By Eric Snider
Would you rather spend $150 on a new pair of shoes or a special dinner with your significant other? A new Cuisinart or a night in a hotel room overlooking the beach?
Don’t worry, there’s no right or wrong answer. (For the record, I still lean toward the fresh kicks.) But reams of consumer research show that more and more people are choosing experiences over stuff.
As an agency that specializes in destination marketing, we at Paradise are reminded of this everyday. In the current “experience economy” people are committing substantial resources to fund future memories.
I’m not going to clobber you with data, but the handiest indicators of this trend are tourism and hospitality metrics. Destinations like St. Pete/Clearwater, Naples/Marco Island/The Everglades, Amelia Island and Daytona Beach — all of them Paradise clients — are experiencing record-setting numbers in metrics like bed tax collections, hotel occupancy, Average Daily Rate, and other signifiers.
People are on the go, looking for new and exciting things to do.
What’s driving this hunger for experiences? The Millennial Generation. (Don’t they drive pretty much everything?) Most have grown up with devices that instantly connect them to the world and allow them to communicate with anyone and everyone. So while Baby Boomers such as myself may have fantasized about three months in Tahiti when we were 25, today’s Millennials are more inclined to go ahead and do it.
Millennials crave adventure. They place a high emphasis on going to out-of-the-way places, on being first to discover a new destination. And let’s not forget FOMO: Fear of Missing Out.
Last December, my Brooklyn-based son Dan came down for his usual visit over the holidays. He only stayed with us a few days because he was headed to Puerto Rico. With whom? No one, just himself. Why Puerto Rico? Because it’s there.
He spent several days wending his way around the country — camping, exploring, accumulating friends and fellow travelers along the way. One night he slept on the ground. But he also arranged the trip so that he spent his last two nights in an upscale hotel.
I can say without hesitation that Dan’s Puerto Rican sojourn was something I never did, and as a young man never considered.
But I might do it yet. (Well, probably not alone and definitely no sleeping on the ground). The point is: the hunger for experience is grabbing hold of older folks as well. Empty-nesters such as me and my wife Bonnie are becoming more intrepid travelers. We’re quicker to pack a bag and go.
We’ve been close friends with a local couple since the early 1990s. Over the years, they’ve built a thriving law practice and a mini-empire of residential real estate. These two have always valued experiences over stuff. They have a big, beautiful home on the water, but now that their three sons are nearly out of the house, they’ve mused about downsizing. Cars? A pickup truck for the real estate business and a Chevrolet Volt. Clothes? Definitely not a thing. Gadgets? Just the basics. They have a boat — one that’s functional and constantly in use, by no means a status symbol tethered to the dock.
They go to six or seven Tampa Bay Bucs road games a year. They’ve traveled to England to see three Southside Johnny shows in pubs, to New York for Van Morrison concerts, on long weekends in North Captiva Island, rented a 35-foot catamaran and island-hopped through the BVI.
They don’t do these things because they are wealthy. They do these things because it’s what is important to them.
They’ve rubbed off on the Sniders. In years past, despite regular invites, we passed up their weekend trips to Bucs games, feeling they were a bit too extravagant. We struggled to justify spending the money. Last year, finally, we went with them to New Orleans for a Bucs-Saints game. Had a blast. The Bucs won. And that was just part of the fun.
We definitely made a memory, and didn’t mind paying for it.
Maybe those Millennials are onto something.
July 13, 2016