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The Travel Products’ Price Determinants

This is an excerpt from my latest tourism textbook, entitled; ‘Travel Marketing, Tourism Economics and the Airline Product’. This publication will be available through Springer and Amazon.com.


Price Determinants
The type of pricing strategy which marketing managers consider is determined by a number of factors, including: organisatonal and marketing objectives; types of pricing objectives; cost levels; other marketing mix variables; market demand; competition, and legal and regulatory issues, among other matters.

Organisational and Marketing Objectives

Company policy and image, target profit margins and staff count could influence the type of pricing policy which the marketing managers will apply. Company policy and image will play an important role when determining a pricing strategy. The price set must be consistent with the general corporate objectives and the strategic direction of the company. For example, a full-service airline may want to be associated with the top-end of the market by providing a high-quality service to the business travel segment. To price below the average rate for such a service may imply an inferior and poor-quality service.

Any airline which would like to target the business market should provide an extensive schedule and a high-quality service. Therefore, it will require considerable resources and capabilities to do so.

Pricing Objectives

The most fundamental pricing objective is that of survival pricing. When experiencing severe competition, businesses may be forced to offer lower prices than their rivals. This way they will generate revenue, and improve their chances of survival. A tourism service or sub-product will not generate revenue if it is not used over a given period of time (it will perish) . While the service or sub-products may be available for sale at some later point in time, the revenue that was originally lost, can never be regained. For example, a hotel had thirty empty rooms on a specific date. These empty rooms cannot be sold at a later date because the service has been completed, and perished. Similarly, an airline could depart with empty seats which cannot be sold at a later date.

Moreover, the demand for tourism products is usually seasonal. For example, many north Americans flee south to Hawaii and to the Caribbean, during the winter months; whilst Australasians travel to Europe during the summer months of June, July and August. Of course, seasonality may be due to other factors, other than climate, including; vacation and holiday periods. For example, families may habitually travel at the same time of the year, usually over Christmas, Easter or summer periods. This is the usual close-down time period for schools, industry and commerce, in many countries. Since tourism is highly seasonal, suppliers may reduce their prices during off-peak times. Hence, a low price strategy assists in creating demand particularly among price-sensitive customers. Conversely, operators may charge higher prices when there are peaks in demand, due to major attractions and special events.

Profit maximisation is another pricing objective. However, it may prove difficult to measure, as businesses could not be in a position to determine when they have reached maximum profit. As a result, profit maximisation may be evaluated according to a certain ‘level of satisfaction’. A change in profit relative to previous periods may be considered as satisfactory or unsatisfactory for the businesses. The setting of prices to obtain a fixed rate of return on a company’s investment is a profit-related objective. Many businesses could be aiming to achieve a specific profit.

Another possible pricing objective is that of increasing market share. Many companies may design pricing policies which will enable them to improve their market share. However, at times, they may be satisfied with their current status in the market. In this case, their objective would be to retain their status quo. Companies with such an objective may not use pricing as a competitive tool. They will probably maintain a steady market share by nurturing their brand equity.

Cost Levels

The marketing managers should be careful to analyse all costs so that they will be included in the total cost. Therefore, the pricing of products should be based on the company’s direct and indirect costs (and may consider overhead expenses) if they are projecting a certain profitability margin.

Other Marketing Mix Variables

The marketing mix elements, including; promotions (the integrated marketing communication mix) and place (distribution channels), could determine the target customers’ perceptions of the firms’ products (or services), in a given competitive context.

The extent to which a product is promoted can have a huge effect on consumer demand. The products’ price will usually determine their target market. Low-priced products may attract price-sensitive markets. Such products will be promoted through different marketing communications channels other than high-priced, better quality, premium services. The more expensive the products; the higher the customers’ expectations. Considerable thought and action must go into product development so as to provide the customer with a valuable service which reflects the product’s price. One of the most significant promotional tools is word-of-mouth publicity. For instance, online reviews and ratings are increasingly playing a major role in tourism marketing.

When making a pricing decision, the businesses should consider their distribution costs. The companies’ intermediaries, including; tour operators, online travel agents, and the like, will expect financial compensation for selling travel products. Alternatively, they will expect discounts and special incentives to push the businesses’ products to consumers. For example, they may book large seat orders and place substantial mark-ups on seats which they have bought from the airline (these products may be demanded for inclusive tours). These factors must always be taken into consideration by the airline marketing managers, as they have to add mark-ups to the cost price of seats, when selling them to intermediaries.

Market Demand

There is a highly segmented market for tourism products. Each of the market segments vary in terms of elasticity, and service requirements. These variables will influence the way in which prices a set.

