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How to leverage consumers’ current travel sentiments

Currently, there is indeed a heightened consumer awareness around travel, notably with much of the conversation in the US focused on travel bans and increased airport security.  There is no denying that safety is on the forefront of consumers’ minds – 61% of Americans agree that they are “always concerned about their safety and security”, according to a recent study from GfK Consumer Life.

But how does this affect consumers and their attitudes and behaviors towards travel?  Travel is actually one of the last things that Americans are willing to give up – only behind their mobile phones (and ahead of other indulgences including dining out, out-of-home entertainment, and hobbies).  In fact nearly three-quarters of Americans have traveled for leisure in the past 12 months (60% of those by plane).  It is probably safe to assume that at least a similar number would like to continue to do so in the future.

Building on experiences

Rising personal values of consumers that include learning, open-mindedness and internationalism suggest that Americans are open to new experiences when it comes to travel.  In addition, 63% of Americans agree that they ‘always like to experience local culture and foods’.  Concurrently, industry trends show that international travel was up 6% in 2016 vs. 2015.

How does this reconcile with the current shakeups within the travel industry?  Well one particular case is that advancements in technology are allowing for consumers to experience travel like never before.  The evolving wants and needs of the connected consumer continue to push for new innovations in travel.

Incorporating relaxation

Prioritizing experiences does not necessarily mean everyone is looking to go the backpacking-rugged-adventurous route.  R&R is also sought after – 54% (+6 pts from 2012) of Americans prefer a vacation where they can relax and take it easy (vs. only 38% looking for “active” vacations where they can do/see a lot of things).  This can probably be attributed to the increased stresses of life today – stress levels have hit an all-time high by some metrics (54% of Americans feel stressed at least once or twice a week, the highest point since GfK started tracking more than two decades ago).

This can have implications across a wide range of categories – from food to technology to wellness… anything that will help them unwind during their travels.

Opportunity: The appeal of business travelers

One consumer target that can be especially attractive is the business traveler, with their overall affluence and spending tendencies (along with the notion that they probably would be less affected by any changes in consumer sentiment around travel, since it is tied to their careers). About one in five Americans have traveled for business in the past 12 months.  Priorities of course shift – work takes precedence and companies typically handle expenses.  So it comes as no surprise that 75% have stayed at hotels/accommodations rated at 4-stars or higher (+29 pts from the average traveler).  And proper sleep clearly is more important – 71% of business travelers agree that they need to sleep really well (+13 pts from the average traveler).

Other opportunity areas that resonate with the business traveler include: health (80% actively look for health products/services, +13 pts from average travelers); technology (61% say they are passionate about tech, +28 pts); and small indulgences (81% look for novelty/fun in everyday products, +17 pts).

Conclusion

The recent dialogue within the travel space seems to suggest increased consumer anxiety. Yet brands and companies should not let that be a deterrent – travel is still a mainstay within Americans’ lives.  Both new experiences and relaxation can be drawn upon to give consumers true pleasures in their travels – while business travelers continue to have strong appeal across many facets.

Mihir Bhatt is a Senior Consultant on the Consumer Life team at GfK. He can be reached at mihir.bhatt@gfk.com.

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