The trip you forgot you took

In this guest posting, TNS Director, Travel & Leisure, Carolyn Childs explains how to make the most of visiting friends and relatives

How to get more Australians travelling at home more often remains a hot topic for the domestic tourism market. It’s a passion of mine and the reason we set up our Domesticate research. In spite of apparently long periods of stasis or decline, we continue to believe passionately in the opportunities in the domestic market. The interesting thing is that some of them are right under our noses. We all know they’re there, but it’s almost as if they’re hidden in plain sight.  

One of them is visiting friends and relatives (VFR) travel. VFR tends to be the poor relation compared to the holiday or ‘pure’ leisure trip. It is often assumed that it is a ‘given’ – the destination is chosen for you by where your rellies live and you have to go because of them. Oh and while you are there, you will be sat at home drinking cups of tea on the sofa. The most towns can expect to derive in economic benefits in this scenario is the extra supplies at the supermarket and the bottle shop – plus a tank of petrol on the way out of town.

But let’s unpick this a little – through a mixture of numbers, what we hear in focus groups and even our own personal experiences. Firstly, while there are a certain minimum number of trips to visit immediate family, that number isn’t fixed. In the most recent two rounds of Domesticate, we heard that having more things to do in an area definitely increased the potential for either more frequent or longer trips.  This is particularly important for families – where the need to placate kids used to their ‘resorts at home’ is a major factor in meaning you can visit your loved ones more often.

When we ask Australians about their domestic travel, we find they often forget to tell us about their VFR trips until we probe really hard. It really is the holiday that you forgot you took.

But according to our research, 64 per cent of Australians have taken an overnight VFR trip in the past 12 months. They don’t all stay with those they’re visiting – many choose to stay in a hotel rather than crash at a loved one’s. Freedom, privacy and independence become infinitely more important when one is considering staying with the in-laws! And while they’re there they inject money into local businesses.

The top five activities on VFR trips are:

1. Ate out at a restaurant or café
2. Explored or visited the surrounding area
3. Bought something in the town they visited
4. Enjoyed some of the local activities
5. Visited a free attraction (where we know they usually end up buying snacks and souvenirs)

So there is just as much money to be made from VFR travellers as non-VFR. Creating compelling experiences can impact expenditure – especially if you can encourage the locals to tag along with their visitors. The GFC reminded Australians what is really important in their lives. As a result, ‘doing things as a family’ or with your friends (for tribal Gen Yers) has become an important motivator for leisure time. Some 78 per cent of Australians told us they have hosted visiting friends and family from elsewhere in Australia on at least a day trip in the past two years. Of these, 53 per cent accompanied visiting friends and relatives.

We’ve also found over the years that this market has a potent source of influence – both for good and evil. Domesticate 2009 showed that the views of locals at the destination were very important in shaping views of whether to visit. If we can engage our local communities to promote the benefits (and see their home in a positive light), this can be a key and highly credible marketing connection for us. We know the influence of word of mouth is stronger when it comes from a trusted source, such as friends or family.

Of course, many in the industry are targeting these travellers already, and sources like TA’s There’s Nothing Like Australia map can be a great way to raise awareness of things to see and do on home soil. But we could be strengthening that by using our secret weapon – the trusted advisor – to greater effect. Targeting locals with ideas on how to entertain visitors and making it easy to share these ideas would be a welcome aid to those hosting VFR travellers. Residents in regional communities in particular may need help in coming up with ideas – or even realising what they can do to help. By all accounts, this strategy has the ability to increase stay and local spend, as visitors explore the destination. One great example we found is Alaska’s Friends of Seymour Club.

VFR is a hidden string in the domestic market’s bow. We can turn these forgotten trips into an opportunity to get more Australians travelling domestically.

Carolyn Childs is Director of TNS’ dedicated Tourism and Leisure research division. You can follow Carolyn on TNS’ blog, Sixth Sense, or on twitter @tns_aus.

9 thoughts on “The trip you forgot you took

  • September 9, 2010 at 10:20 am
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    A timeless summary: could have been written in 1985; could be reprinted in 2035. Given the audience I’m not really sure what it says. That people who visit a relative often eat out?

    Stunning.

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  • September 9, 2010 at 2:10 pm
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    You`re a class act, Greg.

    It is a bit hard to see how this can be exploited. Regional towns tend to have Tourism Info centres: surely, they are the answer to the article?

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  • September 9, 2010 at 2:36 pm
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    Hi Greg, I agree this is a timeless comment. But it is still valid sometimes to remind ourselves of these ‘truths in plain sight’. Despite the obviousness of the statement, VFR is still an underpotentiated opportunity and one to which people are beginning to wake up to. TNSW has just published a great factsheet on the subject so I guess their thinking is the same.

    Reply
  • September 9, 2010 at 4:05 pm
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    From what I can see from my figures Australian bookings domestically are on a massive increase. YTD figures how a 25% increase on last year and a 55% increase on 2008 putting Aussies 3rd only to English and Germans for the highest number of bookings into Australia. Obviously hostelworld bookings don’t count for everyone travelling (though that would be nice), but considering the year we have had combined with the strong Australian dollar and cheap international flights I think these figures are pretty good. Definitely a market worth tapping into..

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  • September 9, 2010 at 4:07 pm
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    No argument. And its good to see TNSW are thinking.

    “Underpotentiated.” Great word. A true market researcher at work here.

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  • September 9, 2010 at 8:11 pm
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    Kristy, I think the point here is that they tap into you, you don’t tap into them. And when they are tap-tap tapping you probably won’t even know about it…

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  • September 14, 2010 at 8:45 am
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    Hi Greg, I agree with your first comment. They conduct all this research and tell us information we already know. I think resources would be better used in conducting seminars for operators to help them “tap tap tappy” into this market. Or even an affective campaign… or hang on Tourism Australia released “No Leave No Life” not that I have seen any drive what so ever on this campaign!!

    Reply
  • September 14, 2010 at 8:45 am
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    Hi Greg, I agree with your first comment. They conduct all this research and tell us information we already know. I think resources would be better used in conducting seminars for operators to help them “tap tap tappy” into this market. Or even an affective campaign… or hang on Tourism Australia released “No Leave No Life” not that I have seen any drive what so ever on this campaign!!

    Reply
  • September 14, 2010 at 9:23 am
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    Well Tui I think we’re all used to govt organisations telling us what they think we need to know as opposed to asking us what it is we want or need to know. If they only asked more often. To be fair though our regional BP organisations in QLD and NSW (I’m only familiar with these two states. Apologies to the rest of Oz) do a tremendous job bridging the gap between private sector and govt and for the most part they’re effective.

    Reply

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