The business travel segment is generally more inelastic in demand. Fluctuations in prices will not affect demand to any great extent. However, the business travel segment expects a high-quality service. Generally, business travellers are prepared to pay a higher price for such services. The higher fares will not only cover the costs of the superior service, but will also convey an image of a premium, prestige product.

The passengers from the leisure travel segment are usually price-sensitive. Their expectations are somewhat lower than those of the business travellers. Demand is extremely elastic in this segment; and an increase in price may result in lower demand.

The socio-political factors may affect market demand. If a destination is politically or socially unstable, tourists may not want to go there. Most people like to feel safe and comfortable. For instance, many destinations have experienced dramatic reductions in the number of tourist arrivals, following the terrorist activities in certain countries.

Economic factors, including the individuals’ income and well-being, will affect their propensity to travel. However, this may not necessarily translate to an increased demand for all tourism products. For instance, if leisure travellers receive an increase in income, they may decide to travel to long-haul destinations rather than short-haul itineraries. Alternatively, these clients may increase the quality and standard rather than to increase their frequency of travel. Such customers may decide to upgrade their hotel accommodation, or to travel in higher classes. Income may affect demand according to the purpose of travel. For business travellers it may not make much difference, whilst for leisure travellers it can make quite a substantial difference. Their demand may also be influenced by the availability of substitute products. If there are no substitutes for the product, then consumers will be forced to buy regardless of price.

In addition, customers may develop perceptions about tourism products. Whether they are accurate or not, they could influence their purchase behaviours. Therefore the travellers’ perceptions, the online ratings and reviews should be carefully considered, as tourism products must always be purchased in advance.

Competition

The businesses should be aware of their competitors’ prices. They may decide to respond to their rivals’ pricing strategies, or to be proactive by taking the pricing initiative, themselves.

Responding to the Competitors’ Pricing Initiatives

There is no rigid method of responding to a price initiative taken by competitors. Every situation is unique. However, businesses are capable of making confident decisions if they examine the situation from different viewpoints:

At times, competitors may decide to lower their prices: It is not wise for other businesses to follow suit, unless they establish why their competitors are pursuing such a pricing strategy. It may be the case that the competitors have made a bad decision. It must be determined whether the competitors’ pricing initiative was a long term or a short term one. For instance, an airline’s poor fleet planning may result in the company changing its prices on a long-term basis. In such situations, rivals will have to respond or risk losing their market share. Price reductions will eventually lead to lower yields for the airline. As a result, this will have a negative impact on the airline and its long-term sustainability prospects. If the pricing initiative appears to be a short-term action, it is advisable to ignore it, and to avoid de-stabilising the market.

The price reductions on certain products may be questioned by the airline’s customers. As discussed above, the airlines may usually charge higher prices for their business and first class as these services are considered as prestige products. The airlines can differentiate themselves from competitors when they provide superior services; that are perceived as an index of quality and corporate image.

On the other hand, the airlines’ should continuously monitor those competitors who are resorting to price-cutting policies. Certain leisure markets may be more price-sensitive than others, as they may exhibit higher price-elasticity levels. The lower prices could result in an increase in demand for the economy class of service.

Taking the Price Initiative

Generally, businesses may avoid lowering their fares, as this will affect their bottom lines. Price wars have destroyed the profitability of many businesses. However, there may be a tendency toward price competition: when firms have low variable costs; when there is little differentiation among the competitors’ products; when industry growth rate is low, and; when the economies of scale are important. The businesses need to consider their cost levels before taking the initiative to lower their prices. The lean businesses who may have less costs, will usually be in a much stronger position to lower their prices than other competitors with high costs. However, more established high-cost businesses may have stable financial backing, which will enable them to meet, if not undercut, the new companies’ prices. They could eventually push their competitors out of the market.

An increase in price may be required if the business is facing controllable or uncontrollable costs. For example, if the airlines’ uncontrollable costs, include; increased airport landing fees and air traffic control charges; they may either decide to absorb these costs or alternatively, they may increase their fares as a means of covering these added costs. Of course, rival airlines will also face the same pressure. In such cases, the airlines could inform their customers about their uncontrollable costs, which have forced them to increase their fares. Ongoing corporate communications and public relations will help them to maintain their customers’ goodwill. On the other hand, the airlines’ controllable costs, including the employees’ salaries and wages, are under their direct responsibility. Such costs may not justify taking pricing initiatives to improve the organisation’s financial performance. They may even aggravate the airline’s profitability, in the long-term.

