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A Blog for Plog

Scott Vogel

I recently spent a very illuminating half-hour on the phone with Stanley Plog, a man whose name ought to be better known to travelers. It's Plog, after all, who for decades has conducted market research for some of the biggest names in the travel industry. It all started in 1967, he says.

"The airlines were just introducing jets at that time and their seating capacity was growing 20% while the percentage of passengers flying was growing at only 8%." Plog interviewed scores of people who weren't flying even though they appeared to have the income, presented his findings to the airlines and -- boom -- an unlikely career was born. (Why unlikely? Plog was a Hollywood musician by trade; his trombone can be heard on the soundtracks of "White Christmas" and three Elvis movies.)

Over the years, Plog developed a system whereby consumers were divided into six categories based on their relative preferences for -- I'm being reductive now -- either novelty or familiarity. It's a breathtakingly simple system, and yet one that's proved useful to everyone from the beer company Molson to several import car companies to, especially, many players in the tourism world.

And now, thanks to the magic of the Internet, Plog's algorithm is available free of charge to the public at his Web site Best Trip Choices. Its intent is to help travelers discover what sort of "travel personality" they possess (after they take a 15-question quiz) as well as some destinations and experiences compatible with those personalities. At opposite ends of the six category scale are "venturers" -- the kind of people who go to exotic places where no one else seems to go -- and "authentics" who want to find all the comforts of home wherever they travel and prefer no surprises whatever the destination.

Most of us fall somewhere between these two, hence the four other category types. I'm a "centric venturer," for instance, which sounded kind of glamorous until I discovered that 30% of the public shares my personality. I and my ilk enjoy long drives through the European countryside, shopping sprees in New York and the occasional cruise.

There is a fortune-teller's vagueness to some of the insights, but there's valuable advice too, particularly regarding destinations that pair well with personalities, and the advice will only get better as more travelers log in, define themselves and tell the site their travel preferences.

Speaking of insight, given Plog's 40 years spent studying the travel industry, I couldn't resist asking him how the tourism landscape has changed. He had some very interesting thoughts.

"In the last 7-8 years, travelers have become immune to anything that could go wrong." It used to be, Plog noted, that whenever there was a single plane crash, the entire airline business would suffer for approximately 18 months. Similarly, when there was a mass poisoning on a cruise ship, the entire cruise business would suffer for 6 months. "People used to believe accidents happen in threes," he said.

Of course, plane crashes and cruise ship poisonings still make the news but "they don't stop bookings anymore." After the 2005 terrorist attacks in London, Plog said, there was no noticeable drop in visits by Americans to the United Kingdom. In fact, "the only bookings that dropped were from British people outside London."

And remember the 2003 SARS scare in Hong Kong? Well, travelers don't, at least on the evidence of bookings. Who's going there, by the way?

"There's been a dramatic rise in the number of young single men traveling to Hong Kong," Plog said. He seemed genuinely surprised for a moment, as well as surprised that he was surprised. Like he should have known it was coming or something.

By Scott Vogel |  November 29, 2007; 10:55 AM ET  | Category:  Online Resources , Scott Vogel
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I tried out the site and scored as a midventurer. But I was disappointed in the recommendations. About the most adventurous destinations the site lists are Indonesia and Thailand, neither of which I consider off the beaten track. I was hoping for pointers to places like the Solomon Islands or Moldova, not France and Hawaii.

Posted by: Xenophilia | November 29, 2007 4:04 PM

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