For the 7th year in a row Best Western brought together a panel of industry executives to discuss the state of leisure of travel in Canada. Once again I had the pleasure of moderating the discussion that was held at the Board of Trade in downtown Toronto. My task was made much easier with the strength of the panel. Dorothy Dowling, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Best Western participated in her seventh summit along with Tony Pollard, the President of the Hotel Association of Canada who was here for his fifth. Joining Dorothy and Tony as a panel rookie was Brenda Kyllo, Vice President of Travel at CAA.
Right from the get go, the theme was cautious optimism with all three panelists agreeing that travel trends and forward numbers look promising but with much uncertainty it was not yet time to “count our chickens”.
Tony Pollard once again enlightened us to the concerns surrounding Canadians flocking across the border to take advantage of lower airfares. He feels that enough business is driving south to keep an airport like Halifax busy for an entire year.
Tony also highlighted the fact that despite many important amenities like free wireless Internet, free parking and complimentary breakfast, travellers continue to place the most value on friendly service. It was ranked as the most important factor in deciding where to stay again this year in the Hotel Association’s Annual Survey of Travel Intentions.
Brenda Kyllo was a fantastic addition to the panel and spoke a lot about changes in how travel is being distributed and the need for professional agents to demonstrate value in order to survive. She went on to talk about the role of social media and how content sharing gives travellers access to a lot of information but that can be overwhelming and people still appreciate a trusted source. CAA with their 5.6 million members is certainly a trusted source.
Dorothy Dowling felt strongly that gas prices would not have any kind of significant impact on travel this summer and spoke more about the desire for Canadians to find value in other ways. Canadians and our passionate engagement in loyalty programs is a great example. Dorothy feels that loyalty programs are increasingly important for leisure travelers, especially during the summer months when there are seasonal promotions in play. Best Western recognizes this and each summer launch a Summer Promotion. In the last year, remarkably the Best Western Rewards program has grown by 24% in Canada, where numbers were already very strong.
I asked the panel to conclude by taking out their crystal balls and trying to guess what the key topics would be next May. The top three topics identified are the continued demand for greater price transparency in travel; the continued rise of mobile and the emergence of Facebook in the leisure ravel space.
Any guesses from you the topics on the horizon in Canadian leisure travel?