Legal and Regulatory Issues

Legal and regulatory issues may have an impact on a company’s pricing structure. Although, the airline industry has experienced deregulation and liberalisation in the past decades, there is still some government intervention, in certain areas. In international markets, air service agreements between governments necessitate that national airlines should meet and agree on the fares and rates to be charged to passengers. The agreed fare is brought back to both the airline’s governments who have the right to veto the fare. Should this happen, the airline concerned must seek to re-open negotiation.

Deregulation and liberalisation have affected the airlines’ pricing policies in many contexts. For example, liberalisation has changed the fares regime in the United States of America, in the European Union and in many other places. Today, several airlines have introduced lower fares which have contributed to increased travel. Moreover, the rise of the low-cost carriers has often resulted in lower air fares within pre-agreed zones. Evidently, pricing is increasingly being used as a competitive tool, in many contexts.

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A snapshot of the tourism industry in Malta

This article appeared on the The Sunday Times of Malta

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Malta is often portrayed as a safe and pleasant environment. Moreover, the smallest EU State was consistently ranked amongst the top countries in the world for its quality of life index. According to a latest economic impact report by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC, 2014), last year the travel and tourism industry in Malta has contributed to 13.6% of the country’s GDP. This figure is expected to rise by 5.6% during this year. WTTC (2014) reported that the tourism industry alone has generated more than 25,500 jobs, directly. This figure is forecast to grow to 27,000. It translates to 15.5% of the total employment in Malta and Gozo. Arguably, positive results do not come by chance. In the last decade the Maltese governments’ concerted efforts may have helped to ensure that our tourism industry remains a major contributor to the Maltese economy. The fruitful and collaborative relationships among tourism stakeholders also augur well for the sustainability of our tourism industry. Malta’s national tourism policy (2012-2016) builds on proactive frameworks of previous policies, whilst keeping pace with contemporary trends in travel and tourism.

A recent report (2013) by the economic policy department within the Ministry of Finance aimed to establish a strategy for accommodation development, whilst taking into account the type of accommodation required, the optimum mix, market developments, the market segments, limiting factors and environmental considerations. A number of actions have already been undertaken or are being dealt with in this regard. Emphasis is being placed on supporting investment in tourism product development by the private sector. This is being accomplished through the allocation of €120 million of EU structural funds (from the 2007-2013 programming periods) and additional national funding. Some €10 million were allocated to a Grant Scheme for Sustainable Tourism Projects by enterprises, including small and medium sized enterprises. This scheme directs funds towards the economic development of the tourism sector and is intended to support product upgrades, enhance accessibility, increase innovation, strengthen marketing initiatives and promote tourism projects that aim to tackle current challenges in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.
Given that a large number of tourism businesses in Malta are operating either directly in tourism or in related sectors; it is important to maintain or increase current tourist numbers and tourism earnings. While there is scope for any increase during the peak summer months, there remains room for significant improvements during the shoulder months. In response, Malta is seeking to attract tourists from a spread of markets which will be attracted by niche products. Some market segments may respect Malta’s unique heritage and may have the propensity and the resources to spend more. Malta is striving to make the islands more accessible for all. Two EU co-financed Calypso projects were implemented between 2009 and 2013. The first one focused on research analyses which define the present product offering. This project also identified certain areas which have to be addressed in order to untap the social tourism market. The Maltese tourism product and service quality can be differentiated to attract visitors with personalised services and accessibility needs. The second project was approved in 2011. Its major objectives was to assess the degree of accessibility within selected tourist zones around the Maltese Islands. It has also given recommendations for improvements. A special allocation was directed to the maintenance and promotion of rural localities by supporting the establishment of walking trails and small scale infrastructural interventions which, in turn improve rural and natural areas. This latter project is being co-funded through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
The Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) is increasingly focusing its energies on environmental initiatives. Today’s travellers are becoming more demanding on sustainability issues and green travel. This may pose a number of challenges for the industry practitioners to constantly update their methods of operation to be in line with the constantly changing market requirements. Eco-certification is the national scheme which ensures the environmental, socio-economic and cultural sustainability of hotels in the Maltese islands. It has been recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council as fully reflecting the GSTC criteria. The scheme was launched by the Malta Tourism Authority in 2002. Some 16.2% of hotel accommodation establishments, covering 3, 4 and 5 star categories (accounting to 32% of beds) in Malta are eco-certified (MTA, 2014).

