RANCE CRAIN;FOR MARKETERS, BIG ISN'T ALWAYS BEST

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Sometimes your biggest customers aren't your best customers.

One group you sell to buys a lot of units but at low prices. Another group, which you don't pay much attention to, doesn't buy much but what they do buy is top of the line. Often the line of least resistance is to sell as much as possible to customers who are easy targets.

Take the travel business. Travel marketers know precisely what states or countries their destinations draw from, and also how much each customer spends. They tend to allocate their promotional dollars at the same old well.

Since most travel commissions are dependent on state funds, they want to show they are attracting an ever-growing number of travelers to their states. Never mind how much each guest spends.

Why wouldn't it make sense for tourism bureaus to target potential visitors who spend the biggest bucks? That notion sounds elementary, but most efforts usually go to markets that attract the most people.

The Orlando market last year-one of the worst ever for tourism-attracted 2.3 million overseas visitors, nearly half the number who visited Florida and 12% who visited the U.S., according to the Orlando Sentinel.

What meager promotional spending was done overseas, most of that was aimed at Europeans, especially the U.K. The U.K. is Orlando's top market in terms of number of visitors, with 681,000.

The problem is, the English don't spend much when they come over here. According to the U.S. Travel & Tourism Administration, the Brits spend only $837 per visitor here, compared with $1,985 spent by the average Venezuelan tourist.

And yet only 116,000 Venezuelans visited the Orlando area. Brazilians also are big spenders, but only 226,000 came to Orlando last year, way behind Great Britain but still Orlando's second-biggest overseas market.

Latin America is "the most misunderstood, natural market to Florida," Eduardo Gonzalez, who covers the region for the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, told the Sentinel. When Latin Americans come to Florida, they usually come through Miami. But they spend a longer time in Orlando visiting the theme parks and shopping. The British, on the other hand, look for low-cost accommodations.

So the moral of the story is that all tourist bodies are not equal yet many industry promotion efforts tend to lump them together in one general campaign, if they're lumped at all.

That approach seems outdated in an age of micromarketing where retailers change the mix of products by neighborhoods. With online-service expansion, marketers will find it easier than ever to tailor their messages to different consumers.

Too bad the revolution is bypassing the travel industry. Florida, at least, is moving to privatize its travel efforts to make it easier for its travel commission to work with all segments.

But any industry that is forced to rely on tax revenues to fund its promotion kitty will be relegated to thinking that biggest is best.

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