In today’s market, travel and tourism have become less expensive and more accessible for greater percentages of the population than ever before. The internet - through the proliferation of online travel agencies, discount travel websites, travel review websites, and social media - has created a space where those with strict financial constraints can still experience the world without breaking the bank. Often referred to as the budget traveler, this sect of the travel and tourism market is still a sizable portion of the traveling public, and one the travel industry would be foolish to write off even as global travel grows more and more attainable and commonplace.
But who is the budget traveler? What does this breed of tourist look like?
If travel companies would be ill-advised to ignore budget travelers, then it only make sense the industry understand the needs, wants, and desires of this customer pool to best position products and services of greatest appeal and importance.
Recently on the blog, we’ve looked at several breeds of the modern traveler: millennial, experimental, adventure, and foodie. And while budget travelers certainly share some of the characteristics of these other travelers, budget travelers are comprised of some pretty differentiating qualities.
With that in mind, here are 4 traits of the modern budget traveler, and how travel agencies, travel management companies, and tour operators can best align their practices to these traits.
Because often times booking a trip months ahead of time can steeper discounts on airfare, lodging, and activities, budget travelers tend to complete bookings long before their departure date in order to ensure the greatest overall savings. Studies show budget travelers do quite a bit of research before completing a booking - much like today’s millennial traveler, who relies heavily on the internet and social media for information about services and destinations - but these same studies indicate budget travelers do turn to travel agents, guide books, and other traditional modes of information to help sort through the wealth of content and unearth the most feasible destinations and activities for their budget.
Travel companies who understand this can leverage ‘early bird’ discounts to appeal directly to budget travelers, and they can also position themselves as the friendly, knowledge face of a certain destination or travel package to make budget travelers feel more confident and secure in their purchase.
A beach vacation in the middle of winter? Not likely. But a tropical getaway during the spring or summer months? For the budget traveler, this is a much more common scenario. Because the beach is much less crowded - AKA rates on hotels and other accommodations dip quite a bit - during the warmer months, today’s budget traveler is more likely to take in a tropical vacation then rather than during peak times. Budget travelers are likely to avoid major holidays altogether, and once arriving at their destination, they also trend toward avoiding peak times when it comes to excursions or activities.
Tour operators who understand this concern can have greater success promoting off-time activities to budget travelers, such as early morning or late evening tours and activities, and can use the off-peak nature of these activities as active selling points.
Open to Hotel Alternatives
The rise and proliferation of the sharing economy in today’s travel industry through the emergence of Airbnb and other such shared lodging platforms has been an added value for budget travelers who were seeking such services as alternatives to costly hotel rates and fees. Whereas just ten years ago hostels and other shared lodging opportunities were havens for budget travelers, the internet has allowed for the budget-conscious tourist to secure relatively comfortable, luxurious accommodations for often a fraction of the price of big hotel chains.
For travel companies to remain competitive in the eyes of budget travelers, discounted room rates for lodging with fewer amenities - shared bathrooms, micro hotels, and so on - can be key to driving budget travelers back to hotels. In addition, many budget travelers are willing to sacrifice location for more reasonable rates - for example, lodging near the airport versus in the center of the city.
The Importance of Authenticity
As with millennial, experimental, and adventure - in fact, nearly all younger generations of today’s travelers - authenticity and experiencing the heart and soul of a destination is a key driver in where budget travelers decide to visit and for how long. In part due to necessity - budget travelers obviously don’t have the resources luxury travelers enjoy - but also because of predisposition, budget travelers are willing to trade time and convenience for truly unique cultural experiences that highlight or showcase the traditions and heritage of the place they’re visiting.
Much like how they appeal to other, more adventurous market segments, tour operators should capitalize on the cultural relevancy and individualized nature of the tours and activities they promote for budget travelers - for example, today’s budget traveler may have little interest in a costly, curated wine tasting at a downtown bistro, however, a less expensive bus trip out to the actual vineyard where the wine is produced would hold much significance and meaning.
Much like the modern pop music industry, today’s travel and tourism landscape is becoming more and more fragmented, divided into distinct customer pools that travel companies must appeal to in different ways to attract these customers and remain competitive and growth-oriented. Budget travelers may be one of the most difficult market segments to attract given their strict financial diet, but they can also be a positive value proposition for travel companies, especially in emerging outbound markets where travel and tourism is just beginning to become a viable leisure expense.