In the ever-shifting global marketplace that is the travel industry, not all trends have serious impact. Some could generously be described as gimmicky (selfie-drones and underwater hotels, anyone?), whereas others seem to reflect a tangible change in consumer and supplier behaviour.
Three 2017 buzz-terms that fall into the latter category are personalisation, transformative travel and ‘bleisure’ – the clunkily named practice of combining business and leisure travel. But how much substance do they have, and are they indicative of an actual shift in attitudes and activity?
This is no flash in the pan. Many modern travellers don’t just value online personalisation – they expect it. It’s about more than addressing customers by name. It’s about targeted banners, bespoke itineraries, interactive marketing, and more. Increasingly, a successful supplier is one able to anticipate what a traveller will be looking for before the booking process has even begun.
“The travel industry is constantly having to adapt to consumer expectations,” explains Patricia Simillon, Head of Strategic Marketing at travel technology firm Amadeus. “Why? Because travel is booming. We already have four billion annual travellers, and the number’s increasing. So airlines and hotels need to compete, and the only way to do this is to differentiate.”
An independent study by software company Monetate has shown that websites personalising their customers’ online experiences see sales upturns of some 19%, while a survey by Amadeus itself indicates 86% of travellers now value personalised offers. It’s a palpable trend.
We already have four billion annual travellers, and the number’s increasing. So airlines and hotels need to compete, and the only way to do this is to differentiate
And the key to personalisation? Knowing the customer. “Predictive analysis is becoming ever more important,” she continues. “It boils down to how much data they have on you. Knowing whether you’re travelling alone with your family, with friends or for business. Understanding the different levels of importance you’re placing on convenience, on the price of the experience and on the product itself.
"The more that suppliers can do that, the more they can put together a trip that’s not only answering your real-time needs but answering your upcoming needs.”
Adding a leisure component to a business trip is certainly common. According to a 2017 study by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), more than a third of US business travellers extended a work trip for leisure purposes in the past twelve months, while a 2016 consumer trends report from trade publication Travel Weekly found that some 17% of leisure trips have a business component.
But is the bleisure concept more prevalent now than it has been? “From our research, there’s no hard proof that it’s growing a lot,” says Jeanne Liu, Vice President of Research at the GBTA. “We might be talking about it more now, but it’s really something that’s been around for a very long time.”
Its potential benefits, however, are now more widely recognised. “There’s now some proof that allowing business travellers to combine a business and leisure trip has impact on their overall job satisfaction, which might lead to better employee retention,” she continues. “That’s why we’re hearing more about it.”
Allowing business travellers to combine a business and leisure trip has impact on their overall job satisfaction
So why isn’t it soaring? Partly because there are other factors to consider. The timing of a trip might not lend itself to a longer stay, and the destination itself might not be attractive for leisure purposes. There are liability issues to consider too – if an employee extends a Wednesday-to-Friday business trip, for example, the company could still be liable for the welfare of their employee over the weekend.
“As a trend, I don’t expect it to drastically increase or change,” says Liu. “For many business travellers it’s simply a matter of finding the time. Our lives are busier than ever.”
Most probably as a result of the hyper-busy, hyper-connected lives many people now lead, the idea of a trip or holiday that offers personal growth and challenge holds genuine attraction. And more so now than ever. Recent research from the Adventure Travel Trade Association shows that gaining a transformative experience is now the number one motivation for adventure travellers.
The increase in travellers seeking more from travel has even led to the foundation of the Transformational Travel Council, which defines the term as ‘any travel experience that empowers people to make meaningful, lasting changes in their life'. So why now? “People feel out of alignment, out of sync,” says Co-Founder, Jake Haupert. “They’re looking a little deeper to identify what’s important.
"It’s a shift in the mindset,” he continues. “Every trip is ultimately a rite of passage. We all have problems and frustrations, and travel should be looked at as an opportunity to engage and reflect.”
It’s something, perhaps, that all areas of the industry could benefit from understanding. “The segment we call ‘seekers’ are the ones that represent an enormous opportunity in the market,” believes Haupert. “They’re ambivalent to what’s currently available, particularly in the overly curated luxury travel space, where the focus is on entertainment and service as opposed to fulfilment and genuine engagement.”