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.