In spite of the record figures in terms of tourist arrivals, bed nights and tourist spending, the tourism stakeholders are very aware that not everything in the garden is rosy. The ToM Business Supplement reported (27th March) about a number of unlicensed accommodation establishments who last year evaded VAT and taxes. It goes without saying that such accommodation establishments may have not been subject to any form of quality control on their product. Such unlicensed accommodation establishments may have also created some distortions in price structures, particularly for hospitality enterprises. Interestingly, another ToM article (25th March) featured a summary of some findings from an MTA research about the highs and lows of tourism in Malta. For instance, it reiterated the importance of improving aesthetics in Maltese tourism zones. It reported that eight per cent of visitors said they would not return to Malta. Apparently, some informants complained of a dirty environment, excessive building, bad experiences with accommodation, poor transport and unfriendly locals. This same article hints that MTA may set up quality assurance structures as it wants to measure sustainability. It mentions some of the challenges of the tourism industry and makes a few recommendations which resonate with the national policies.

In conclusion, this contribution suggests that frequent situation analyses (and longitudinal studies) may possibly give a better picture of our product offering and service quality. Certain findings may be an eye-opener for some stakeholders as there are some issues which will have to be addressed in the foreseeable future.

The views expressed in this article are my own – Drmarkcamilleri.com

 

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Consumer Behavioural Attitudes: Implications for eTourism

online

Last month, the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management in collaboration with Elsevier organised the 2nd World Research Summit for Tourism and Hospitality in Orlando. During this inspiring event, one of the keynote speeches featured some interesting findings from a national US survey entitled; ‘The Portrait of American Travellers’. This quantitative study consisted of 2,511 informants (who reportedly were active leisure travellers in 2013); who reside in households with an annual income of $50,000 or more (they also included “affluent travellers” with an annual income over $125,000); who have taken at least one leisure trip of 75 miles or more from home during the previous 12 months (who have used overnight accommodations).

The survey, which was conducted during February 2013, has provided an in-depth examination of the impact of the current economic environment, prevailing social values, and emerging media habits on the travel behaviour of Americans. Unlike most surveys in the travel category this particular study explained how consumers plan, purchase and share information about their travel experiences. It also revealed some of the underlying motivations that often influence travel decisions. Respondents were selected randomly and screened before they voluntarily participated in a 45-minute online survey. The study indicated that all tests of statistical significance were made at the 95 percent level of confidence.

In a nutshell, this American study has shown that the latest advances in technological developments and additional sources of information are increasingly influencing the tourists’ choice of tourism destinations. Apparently, travellers are becoming more frugal in their purchase decisions. They are often making smarter options, seeking better value and good deals in return for their money. Travel shopping sites such as Kayak and Dealbase have gained in popularity and are now used to make travel reservations by 28 percent of travellers. Interestingly, this figure rose from a mere 15 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, six in 10 leisure travellers (58 percent) typically use an online travel agency (OTA) such as Expedia, Travelocity or Orbitz to research travel. Yet, at the same time the use of OTAs to make travel reservations is down from 66 percent in 2010 to 58 percent in 2013.

Evidently, the tourism and hospitality enterprises have become cautious in pricing their products (and services) and they often resort to revenue management tactics. This study suggests that travellers are planning to spend slightly more on travel / vacations as 82 percent of the informants have indicated that they are planning to take as many (or even more) trips in 2014 when compared to last year.

Some of the most significant results of this study include:

  • Low Cost versus Legacy Carriers: Since the cost of travel remains a major issue in influencing leisure travel preferences, it follows that half of all leisure travellers (47%) prefer travelling on a low-cost carrier. Only three in ten (30%) prefer to fly on a full-service carrier. However, one-quarter (23%) have no preference. And it should be noted that leisure travellers are significantly more likely to prefer a low-cost carrier today than in previous years – in 2010 only 42% favoured such carriers.
  • Digital Marketing: More than eight in ten leisure travellers use the internet to either obtain travel information (87%) or make travel reservations (83%). 54 percent have downloaded airline branded apps, followed by hotel branded apps (38 percent), and destination guides (27 percent).
  • E-Commerce: More leisure travellers now access the internet via a smartphone (62%) than from the office (59%). Four in ten (43%) also now access the internet from a tablet. Access to the internet via tablets jumped from 7% of all leisure travellers in 2011 to 43% in 2013.
  • Mobile E-Commerce: Smartphone usage among travellers has nearly tripled since 2010, and the act of downloading travel-related applications has also increased dramatically – from 19 percent in 2010 to 36 percent in 2013. Among travellers who have downloaded travel related apps,
  • Social Media: Only 17% of leisure travellers with household incomes over $250,000 have confidence in the information read or seen on a social media site about potential travel destinations. This is significantly lower than the percentage of those with lower household incomes; 25% of leisure travellers with household incomes of $50,000–$124,999 and 21% with household incomes of $125,000–$249,999 have confidence in social media when considering vacation destinations.
  • Word of Mouth. Eight out of ten travellers (82 percent) expressed confidence in the recommendations of friends and family members when considering vacation destinations, while six in ten (58 percent) turned to online advisory sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor.com. Approximately four in ten travellers (41 percent) are confident in consumer reviews read on a blog, while slightly less (39 percent) are confident in articles found in newspapers, magazines, TV and radio.
  • Going Green for Green. Though eight out of 10 leisure travellers (79 percent) describe themselves as environmentally conscious, just 10 percent are willing to pay higher rates/fares for environmentally-friendly travel services, and only one in 10 (11 percent) has selected an environmentally-friendly travel service supplier who demonstrates environmental responsibility. Four in 10 (44 percent) indicated that they would probably choose an environmentally-friendly travel supplier who expresses concern about the environment over one who does not.
  • Consumer Outlook: Three-fourths of leisure travellers (73%) are optimistic about their own future and the future of their children (73%), while six in ten are optimistic about the future of their job (62%) or company (61%).

