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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Traveling with 2020 Vision

Where’s everyone going in 2020? Check out my most recent appearance on Great Day Washington to find out.

Need more information on any of the destinations mentioned? Here you go.

Cape Verde:  

Japan National Tourism Office:  www.japan.travel

Tourist Office of Spain: https://www.spain.info/en_US/

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Wellness Travel Expert Makes the Rounds to Sun Valley/Talks Forest Bathing and Kneipping

My recent presentation at the Idaho Tourism Conference was covered by Eye on Sun Valley (see link below story). While the reporter got my name and title wrong, and altered the last quote, I leave the story largely unedited for your reading pleasure.

Imagine having your doctor write a prescription for you to take a walk in the woods! That could be the future of tourism in Sun Valley.

Sun Valley and the Gem State are uniquely positioned to capitalize on wellness tourism, which is “huge” worldwide and the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry, according to a wellness travel reporter for Skift.

Photo by Laura Powell

"What you have here is a must for the wellness traveler,” Laurel Powell told those attending the annual Idaho Conference on Recreation and Tourism held this past week at Sun Valley Resort. “You have quiet and opportunity for interaction with nature in a day when most Americans live in urban areas without much access to nature. What you have is unparalleled, particularly in the Lower 48.”

Outdoor recreation is a $427.2 billion business, and it’s growing more than twice as fast as the overall economy, increasing 16 percent versus the 7.5 percent that the overall economy grew between 2012 and 2017. Nature-based recreation is growing even faster—up to 44 percent for some states. Idaho is one of the states experiencing some of the largest growth in nature-based recreation.

Even spas that have traditionally incorporated everything inside are now offering outdoor activities and bringing in elements from the outdoors inside with lobby fountains and natural colors in their design.

“We think of wellness travel as spas and massages, but it’s becoming more than that,” Powell said.  “Everyone’s disconnected so they’re looking to boost their psychological well-being.”

How cool would yoga or meditation, she asked, under the stars in Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve be? Sun Valley and other Idaho towns could easily become centers for forest bathing, a practice developed in Japan that involves meditative guided walks through the woods engaging all the senses from sight to smell. 

Forest bathing is known as “shinrin-yoku,” which means “taking in the forest.”
Photo by Karen Bossick
Trees and plants emit aromas called phytoncides designed to protect them from harmful insects, animals and microbes. Those and other smells are believed to help lower blood pressure, while boosting the immune system, improving sleep, lowering anxiety and reducing pain in forest bathers. It can be done in winter, as well as summer, spring and fall, Powell said. Add-ons like fly-fishing outings could offer forest bathers reason to stay longer.

Photo by Laura Powell

Some countries are also attracting people with kneipping, which involves walking along water trails or through puddles to stimulate blood flow and strengthen the immune system. “As far as I know, no one is offering this yet in the United States—it’s very unique,” said Powell.

Some places, such as Newfoundland and Finland, are selling isolation.
“Boise is supposed to be the most isolated urban area in the United States. That’s not a bad thing—being isolated and in the middle of nowhere is increasingly becoming a big draw,” Powell said. “People in Los Angeles and urban centers where they’re so rushed are craving that.”

Some tourism campaigns are even selling the sounds of silence. A 400-year-old monastery in Quebec City, for instance, hosts a week-long silence retreat where attendees join one another in a silent breakfast and happy hour is held in the chapel.

Honing in on Hot Springs

Image result for idaho hot springs images
Hot springs were once a big draw for the Wood River Valley when Guyer Hot Springs and a few hot springs near Hailey were going full bore. Traveling to hot springs for wellness is making a comeback.

The inaugural hot springs conference was held last year and a hot springs association was organized last  month, Powell said.
Hot springs are being augmented with restaurants and opportunities for artists to show and sell their art to elevate the experience. Tiny homes and Airstream trailers are offering alternative accommodations in places with no hotels. The experience can be enhanced with such things as bike tours to the hot springs, Powell said.

