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How Greater Palm Springs used Near’s data to understand visitor origins and visitation patterns

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Situation

Greater Palm Springs has long been a popular destination for visitors both driving from nearby markets like Los Angeles and San Diego, as well as tourists flying into California domestically and internationally.  The Greater Palm Springs area includes 9 cities – Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio and Coachella – and is renowned for outdoor experiences, health and wellness, and arts & entertainment.

Greater Palm Springs attracts 14 million visitors annually, with 6.4 million of those visitors staying overnight. One in four jobs in the area is in the hospitality industry, and the overall economic impact of tourism for the region is $7.5 billion. With the pandemic, the region saw direct spending reduced by $3.4 billion, a 54% drop.

To navigate this tremendous shift, the team needed insights and data on where visitors were coming from and what they were doing while visiting to adapt their strategy.

Challenge

Greater Palm Springs needed more precise insight into where their visitors were coming from, especially as they work to strengthen partnerships with travel trade / airlines. Because Palm Springs International Airport serves only flights from the US and Canada, there was no airport-sourced data on visitors coming from overseas. Periodic visitor profile research offered some view, but didn’t give the real-time perspective needed, especially with rapidly shifting patterns during the pandemic.

The team at Greater Palm Springs was looking to better understand their source markets to help them:

Know how to best dedicate resources for marketing

_________
Work with airline network planners in developing new routes and expanding existing services

_________
Validate and cooperate with international markets to grow this source

_________
Provide local hospitality partners with data to improve their marketing efforts

_________
Navigate the challenges presented by the pandemic

_________

Solution

Greater Palm Springs partnered with Near to access monthly data on visitor origin markets, length of stay data, and information on what visitors did while in town.  This data enabled the team’s decision-making and strategy in multiple ways:

Knowing how to best dedicate resources for marketing

The data Near provided gave validation on where best to dedicate resources for marketing. This included data on where people were coming from, the relative share of overnight visitors from different locations, where they stayed and explored, and the length of stay for those visitors.

The marketing budget has represented a large portion of the overall budget for Greater Palm Springs, with the media plan deployed across Digital TV, OOH, social media, SEM and other channels. The data from Near helped validate the source markets and channels the marketing team has focused on, while providing the opportunity to uncover insights on emerging segments.  The data from Near ultimately provided a security blanket to know the millions of marketing dollars they are spending were validated.

Working with airline network planners on developing new routes and expanding existing services

The data from Near helped the team collaborate with the airline network planners on routes, which was especially useful in responding to the changes during the pandemic. The data helped inform and validate recommendations for building new airline routes or extending routes for certain seasons. Thanks in part to these recommendations, Palms Springs International Airport has set ten monthly passenger records since June 2021.

In addition to their work with the Palm Springs International Airport, and due to the fact that Palm Springs does not receive direct overseas flights, the team at Greater Palm Springs was able to gather intelligence on other regional airports (LAX, San Diego, Orange County, Ontario) to understand where visitors were coming from in terms of US point of entry, and where visitors were going to from those airports.

Understanding international markets to grow this category

Through the intelligence Near provides, Greater Palm Springs was able to validate the top overseas markets for visitors to the area as UK, Australia, France and Germany, and continue to maintain offices in those locations.  With the Near data in these markets, they were better able to generate PR & trade in these key markets.  The data also gave the team an opportunity to learn if other markets have greater impact than they thought.  The team does project work and periodic trainings in markets including Italy, Scandinavia, India, South Korea and Japan, and the data is helpful to validate and expand activity in those and other markets as needed.

The international market represents an important opportunity for the destination, as international visitors stay longer, spend more, and are more likely to visit during the summer months when Greater Palm Springs historically tends to be less busy.  With their work targeting international markets in recent years, Greater Palm Springs has seen occupancy growth during the summer outpace peak season growth with a 17.2% increase in summer in the past decade (versus 13.3% for peak months January – May).  Additionally, the Average Daily Rate (ADR) for leisure guests in the summer months has also grown by 34.7% in this same period.

Providing local partners with data to help their efforts

The team was also able to provide the Near data to local hospitality partners to help them understand their business and make smarter resource decisions. This data on where hotel visitors come from, and what they’re doing while they are visiting can help inform marketing decisions, as well as promotions and packages.  For example, if data shows that visitors to a specific hotel are more likely to come from New York City, the hotel can focus their marketing efforts on that market.  In this way, the data can validate where hospitality partners are focusing their resources.

Finally, the data is also shared with the leadership of each of the 9 cities in the Greater Palm Springs area – each of which has a member on the board of the organization – giving them the ability to develop plans that are based on data and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. 

Navigating the challenges presented by the pandemic

As the Greater Palm Springs area is primarily a tourist destination, the economic impact of the pandemic was significant with direct spending reduced by $3.4 billion annually. During this time, visitor patterns shifted significantly, and with that the team needed to shift resource allocation, airline route focus, and more. Thankfully, Greater Palm Springs fit the bill of what many leisure travelers were looking for during the pandemic – a place with good weather and no crowds, which was also driving distance from Southern California cities. Greater Palm Springs attracted greater than usual numbers of leisure travelers, which made up the gap for declined convention business which historically made up 40% of visitors and business. With the growth in the leisure segment, Greater Palm Springs was within 2-3% of 2019 levels of occupancy by June 2021.  

Our partnership with Near has provided our organization with quality data to validate strategy and resource allocation along with gaining new insights into visitor profiles, originating source markets and their movements within the destination. Since the data is consistently updated and customizable, we are finding new ways to incorporate the data in real-time along with educating our local hospitality businesses to better support their internal programming. Everyone at Near has always been responsive and easy to work with while also accommodating all our requests.”
Gary Orfield
Director of Tourism Development, Greater Palm Springs

Results

Through their partnership with Near, Greater Palm Springs has been able to use data to validate strategy and decisions in many ways.  While the overall ROI contributed directly through their work with Near is challenging to measure, the data helped the team:

  • Make the case for developing new routes and expanding existing services for flights to Palms Springs International Airport, which reached record numbers of monthly passengers starting in June 2021.
  • Understand and grow international travelers coming to Greater Palm Springs, which also helped grow occupancy, with a 17.2% increase in the past decade, outpacing leisure growth for peak months January – May while also growing leisure Average Daily Rate (ADR 34.7%). 
  • During the Pandemic, Greater Palm Springs attracted greater than usual numbers of leisure travelers, which made up the gap for declined convention business which historically made up 40% of visitors and business. With the growth in the leisure segment, Greater Palm Springs was within 2-3% of 2019 levels of occupancy by June 2021.  

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