Elections may – or may not – affect tourism

Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016 11:01 AM

Do national elections affect tourism?

As we enter the final days of a very bizarre election year, we were wondering about the before-and-after effects of national elections on tourism.

Does it matter to future travelers which presidential candidate wins or where the nation is turning? Well, both yes and no would be politically apropos. As it turns out, over the last many years, this has been as polarizing a topic for tourism professionals as the candidates have themselves been.

The notion of a travel slump in presidential election years seems to be either a challenging marketing reality or a long-standing industry myth. Steve Born, senior vice president of marketing for the Globus family of travel brands, says: “When I looked back at past election year bookings, I find no real pattern suggesting that election years have an impact on travel.”

Most agree that in the final months leading up to the election, there are some timing issues that tourism marketers have to plan around. For example, elections consume most media ad space, dominate the news channels and clog mailboxes, leaving other industries unable to get a word in edgewise. So some marketers choose to ride out the election period.

Also during this time, media audiences are highly distracted by the heat and emotion of campaign competition, and their normal shopping patterns are disrupted. For example, when planning a future vacation, people go through a certain sequence in the booking process. That sequence starts with dreaming, then a period of research and narrowing of options and, finally, booking. Larger tourism marketers like states, cruise lines, air carriers and foreign destinations will delay launching spring/summer 2017 campaigns until later in the year. Small tourism marketers that tag along are smart to hold off as well.

But is it really over when it’s over? Roger Block, president of the Travel Leaders Franchise Group, says, “Election years typically have an impact on people’s willingness to book travel, especially when candidates call the economy into question. This gives the voting public the impression that they should curb discretionary spending, which includes travel, whether or not the economy is actually failing or in great shape.” Another claim is that people tend to be more conservative with bigger purchases in election years, waiting to find out what direction the new administration takes, although there is no real evidence that either sentiment is true.

Scott Koepf, the senior vice president of sales at Avoya Travel, said. “The only identifiable pattern is that every four years the industry calls into question whether there is an election-year slump.” Finally, John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Franchise Group, concedes, “Whenever we see some softness in booking travel, it is not due to election cycles but rather to world economic changes and terror-related issues.”

So, we’re calling the election year tourism debate a draw, and since name calling has become so popular … those tourism industry experts are a bunch of wishy-washy flip-floppers. Bob Kunkel is executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office.