Colorado has established a 720-mile Historic Hot Springs Loop that takes geothermal bathers through Ouray, Glenwood Springs, Steamboat Springs, Pagosa Springs, Buena Vista and Salida.

“The No. 1 search on the Colorado tourist website in recent years has been hot springs,” Powell said. “People won’t go in the middle of nowhere for one hot spring, but put them together and, all of a sudden, towns that never got visitors are seeing tourism.”

Even urban areas are trying to position themselves as wellness destinations, according to Powell. Beverly Hills, California, for instance, recently kicked off a new “City of Wellth” initiative to showcase its wellness options. (LP⁠—This was not part of the talk, but taken from an article I wrote for Skift two years ago).

The campaign kicked off with meditation and other events led by wellness guru Deepak Chopra. It includes weekly public Walks with the Mayor and more restaurant choices for vegans, vegetarians, paleo dieters and locavores.

“It helps to tie local foods into community wellness programs,” Powell said. “It doesn’t feel very authentic when you go on a wellness vacation and all you see are Burger Kings.” 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Why the Hot Springs Movement is Gaining Steam in the United States

The ancient Greeks did it. So did the ancient and not-so-ancient Romans, Japanese, and Chinese. Heck, even some of the founding fathers of the United States did it too. But despite its illustrious past, the idea of taking the waters has never really caught on in the United States, until now. Hot springs could be on the verge of a major wellness moment.

Glenwood Hot Springs

For centuries, many European and Asian cultures have viewed mineral-fed hot springs as a source of health, wellness, and healing. But according to the Global Wellness Institute, the sector is quite underdeveloped in North America, due to a lack of a historic bathing culture that is prevalent elsewhere. The times are changing, however, as more Americans are looking to nature for its power to calm and rejuvenate.
In the United States, hot springs have traditionally been seen in recreational terms rather than as a wellness endeavor, according to Vicky Nash, a tourism consultant who is dedicated to professionalizing the hot springs industry. Thanks to the efforts of Nash and a former U.S. senator, among others, hot springs are suddenly being reframed as wellness destinations across the country.


According to Nash, about 28 states have hot springs in one form or another, although the majority are in the West and Southwest. Many of these waters are on public land, and a few are contained within fancy resort complexes. But for the most part, hot springs facilities are rustic mom-and-pop operations, solely offering a soak in the forms of mineral bathing and swimming. Some are a little more tricked-out, with extras like massage rooms and dining outlets.
Many of these smaller operations, long in need of a facelift, are in the process of changing hands. According to Nash, “A lot of the smaller hot springs facilities were established in the 1970s. Now those owners are selling, and new owners, including investment groups, are coming in with an interest of revamping them and getting them up to speed” for the growing wellness market.
That’s why many facilities, shuttered for years, are reopening, some with multimillion dollar investments. For example, a Phoenix-based couple, Mike and Cindy Watts, purchased the ailing Arizona Castle Hot Springs in 2014. The original facility was built at the end of the 19th century, but it was abandoned during the 1970s. Earlier this year, it reopened as a luxury healing center for the well-heeled. Some of the bungalows, complete with private outdoor tubs, list at $1,600 per night.
Mark Begich is another person betting on the business. The Alaskan businessman purchased Carson Hot Springs in the late 1990s. His company refurbished the property’s historic buildings, located just a few miles from Nevada’s state capitol. Also added were a restaurant and brewpub, making the facility more of a destination versus a pass-through. He, along with a group of investors, also owns Jemez Hot Springs and Cañon Del Rio Inn and Spa in Jemez Springs, New Mexico.


