So perhaps you grew up here and do not spend a lot of time analyzing our area from the perspective of our visitors. The tendency of people who are born and raised in an area is to take for granite the very things that people are taking their vacations to come see.

In my job I get to work with tourism professionals all over the southeast. We study the demographics of people and places. Why do they choose a destination? What are their ages, gender, hobbies and interests, income and level of education? These factors all play a role in how we promote our destination. We need to know who will visit us by first determining the audience for the things we offer. This is done through getting to know our visitors and why they came here and what was their attraction to us. Tourism research provides a lot of this for us. We know from generational marketing professionals about what each generation prefers for their travel experience. Income and education play a role in this in addition to the generation they are part of. For a reference here is the basic generational breakdown. These dates change sometimes as more research is available:

• Gen Z, iGen, or Centennials: Born 1996 and later

• Millennials or Gen Y: Born 1977 to 1995

• Generation X: Born 1965 to 1976

• Baby Boomers: Born 1946 to 1964

• Traditionalists or Silent Generation: Born 1945 and before

Baby Boomers are our primary visitors at this time, and they have been for several decades. They like scenic drives and hikes, they like quaint settings, and they like to camp, stay in B&B’s and rent cabins. They like flea markets, farmer markets and mom and pop owned restaurants and bars. The people that visit us have fairly high family incomes and are well educated. They are coming primarily from our large metro markets within a 175 mile radius. They love the fact we do not have a lot of traffic, they love our seemly wide open spaces in comparison to what they have at home. They are cost conscientious so the fact our food, lodging and daily costs are low in comparison with many areas. Overall the single largest attractors we have are our scenic beauty…mountains, valleys, waterfalls and woodlands.

The Baby Boomers are an aging demographic (I am one of them) and the challenge for us is to continue to be an attractive destination for Gen X, Millennial and Z generations. They each have their own preferences for destinations. At this time we are doing fairly well with Gen X but weak on Millennials. They are adults now, many are in the workforce. They are not materialistic. They like to spend their money on experiences instead of “stuff”. They like good food, bars, breweries, wineries, music, biking, kayaking, zip lining, they will ride a mountain bike all day and when the day is done they want a good restaurant that is fun. They communicate and get their information on smart phones and will seek their travel information on Trip Advisor or social media. They do not trust or like paid advertising. They want to read about someone else’s personal experience. Many will not go to a restaurant or lodging facility without checking to find out what real consumers think.

In the next decade, many baby boomers will begin a decline in travel and Gen X and the Millennial will take over the largest population of travelers. It will be up to us to market our destination to target them. It is important that our cities and towns in DeKalb have the offerings this generation wants or we will lose important tourism dollars to other cities and towns that created the things to do and places to visit that these generations want.

I think we are moving forward, pretty good, but will need more infrastructure for these generations, hiking, biking trails and a whole template of extreme sports and adventure sports with a lot of restaurants, bars, music and electronic adventures and venues that keep them engaged in our area.

— John Dersham is president and CEO of DeKalb Tourism.

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