Today on the blog we begin a three-part series examining the evolution of the travel industry during the last 14 plus years. Since 2002, a number of seismic shifts have taken place within the travel industry that have had a massive impact on how companies operate and travelers experience the world. The goal of this series is to discuss the major milestones in the travel industry’s evolution from the perspective of the traveler/consumer, the industry’s major players, and the technological advancements that have transformed the industry into a powerhouse of global commerce.
In this first entry, we’ll look at the traveler and discuss the changes in available tools and the mentality buying behavior throughout the last decade and a half.
It’s an understatement to say the world has changed drastically since 2002. At seemingly the same time, people become both more and less connected through advancements in technology and 24/7 access to information, goods, and services. The world is simultaneously much larger and much smaller than it was just 14 years ago, and the way industries function in today’s world bears little resemblance to global business climate of the year 2002.
And the travel industry is a prime example of this evolution. Technology and a greater emphasis on global commerce and connectivity have been core drivers in shaping the industry into what it is today. But even though the industry itself has come a long way since 2002, one could argue the most transformed aspect of the travel landscape is the traveler. A traveler in 2016 is not only more informed, knowledgeable, and empowered, they also play a larger role in defining how travel companies manage their products, services, marketing, and customer relations. Traveler’s in 2016 have a powerful voice in how travel companies operate as well as the tools necessary to make their voices heard.
The technology and mentality/buying behavior associated with the modern traveler are three critical touchstones in the evolution of the travel industry, and each element has its own significance in tracing the recent history of the travel landscape as well as plotting its future.
You can’t discuss the evolution of the traveler without looking at the tools at their disposal - and in this case, specifically the internet. The rise this technology has perhaps been the most disruptive aspect of how the industry has developed since 2002, particularly in the ways it's shaped how travelers engage with the industry in general. From the early days of travel review websites to the today’s surge in mobile technology, the internet - and the way travelers have utilized it - has given consumers greater power and leverage to effect real change in today’s travel industry landscape.
Travel websites. Right around the year 2002 is when the industry experienced the advent of travel review websites like TripAdvisor which gave customers the ability to review hotels, destinations, and other bookings, as well as share information with other travelers across the globe about travel companies, tour operators, and other industry players. Websites like TripAdvisor also gave travelers the power to curate their own travel experiences without the help of a traditional travel agent or travel company.
Online travel bookings. Priceline. Expedia. Orbitz. While these online travel booking sites existed prior to the year 2002, their popularity soared with larger portions of the globe attaining reliable internet access. The emergence of these websites provided travelers with an insider’s view in terms of how travel agents used to plan and package bookings. This insight gave travelers the confidence and platform to research and purchase their own travel bookings with greater speed, ease, and convenience. In addition, the rise of online travel booking sites created higher expectations in the minds of travelers as they grew accustomed to have a variety of options and price points with the click of a mouse. Today, online travel bookings have shifted yet again from the Pricelines or Expedias to a more peer-to-peer marketplace model like AirBnB where travelers arrange their own accommodations with other travelers, determine their own pricing, and define their own availability and benchmarks for success and growth.
Social media. Though somewhat recent evolutions in the travel industry, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are direct descendants of those original travel review websites like TripAdvisor. Travelers can not only connect with other travelers by sharing information, videos, and pictures about their travel experiences, but they can also communicate directly with travel agents, travel companies, tour operators, and more via social media accounts. In addition, the rise of messaging apps on the sites has recently provided travelers with a direct, real-time line of communication between both other travelers and travel companies themselves.
Mobile. The latest disruptive element in the technological evolution of the traveler, mobile capability has redefined how and more specifically when travelers research, book, and review travel bookings. Mobile apps and 24/7 connectivity make it easier than ever for travelers to interact with the industry, which means customers have adopted an I want it now mentality. This shift in behavior has not only impacted what travelers expect from travel companies, but it’s also raised expectations in terms of the time investment customers feel is appropriate in researching and booking a trip. Mobile technology has also greatly impacted how travelers share information with other travelers because much of this sharing is done in real-time as the travel experience unfolds.
Mentality & Buying Behavior
It would stand to reason the evolution of the tools available to today’s traveler would also impact the mentality and buying behaviors of the modern customer. The internet, social media, and mobile technology have been so disruptive to the travel industry that today’s traveler has experienced some significant shifts in how they view travel bookings and the ways in which they actually purchase their accommodations.
First, as we briefly discussed earlier, the speed, ease, and convenience associated with the internet and mobile capabilities has created a real-time mentality where customers expect services and products to be available on a 24/7 basis anywhere in the world. Because today’s travel consumer spends so much time on-the-go and connected via their smartphone or tablet, consumers expect travel companies to meet them where they live - online - and engage with them across various platforms, whether that means travel review websites, social media, or even messaging apps.
Secondly, the ability to access travel research, information, and bookings at any time with the technology in their pocket has allowed travelers to be both more leisurely and impulsive in how they complete bookings. Research indicates today’s traveler conducts hours upon hours of research before actually making a booking. As a result, travelers are less likely to engage with traditional travel agents or tour operators in completing bookings because they can access the same information, products, and services at their own pace without feeling pressure to make a purchase. However, as with many millennials, adventure, or experimental travelers, the ability to make complex bookings on a phone or tablet has also resulted in consumers acting more impulsively and making bookings based on whims or seizing last-minute deals and discounts offered by travel companies.
Both of these developments in the mentality and buying behavior of today’s traveler highlights just how closely linked technology and human responses, and how the desire for speed and convenience with travel technology has driven consumers to prioritize this above other concerns.
However, one of the more interesting turns in buying behavior has been the recent emphasis on personalization and individualization. Perhaps as a reaction to the often faceless interactions travelers experience when researching and booking travel in today’s digital landscape, customers are now seeking interaction, conversation, and help in curating their travel bookings, whether from traditional travel agents or OTAs. Instant messaging apps and other direct lines of communication are driving customers to seek travel experiences tailored to their personalities with the personalized touch that comes from working with another human being. It’s a delicate balance and one consumers are beginning to rank as a top priority when researching and making travel bookings.