Begich, by the by, is not just your run-of-the-mill developer. He heads up Northern Compass Group, a business and strategic communications consultancy. And he happens to be a former U.S. senator (D-Alaska). After leaving the swamp in 2014, he jumped back into the hot springs arena. First, he purchased those New Mexico properties and now, he’s become the force behind the development of the brand-new (as of October 2019) Hot Springs Association.
Begich pointed out, “In rural areas, local-level mom-and-pop businesses are critical to the economy. In remote areas, developing these facilities brings in money from outside the community and creates jobs.” But for the most part, they have been left to their own devices  By creating an association, individual operators will experience strength in numbers.
“There are so many layers of the business, but no one is coordinating information,” said Begich. Having an association to bring together hot springs operators across the United States “means these small businesses can pool resources, joining together to have purchasing and marketing power.”
Schawna Thoma is vice president of Begich’s Northern Compass Group. “Most hot springs are family-run, and people often feel isolated or intimidated about reaching out. We will serve as a network for these people, and offer tools and serve as an information resource.” The organization will allow small properties to band together to build awareness, while also doing less sexy things, like helping to negotiate water rights, share new technology, and develop affordable insurance programs. It will also start tracking visitor numbers and economic impact.


The latter, said Begich, will be of immense help to operators seeking loans. “Right now, hot springs are difficult to finance,” according to Begich, “because the classification is difficult. That’s why the data is critical; it’s for financiers to understand the business.” That understanding may lead to a simpler lending process.
Vicky Nash is another person bringing together resources for the hot springs community. She helped develop the Colorado Historic Hot Springs Loop, which links five hot springs destinations in the western part of the state. During its five years in existence, each of the five communities has experienced an increase in tourism.
Nash last year launched the Hot Springs Connection. It’s the first conference in the United States dedicated solely to the needs of hot springs operators. The conference, the second of which is scheduled for November, allow operators to exchange ideas and get educated on topics ranging from water sanitation to tourism marketing.
Now that the industry has its own trade association, its own annual conference, and, to a certain degree, a new generation of owners, hot springs may be destined to become the next hot thing in wellness tourism.

This article originally appeared on Skift. I am Skift's luxury editor and wellness correspondent.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Embracing the Role of Romance in Luxury Marketing

Romantic love and a night at the opera might seem the stuff of chick flicks and cheap paperbacks sporting Fabio’s bare chest. But one expert says luxury marketers should pay heed to both subjects if they want to build deep and lasting relationships with their clients.

This article originally appeared in Skift New Luxury, for which I am the editor.

A luxury hotel’s relationship with a guest is a fragile and many splendored thing.
“Luxury is like love,” suggested luxury branding expert Dr. Daniel André Langer. “When we go for a luxury brand, it’s like falling in love. We are not deciding on rational points like functional value, but on a strong emotional connection.” Because of that, the founder of Équité, a luxury, lifestyle and consumer brand consultancy, said high-end brands have to understand the emotional nature of their appeal, first by defining it, and then by swooping in to woo the consumer.

Courtesy Hyatt Hong Kong
Any relationship at the luxury level has to start with developing a distinct brand journey. In the hospitality world, said Langer, “most hotels provide us with a category journey, but nothing is brand-distinctive. All are giving me the same journey and brand names are interchangeable. When that happens, then customers have no reason to pay a premium.” In essence, the brand’s rooms become just another commodity.
So what’s a hotel company to do?
Langer said brands should be defining key attributes and then developing distinct brand journeys around them. “Ask what do we sell? What do we inspire? This is the most fundamental task,” said Langer. “Saying you sell ‘dreams and experience’ isn’t enough. All luxury brands do that. A brand needs to be specific about which dream it sells and which experience. It needs to be defined in every marketing detail, it has to be actionable for every staff member, and surely it has to do something different than what any other brand is doing. Then, no one else can replicate the brand.”
Once luxury brands develop a brand-distinct experience strategy, it has to design a customer journey that reflect the brand proposition at every touch point. That’s why proper staff training is essential. “Service must be based on the defined brand experience,” said Langer. “The staff must understand its role in bringing the brand positioning to life. If it doesn’t know its role, and if staff is not empowered, the whole effort will collapse.”
“The difference between an okay experience and a premium one is in the human factor. It’s making the customer feel special. It’s seamless service. It’s a conversation, knowing who the guest is. Absolute personalized service is what creates the luxury experience and this is what hotels don’t get right. They rely too much on design and a brand name and a loyalty brand, and they forget the most important thing–human interaction.”
That human interaction creates an emotional connection, which ideally, should be felt at every brand property. For example, Langer gave a shout out to Andaz Hotels by Hyatt. While locations may vary from city center to resort, Langer said the brand has created a customer journey that’s all about care and relaxation.
In particular, Langer cited that time he walked into the Andaz Tokyo, soaking wet from an unexpected downpour. The staff greeted him warmly by his name, told him not to worry about checking in and served him hot green tea. They even took pains to dry and clean his luggage. “It was that personal touch,” he said, “They knew who I was and they empathized. They took care of me.”
Having experienced similar service at Andaz properties from Scottsdale to London, Langer is a brand loyalist. Call it love.


