Earlier this month, U.S. Travel hosted its Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations (ESTO)—a leading national forum where destination marketing professionals at the state, regional and local levels can walk away with critical tools, tips and trends to help them better market and grow their destinations.

This year’s conference was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and it was my ninth time participating. I came away with pages of notes, many key takeaways and fun memories reconnecting with both members and fellow U.S. Travel colleagues. As always, this year’s event reinvigorated me and provided fresh perspective and insights around three key themes: What’s Next, Workforce and Wellbeing. 

What’s Next: The Future of Travel 

What’s happening: There are massive social transformations and new technologies emerging all around us—and they will likely forever alter hospitality and travel businesses. 

What does this mean? The pandemic propelled change and transformed society in an incredibly short time period. As we adapt to uncharted terrain, Delaware North’s Future of Recreation, Travel and Hospitality attempts to capture the momentum and explain a few trends they have identified that will more directly impact our industry.

  • Explosion of middle-class leisure travel. As a result of substantially higher earning power, it is well within the realm of possibility that there will be a billion NEW leisure travelers—especially from Asia by 2040. 
  • Labor’s New Gig. Within the next five years, more than half of the U.S. workforce—80 million Americans—will be part of the gig economy. Access to quality workforce will be dependent on flexible solutions while providing employees the flexibility they desire. 
  • Goodbye 9 to 5. Tomorrow’s workplace and workforce is scattered around the world—where the workers are. High speed connectivity, remote work, increased focus on well being are all driving a growing number of people and businesses embracing a future where the focus is on getting work done, not where or when it gets done. 
  • Safer and seamless. While less than one in five airports in the U.S. have self-boarding gates utilizing biometrics today, two-thirds of U.S. airports will have digital traveler identities and biometrics implemented in the next few years. Airports, airlines and governments alike will finally be ready to roll out security precautions that make travel safer—and at the same time more efficient than ever before. 
  • Wellness Quest. The global wellness economy is expected to double in size to roughly $200 billion in annual revenue by 2040. Within the next 20 years, one in two travelers will factor wellness into their travel planning. 

What’s next: The industry, economy and society are at a pivot point. We have the ability to embrace change and new opportunities by educating ourselves on how best to understand and connect with customers. Those that do not are likely to be left behind. 

Workforce: The Evolution of Work

What’s happening: Birth rates are falling, immigration has slowed, there’s record retirement and an exploding gig economy. Then you add in a global pandemic and together it has all contributed to today’s perfect storm—resulting in the Great Resignation. 

What does this mean: Employees today have unprecedented power, leaving leaders with the choice to embrace change or lose out in the future of work. 

A significant workforce reconfiguration has been long overdue and necessary for the future of the workplace.

  • COVID-19 was a catalyst for the movement, not the reason. Eric Termuende dug into the evolution and future of work in his highly engaging and informative keynote session. 

What’s next: Organizations who sat on their haunches and neglected improving culture and workplace experience will see high turnover rates in the next 8-12 months because they hire people who aren’t a good fit. Either companies invest in long-term leadership solutions or wait to see what happens if they don’t. 

Wellbeing: We Need to Rethink ‘Happiness’ 

What’s happening: According to the world's largest study on wellbeing, the single biggest influence on your overall quality of life is your work. Primarily because it takes up the most time and often many feel that ‘who you are’ is synonymous with ‘what you do’. 

  • Dive deeper: Work’s impact on individual’s well-being can be positive or negative depending on how well it is managed. Danielle Posa, founder of Workplace Wellbeing Advisors, presented on the importance of shifting from work-life to life-work balance.

What does this mean: Strive for thriving over happiness. Happiness is more a fleeting emotion and feeling. Thriving individuals have a high quality of life in five areas:

  1. Career
  2. Social
  3. Financial 
  4. Physical 
  5. Community

What’s next: To improve employee wellbeing, companies need to turn their focus to the overall culture of an organization. And it’s more than just offering quality employee benefits, this requires a shift in perspective from all levels of employees including leadership. Creating engaged employees is the foundation of a successful, thriving workforce. Building a strong culture results from a high level of engagement.

U.S. Travel

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