For more information about these latest travel and tourism industry insights are also available on MMG Worldwide.

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Key trends in Tourism for 2014

itb

The annual ITB World Travel Trends Report has indicated that Asia is among the major forces driving the international tourism market. According to IPK International, many Asian countries have experienced impressive growth in travel and tourism. In a nutshell, their findings indicate that the Chinese are becoming frequent travellers as their affluent Japanese neighbours are spending considerably less in tourism and hospitality products. Apparently, the Chinese market is now the world’s number one when it comes to travel expenditure. This report also suggests that Chinese tourists rank second for travelling abroad and are fourth for overnight stays.

In 2012 the Chinese citizens have made around 45 million trips abroad and spent approximately 84.4 billion dollars. Overall, international departures from Asia have increased by eight per cent during the first eight months of 2013. It is the Chinese market which has actually contributed towards this trend. There was an astonishing 26 per cent increase in Chinese travelling internationally over the previous year. On the other hand, the Japanese have travelled less (i.e. -2 per cent). For 2014, the Chinese people are expected to travel even more than this year, as departures are forecasted to increase by around 18 per cent.

In a similar vein, this year’s arrivals in Asia were very encouraging. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), between January and August, international arrivals grew by 6.3 per cent when compared to 2012. There was an increased demand for Southeast Asia and Southern Asia as tourism arrivals grew by 12 per cent and 6 per cent, respectively. There was a growth rate of 4 per cent in the Pacific region. Arrivals in northeast Asia rose by three per cent.

The Chinese market was the most eager to travel among other Asian countries. Their holiday stay (which exceeded four nights) have risen by 28 per cent, whereas short trips / weekend breaks have increased by around 21 per cent. This sharp surge in tourism figures shows that the Chinese have emerged as the world biggest spenders, averaging around USD 1,765 per trip. Apparently, their main reason for travelling abroad is for holiday / vacation purposes. Such trips rose by 30 per cent this year. City breaks and beach holidays also became very popular for this market segment. At six per cent, the business travel market (which also comprises MICE) grew moderately on the previous year.


Typically, the Chinese travelled mainly within Asia, while long-haul trips to Europe and America followed in the second place. Interestingly, this travel boom is set to continue as experts are predicting that the Chinese will be just as eager to travel during 2014. Around 44 per cent of the respondents from China declared that they intended to travel more next year. Although, only seven per cent of Chinese citizens earn more than 15,000 dollars a year, the country’s competitiveness and economic growth prospects are bringing a demographic shift that is characterised by a fast-growing, wealthy middle class. This is in stark contrast to other Asian nations such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. For instance, international trips in Japan fell by an overall two per cent, while overnights and spending dropped by three and six per cent, respectively. To add insult to injury, the business travel market has suffered even worse than holiday trips in Japanese destinations. Generally, there was a downward spiral in demand for long-haul destinations. In 2012, long trips have dropped by around 20 per cent in the Asian continent. This was largely offset by an increase in city breaks and beach holidays. Very few of the respondents from Japan said they wanted to travel more than this year despite Japan’s economy is on the road to recovery. It is likely that the Japanese market will probably stagnate in 2014.


By and large, tourism forecasts are indicating a growing eagerness for travel and tourism over the next few years. This is mainly attributed to the Chinese economic growth and its expanding middle class, that is both educated and young. Moreover, the emerging low cost carriers in the region are making travelling much easier and affordable.

More information is available here: http://www.ipkinternational.com/en/read-news/article/34/?cHash=28b716052bd119810a0926c5bd416005

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