Just like a real life relationship, though, maintenance is required. “Once a brand has a love relationship with us, it’s up to brands to nurture, strengthen, and maintain that relationship,” said Langer. If it becomes routine, or a consumer feels taken for granted, “the relationship can easily cool off, and the customer will move on to another brand. Even worse, if customers feel they were cheated, they won’t leave silently. Instead, their love will turn to hate.”
What can cause the dramatic break-up? “All it takes is one negative touch point to damage a customer’s relationship with a brand,” said Langer. “That’s why training people is critical. Proper luxury training must include fundamental insights about luxury and make clear the role of each individual in providing the branded luxury proposition.” He compared the situation to an opera performance. “If we are listening to an opera, the people in the orchestra and on stage have to be in sync. If one musician is off-key, everything is ruined.”
A lack of brand-wide consistency can also nullify a relationship. If someone who is devoted to a particular brand while visiting New York City has a bad experience with that brand in another locale, he or she may decide to stay elsewhere during the next stay in the Big Apple. It’s a matter of one bad apple spoiling the whole bunch.
Why can this happen? “A dramatic breakdown in experience within the same brand can be one of the weaknesses when hotel groups in the luxury space try to grow quite fast. My suspicion is they are not training sharp enough…especially compared to first locations.”
Consumers at the luxury level are likely to have stronger emotional reactions to subpar situations than the average due to their high expectations and the amount of money invested. “If someone makes me pay $300,000 for a car or $1,000 a night for a hotel room, and then I feel neglected, I am not just going to have a neutral response. Maybe the customer is willing to forgive one or two things, but after that, they don’t come back.”

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

California Leads U.S. Destinations in Marketing to The Middle East

In the effort to attract high-spending tourists, states often look overseas. That’s a good idea — international visitors typically spend more than domestic travelers. But certain international markets present a more complicated consumer landscape than others. That’s what Visit California has discovered as it starts wooing more travelers from the Middle East.

This article originally appeared in Skift New Luxury, for which I am the editor.

While international tensions simmer, Visit California is extending an olive branch to the Middle East. The action is part of Visit California’s initiative to drive ultra-luxury travel to the state.
The Middle East is one of the fastest growing outbound tourism regions in the world, according to UNWTO’s Tourism Towards 2030. Outbound travel from the region has quadrupled during the past 20 years. The region also delivers big spenders. Per capita outbound tourism spending from the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar) is 6.5 times higher than the global average.
People living in GCC countries are also responsible for 60 percent of Middle Eastern travel to the United States. That’s why, when it comes to high-end product, this is a logical market for American luxury marketers to approach.
Beachside in Santa Barbara
"A few years ago, we launched a super-affluent initiative. This market is very attractive since it falls squarely within the nexus of the KPIs we are trying to develop,” said Caroline Beteta, CEO of Visit California.
In 2018, California welcomed approximately 259,000 Middle East visitors. In 2019, 264,000 Middle Eastern travelers are forecast to visit the state and by 2022, growth in travel from the Middle East is projected to approach 300,000 visitors. Last year, GCC visitors stayed in California an average of 13.5 nights with a mean spend of $2,422 per visitor. That compares with the Chinese at $1,968 and the British at $1,360.
However, California’s net growth from the region has been down the past two years. According to Beteta, the state started experiencing “a significant drop-off from GCC after the Trump travel ban went into effect.” James Bermingham, chairman of Visit California’s Board of Commissioners and executive vice president of operations for luxury hotel and resort management company Montage International, says that fact helped spur the state to action.
“Travel bans and equally some of the rhetoric coming from the U.S. was off-putting for many travelers from the region,” he said. “So we decided as Visit California that we wanted to correct the declines, to send out a message to the GCC that California is an extraordinary destination and that all are welcome here.”


