Who’s That Sleeping In Your Bed?

When delegates head to Vancouver’s Western Canadian Hotel& Resort Investment Conference in October, they won’t want to miss one of Canada’s foremost demographic futurists. Andrew Ramlo is the man and the insights he’ll share on what’s happening within populations across continents is the stuff dreams are made of.

Mr. Ramlo is Director of Vancouver-based Urban Futures Institute, an organization that specializes in helping business and industry understand how demographic and economic change will affect them in the future. For the last fifteen years, leading edge developers, investors, retailers, municipalities and a long list of others have turned to Urban Futures for help in developing strategies to manage change.

According to Ramlo, hospitality operators who pay attention to demographics can reap noticeable benefits when mapping out strategies related to marketing, brand positioning, development of service offerings and projecting growth. “Most people know their businesses well, however they can become so tied up with the day-to-day challenges that they rarely have the opportunity to look at the big picture that changing demographics represent” he says. “The impact of changing demographics and economies isn’t often a topic for the executive think tank, yet they’re both crucial parts of the overall panorama. What we do is bring some definition to that landscape.”

On the surface, demographics appear to change at a snail’s pace, but as Ramlo points out, when small changes are added together, they begin to have a cumulative effect and in turn, big impact. For example, in 1971, the typical Canadian was 10 years old. Today, that same average member of the population is in his late 40’s. “The post-war boomers are still the largest demographic group in Canada, accounting for a full one-third of the country’s population,” he continues. “However, look at how they’ve changed. Their buying habits, tastes, trends, preferences and values have evolved as they’ve grown older. Those ever-changing preferences have a lasting impact on how we do business today. We’re constantly being challenged to find the most effective way to sell the right value to the correct group at the optimum time.”

If that single clue has you thinking that you’ve mastered the magic of demographics, Ramlo quickly underscores the importance of other influences that are just as crucial to the unlocking the puzzle of a diverse population. “You can look at demographics and the effect that aging has on preferences, but that’s looking at the subject in the broad sense and it’s only part of a much more complex picture”, he says. “In past, demographers often looked at shared life experiences as holding major clues to the preferences a specific group might exhibit - those who were raised during a recession, for instance, but there are an ever increasing range of factors at work. In Canada today, we have to look beyond the consumer’s age and consider a host of variables that have entered the milieu. Ethnic origins and cultural influences are two that quickly come to mind and when we’re looking at the lodging and resort market, there are clearly a number of additional influences that affect how we position a business or how we deliver a strategy. Immigration has had a huge impact on business across the board and it’s no different when we’re talking about accommodations and relaxation. Religion, ethics, social beliefs and eating choices are all part of the picture, as is the economic ability to purchase services”.

Another influential factor is the issue of extended life expectancy. “We don’t pay much attention to the fact that people are living longer these days, notes Ramlo. “It’s just something we take for granted. However, the issue of an extended life expectancy has resulted in notable changes to the activities older Canadians are undertaking. Likewise, growing numbers of them are working longer. Part of the reason is to remain vital, but for many, continued income means a better style of living and more opportunity to indulge in life experiences. They’re travelling more, they’re buying vacation properties, and they’re exploring the world around them. Couple those trends with the fact that per capita household spending on travel accommodation and recreation property are highest in the 55 to 64 and 65 to 74 age categories and that signals ripening opportunities for the lodging and resort markets”.

When questioned on his sense of how the hospitality market stacks up as an investment choice, Mr Ramlo references the changing populations on the other side of the globe. “There’s a burgeoning market of new millionaires that’s virtually expanding daily” he notes. “Try a Google search using China and new millionaires and you’ll be amazed what the results show. There are currently a million new millionaires in the country and they’re spending their money on luxury goods, life experiences, travel and vacation villas. For Western Canadian hotel and resort operations, timeshare holders and those who want to invest, the Asian market and its growing numbers of newly affluent consumers represent opportunities that deserve close consideration”.

Closer to home, Ramlo also points to the growing US population. “In the next 10 to 12 years, the population in the United States is expected to grow by 27-million people. The decade after that, another 28-million. A good portion of this growth will be the result of immigration, however the birth rate will also be responsible for increasing the youth market. For Canada, that’s a growth sector that’s equal to adding the current total population of our country each decade. Surely it must represent an important part of marketing plans, expansion programs and growth projections for our industry here at home”.

Demographics isn’t just the study of human populations, its the impact that those populations have on the market. And, while demographics might not be at the top of an entrepreneur's day-to-day must-do list, it's a factor that clearly can have a major impact on success. Ignoring demographic changes in your geographic market really means you're not paying attention to your future, something that Ramlo makes quite clear when he comments that demographic change will disrupt some businesses while unlocking opportunities for others. “The important thing is to gain the knowledge, the insight and the information on growth and change that will allow each of us as business professionals to map out a viable strategy for the future”.

Andrew Ramlo is a featured Keynote Speaker at the upcoming Western Canadian Hotel& Resort Investment Conference, scheduled for October 12 and 13 at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre Hotel. Registration for the conference is available online at: www.hotel-resortinvest.ca