more to 24%, led largely by Millennials (45%). Minorities, a growingly-influential segment with generally-lower satisfaction, intend to visit far more attractions than Whites by ten percentage points.

Attraction-related intentions continue to decline in 2019, after steady decreases over the last three years. Understanding what’s missing will be essential to turn the tide and inspire guests to fill their 2019 and 2020 Destination Dance Cards.

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