North Americans are in love with their cars, and this year, that is a good thing. During the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the travel industry largely ground to a halt and few people were venturing beyond their local grocery store and pharmacy. Now, travel shows signs of awakening, and we are seeing it first in journeys made in automobiles, trips to the mountains, national parks, lakes, rivers and to see autumn leaves.
It is likely the increased interest in travel with family and the choice of outdoor venues, plus the record low gas prices in most states, are important factors. Travelers naturally feel they have more control of the travel environment in an automobile than they would in an airport or airplane with less contact with the public. Many have decided they can social distance while hitting the road. The road trip has long been a North American past time and, given the ongoing restrictions from the pandemic, a road trip that traverses North America’s iconic wide-open spaces has become an essential experience in 2020 and will continue in 2021.
But, we North Americans can be timid travelers and clients can always find an excuse to not travel. This year has provided the reluctant traveler with a plethora of reasons to stay close to home. The awakening demand for international travel will hopefully coax many of your clients back into the sky. But what about those clients who are determined to hang close to home?
Try this exercise: go to Google and look at a map of the United States or Canada and pinpoint your home town. Next, draw an imaginary circle that extends roughly 8 – 12 hours driving time from home. If I do that from Tallahassee, the circle encompasses destinations like Key West, Tampa, Orlando, New Orleans, Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville, the Smokey Mountains, Asheville, Savannah, Charleston… all noteworthy drive distance destinations. Yet, I would have to confess to knowing less about most of these locales as tourism destinations than I do about London or Paris.
Drive market travel deserves some portion of your attention right now. Those clients who will not get aboard with the bargains to Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America might well be willing to spend a few extra hours in the car with the kids. Fuel costs are low, domestic hotels eager for the business, and the safety of being less than a day’s drive from home will appeal to many who may otherwise opt out this year. Adding drive market product as a viable alternative to your mix right now is a good idea.
As a travel professional, your mission is to assist your clients to travel in all circumstances. Many times we overlook the possibilities inherent in the obvious. Use the ammunition that you have. For your most adventuresome clients, pro-actively call them up with some exciting possibilities of seeing Mexico, Tanzania or Croatia at far less than they could have ever believed. Here is an article listing most of the international destinations to which US and Canadian citizens can now travel.
But for those clients who are talking about no vacation this year, spend some time acquainting yourself with your best drive market destinations. Widen the scope of your thinking by looking at the travel opportunities, spas and resorts closest to home and learning how to market those. Become a local expert. There is a literal world of destinations from which you can choose, and some of those are only a few hours from home.
Would I recommend the most vulnerable of our population begin to immediately travel? I would not. Do I think travel is possible to do safely? I do. Should everyone consider traveling right now? No, probably not. No one should feel badly about waiting until they are absolutely comfortable. But, when you clients are ready, be the local expert to guide you every step of the way.