CEOWORLD Magazine Interview
Kaloyan Valentinov Danchev, also known as Valentino Danchev, is the President of Fidelis Marketing Group. Over his career, Mr. Danchev has been involved in many aspects of the travel and tourism industry in Mexico. He shares his insights here:
How has the travel industry changed in the last 10 years?
International travel has been growing steadily for decades, making it the world’s third largest export after chemicals and fuels. In 2008, US travel and tourism was a GDP worth $1.29 trillion. Now it’s an estimated $1.57 trillion industry that’s projected to reach $2.4 trillion in 2028 – a huge growth spurt if it happens.
Less popular destinations have been creeping up the travel charts toward France, the US, and Spain. As of 2017, Mexico has become the world’s eighth most visited country, followed by Thailand and Turkey, and Latin America has experienced the largest overall growth.
The Millennial generation has become the largest generation of consumers, as well as the largest generation of travelers. As globetrotters, they’re venturing off the beaten track in search of more authentic travel experiences. Meeting their thirst for adventure and authenticity is one of the travel industry’s most rewarding challenges.
What are some of the biggest drivers of change going forward?
In one word? Millennials. Millennials now represent $50.4 billion worth of travel consumerism in the US alone. Their attitudes and preferences about travel are the ones driving the industry. In another ten to twenty years, it’ll be Generation Z. That’s why the travel industry forecasts to have grown so much by 2028 – because Gen Z is calculated to be the largest cohort yet. They’re also expected to take many Millennial attitudes about travel, etc., to the next level. In the meantime, it’s important to get inside the Millennial mindset.
Among other things, this generation wants adventure, and above everything, it wants authenticity. In some ways, Gen Y evokes the decade of optimism that followed the horrors of the World Wars before the sociopolitical upheaval of the ‘60s and ‘70s. But their idealism is counterpoised by a skepticism that makes them almost impervious to marketing. If they buy something, it’s because it appeals to their sense of novelty and adventure, not because they actually think that driving a fancy car or drinking a popular brand of alcohol is going to make them celebrities. Their alleged “irresponsibility” is largely imaginary. As travelers, they’re curious about the world and want to explore it for themselves. They also place a large emphasis on health and wellness, and are more environmentally aware than previous generations.
Another factor is technology. If Millennials are driving the industry, social media is their vehicle of choice. Thirty-eight percent use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share brands, products, and services that they’ve found online. Sixty-two percent are more likely to be loyal to a brand that has an interactive social media presence, which allows them to voice complaints or inquiries. That’s why social media management has become a fulltime job.
With so much online research and booking, is there still a place for human guidance in the travel industry?
Absolutely. Travel agencies are a booming industry. In fact, the market for travel agents has actually increased. Millennials want someone friendly and knowledgeable to walk them through the process of researching and booking their vacations, especially at the luxury level. Travel agents know the industry like the backs of their hands and have working relationships with accommodation managers, transportation organizers, and event staff in their geographical areas of expertise. It’s thanks to technology that they’re able to research and book their clients’ travel adventures virtually from anywhere in the world. Oftentimes, travel agents and their clients become more like friends.
Luxury travel means different things to different people. How do you define it?
To me, luxury travel means having a unique travel experience with high-quality amenities and service. Thirty-six percent of affluent travelers – those who earn at least $125,000 annually – are luxury travelers. According to one survey, 53 percent of Millennial respondents said that they’d prefer to stay at a full-service hotel or resort, and 35 percent said that they’d rather stay at an upscale resort. Ninety-two percent of luxury travelers believe that the memories they make more than reimburses them for the added cost. In other words, they’re willing to invest in a short-term financial loss for the sake of long-term personal enrichment. It’s all about value and perspective.
ow do you reconcile Millennials as luxury travelers with their desire for authentic travel experiences?
“Authentic” doesn’t necessarily mean “down-to-earth.” For Millennials, the emphasis is on accumulating experiences, not possessions. Possessions are merely a byproduct of their desire for unique travel adventures. Travel can be expensive, whether you take luxury vacations or not. It takes a lot of money to be genuinely spontaneous, to jump on a plane without having to worry about losing your job or how you’re going to pay for it. If it were less expensive to have a truly novel or exotic travel experience, Millennials would be thrilled. They don’t travel for the prestige, per se, but for the novelty. It’s all about access to them, not accumulation.
What have been some of the keys to Fidelis Marketing Group’s success?
Fidelis believes in fidelity, respect, perseverance, force, and teamwork. We listen to our customers’ needs and hand-tailor our services accordingly. This means being open to new ideas and having the flexibility to evolve with the times. This is a good business practice for any company to follow, but it’s particularly pertinent to the travel industry. Right now, Millennials’ emphasis on unique, high-level travel experiences is dominating the field, and similar mores are expected to leak over into the next generation, Gen Z. Keeping tabs on the up-and-coming generations is a key business strategy in societies that are driven by technology and youth.
What specific resorts do you recommend? Why those resorts over others?
All the resorts that Fidelis is affiliated with have achieved a high level of excellence, but some certainly stand out more than others. If you’re looking for high-end luxury with impeccable service, you can’t get much better than Grand Luxxe Nuevo Vallarta and Grand Luxxe Riviera Maya. Of all the distinctions that Nuevo Vallarta and Riviera Maya have received, Grand Luxxe resorts are the only two that have earned AAA’s coveted Five Diamond Award for superior services. This is in addition to a Cristal Certification for hospitality and a Distinction “S” recognition for environmental sustainability from UNWTO, EarthCheck, and the Rainforest Alliance. This is particularly important for Millennials who don’t want their high-end vacations to cost the environment.
How can agencies and resorts compete with the growth of rental platforms such as Airbnb?
Airbnb can be a great service for those who enjoy planning their own vacations, but research shows that the other half prefers to place that responsibility in more capable hands. Some people don’t have the knowledge to plan an intricate travel itinerary for a place that they’ve never been, and others simply don’t have the time. The kind of travelers who book their own vacations at an Airbnb are probably more likely to backpack across Europe or in the Himalayas than they are to vacation at a luxury resort. So, you’re essentially dealing with polar opposites in terms of affordability, perspective, and priorities. As I said, only 36 percent of affluent travelers are luxury travelers. If you’re vacationing on a limited budget, Airbnb can be an attractive option; for others, it’s the only option. But for an increasing number of Millennials, the cost of a full-service resort experience is worth knowing that they’ll be staying in safe, private accommodations with high-quality amenities. Their desire to “live like the locals” doesn’t include “roughing it” while trying to relax and rejuvenate.