While Visit California has been attending the Arabian Travel Market, the region’s premier travel trade show, for the past four years, it decided it needed to take another step to increase the state’s visibility in the market.
In April, Visit California embarked on its first diplomatic mission in the region to explore the potential for business. Beteta, Bermingham and the chief executives of ten of the state’s destination marketing organizations took part in meetings and networking events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, designed to help the group understand the GCC’s nuances.
The first lesson learned is that the market is very complicated. The regional population includes both nationals and expatriates. In the United Arab Emirates, 81 percent of the population is expat, while Saudi Arabia is more reflective of the region writ large, with a little more than a third of the population being expat.
“These are two very different markets, with different styles of traveling,” said Leona Reed, associate vice president global marketing for Visit California.
For example, expats are more likely to opt for less-expensive luxury accommodations (no, that’s not an oxymoron), while the nationals prefer five-star all the way. The expat will be more likely to do a self-drive holiday, while nationals prefer their vacation cars equipped with drivers. Nationals may take religious practices into account while traveling, while the expat is less likely to deal with such matters.
These differences mean dual strategies will run concurrently in each market, one aimed at expats and one at natives. But there are other things to consider as well.
Our challenge is figuring out how to market to region holistically when each country has nuance in terms of destination and experience preference,” Reed said.
For example, Visit California research found that Kuwaitis are more well-traveled than other Middle Eastern nationals. Qatar nationals and those from the United Arab Emirates are more conservative travelers. Saudi nationals get education abroad and are more sophisticated travelers. Generally, nationals from Gulf countries tend to opt for a more classic, hands-on style of luxury. And they are bigger spenders than expats.

Aside from their tendency to spend, the market presents other factors that make it extremely lucrative. GCC travelers go on long vacations, in part to escape hot Arabian summers. Trips to the United States average 28 days, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The family-market segment dominates GCC leisure travel and most Arab families are large. Three-quarters of GCC nationals belong to households of five or more. Moreover, many family groups bring along extended members of the clan, and also their staff.


After doing the research, Visit California is unveiling a two-year market strategy aimed at creating strong relationships with strategic trade, media and airline partners in the GCC, and at educating California destinations about the nuances of travelers from this area.

“Establishing representation in the market is the biggest objective for this year,” said Beteta.
At the moment, Visit California has on-the-ground representation in 13 foreign countries and this baker’s dozen account for 87 percent of the inbound international traffic.
After that, it’s a matter of getting the product right for the market. According to Visit California’s research, travelers from the Middle East are looking at destinations which are safe for Muslims, as both real and perceived safety have become a high priority at destinations with high levels of services. They also opt for places which consider their unique needs.
Poolside at Ritz-Carlton Bacara 
The provision of Halal food is by far the most important service that a Muslim traveler requires, Reed said. At the very least, she added, food outlets trying to appeal to this market will have to ensure all ingredients are clearly labeled.
There’s also the matter of prayer. According to the Pew Research Centre report, 63 percent of Muslims perform the five daily prayers. To cater, facilities frequented by Muslim travelers need to be equipped with prayer rooms.
It’s also about providing the right kind of luxury. “Luxury for this market is about being treated with a lot of deference. Exclusivity and pampering are key. This market is all about old luxury – it’s less about experience and more about luxury product,” Reed said.
Bermingham added, “There’s a maturity to their affluence, and with that comes a higher level of understanding and a much higher expectation of service.”
Providing both the appropriate products and service levels for this market will take significant training and implementation. That’s why Visit California is focused on taking the steps needed to reduce the gulf between existing product and the demands and needs of travelers from the GCC.