The New Travel Consumer: Limitless Options

This is the second 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.

History is littered with examples of new technologies that have disrupted and catalyzed the travel and tourism industry. Jet airliners, the personal automobile and the internet have all played a significant role in changing how, why and where we travel. Throughout the isolation and quarantine of 2020, consumers have had to adopt a plethora of new technologies such as online shopping, video conferencing and food delivery services. In the “New Travel Consumer” article series, we consider the implication of this technology adoption on the travel consumer mindset and expectations.

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During the pandemic, many of us have gotten very used to using food delivery services like Uber Eats. What does a simple application like Uber Eats teach us? What did it train us? How did it adjust our mindsets as we became customers and users of this technology? One result is that we became very used to having limitless choices, and not just in food or restaurants. We welcomed multiple options when it comes to payment and delivery. We also appreciated the customer care that was provided as the service was being executed. We have an estimated arrival time. We know who is delivering the food. We know when the food actually leaves the restaurant and is with the driver. We are provided with an abundance of information regarding a very simple order, that in many cases cost no more than $40. What makes us think or believe that someone spending perhaps 10 times or 20 times that amount on a vacation is not going to have the same expectations that Uber eats provided them out of a mere $40 order?

The new consumer has grown accustomed to these limitless options. Nevertheless, as a travel professional, are you able to offer limitless options and would you want to? According to behavioral economics, when a consumer has too many choices to choose from, they have a difficult time making a decision and often choose not to make a decision. This phenomenon is called “choice overload” and is especially prevalent when the consumer has to consider multiple options that only differ slightly. But yet, having seemingly limitless options works for Uber Eats.

The reason why “seemingly limitless options” works for Uber Eats and other food delivery services is because the food options are easily categorized by cuisine, type, cost, etc. Most people don’t go to a food delivery service without an idea of the type of food that they want. The bottom line here is that consumers will want the perception of limitless choices. However, it needs to be organized and presented in a way that is not overwhelming. Here are three ways that you can achieve this result:

1. Presentation

Presentation is all about the looks and user experience. Travel marketing professionals can help to mitigate the effects of choice overload by having a simple and uncrowded appearance to the choice offering. An e-commerce site allows customers to filter and sort by a multitude of categories such as travel type, level of service, price and destination, and then it displays three to five results per line.

2. Simplify With Binary Choices

Binary choices, such as yes/no, are often the easiest choices to make. Consider offering customers a tiered choice set. Give customers three to five products to choose from initially; then offer upgrades and add-ons once they have made their initial decision. This simplifies the choice system to a set of binary choices, while giving the appearance of having many options.

3. Default Options

When customers experience choice overload and decision fatigue, they often choose the default option. Set a default option that is typical, the one that is most often purchased. Don’t use your most expensive product as the default because it may turn away would-be customers when they see the high price point. Likewise, don’t choose the lowest-priced product either. This may make the customer weigh all of the upgrades and add-ons into the price which will lead to decision fatigue. For example, consider an Irish travel company that often created self-drive packages that incorporated a manual car as the default option. But, driving on the other side of the car and on the other side of the road while driving a manual car isn’t everyone’s idea of a vacation. So customers would often upgrade to the automatic car. To mitigate customers’ decision fatigue, the travel company started including the automatic car as the default option in these packages. This small change had a significant impact on the conversion rate of leads into sales. Not sure what to set as the default option? Conduct market research; analyze past sales and market data; conduct a survey, or even enlist a focus group. This type of research can help marketing professionals to understand the customer better.

COVID-19 forever changed the landscape of the travel and tourism industry. As we begin to rebuild, it is important to consider the ways that the travel consumers’ mindset has also changed. In the next article, we consider how the new consumer has become accustomed to personalization.

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