This is the first of five articles co-written by Sandra Thomas-Comenole and Frank Belzer on the “New Travel Consumer”. The articles in this series delve into the concept of how COVID-19 and the quarantine impacted the travel consumer mindset, preferences and expectations, as well as offer ways that travel professionals can meet these new expectations.
In his classic book “Connections”, the great historian James Burke helps us to understand how pivotal events in history had a long tail effect. That one idea paved the way for another. Additionally, the combined impact of different and often seemingly unconnected inventions changed history forever.
We could certainly apply a similar methodology as we examine the tourism industry; looking for pivotal events and moments of holistic change. Imagine, for example, how the mind of the consumer was transformed forever with the invention of the steam train. People were now able to travel faster and for much longer distances than they had ever done before. Suddenly an entire country was now opened for travel and exploration.
The demographics of the travel consumer also changed dramatically. Not only was this new mode of transportation faster and widespread; it was also less costly. Travel was unanticipatedly more affordable for the common working people. Paradigms were changed forever. Expectations were elevated for everyone. There was a sense of possibility and hope that had not existed before.
Examples of technologies that have changed the travel and tourism landscape, as well as the travel consumer mindset, are numerous. Jet airliners, the personal automobile, the personal computer, accessible personal credit, the internet and the cellular phone have all played a significant role in changing how we travel or where we travel. Most importantly, new technologies and cultural shifts have contributed to a change in how we view travel, how we perceive it and what our expectations would be when experiencing it.
Typically, when these shifts have occurred, providers, such as tour operators, travel agencies and even OTA’s, have simply had to scramble and adjust as best they could to the changing landscape. Wouldn’t it have been nice if at some point when one of these shifts occurred, we had anticipated it? How refreshing it would be to get ahead of it, to be prepared for it and ready to do business in a way that satisfied the thinking of a new consumer.
As we are, hopefully, emerging from the crisis of 2020; we are starting to observe the impact of new vaccines, restructuring of travel protocols and a general wanderlust. We are hopeful that the business will return, travelers will start traveling and the travel industry can start recovering. But will travel just pick up exactly where it left off? Or has the crisis surrounding COVID-19 provided yet another catalyst that might have disrupted travel consumers enough to prompt them to start thinking in a different way? Is it possible that what has occurred over the past 12 months will change the mindset of the consumer once again? Are we on the threshold of dealing with a new consumer – that has new concerns, more questions and higher expectations? Are new travel consumers looking for something different when it comes to planning and booking travel? Is it likely that, when business picks up again, they will not return in the same manner they used to?
Let us reflect on a few of the possible trends that have developed over the past year and think about how these might have an impact on the travel consumers’ mindset. To think that 12 months in isolation and quarantine has not forced many to adopt new buying patterns or to some degree, a new way of thinking just does not make sense.
People that never would have ordered from an online retailer have suddenly made that a weekly practice. People that have never used streaming services are suddenly well-versed with providers like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Consumers who have never thought they would use video conferencing services are now regularly conducting meetings, both social and business, using platforms like Zoom or Microsoft teams. The post-COVID consumer will be more digitally savvy, be used to having more choices than they have ever had before and are accustomed to very high levels of service.
The “New Travel Consumer” article series will consider the implication of the regular use of new technologies and their impact on the travel consumer mindset and give practical ways that marketing professionals and travel executives can meet the demands of the new travel consumer.