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Reasons Why

Why do your customers travel with you?

A new study released in October gives some interesting insights into the motivations of people who take packaged tours. Compiled by the Cornell College of Business and commissioned by the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA), the study surveyed more than 600 travelers, many of whom have traveled with groups recently.

The researchers who did the study asked the participants numerous questions about their experiences with packaged travel and the reasons they chose to travel with tour operators instead of arranging their own trips. They found that the packaged travel customers could be divided into two distinct categories. Most chose to travel with operators because of the service and convenience they offered. A smaller contingent, however, relied on tour companies to provide guidance and security when exploring faraway places.

The first segment, whom the study authors dubbed “Tailored Service Trippers,” represented 72 percent of the tour customers served.

“The Trippers use packaged travel because it makes their vacations worry-free by taking care of logistics and ensuring they are safe,” the authors wrote. “They also have a higher overall perception of packaged travel providers, primarily driven by the benefits they associate with packaged travel.”

The second group of customers, identified in the study as “Guidance-Seeking Globetrotters,” took packaged trips less frequently and tended to book with tour operators only for very specific kinds of trips.

“Globetrotters turn to packaged travel when looking to visit an unfamiliar destination, particularly one they haven’t previously traveled to and/or where they do not speak the language,” the authors wrote. “They look to packaged travel to help them navigate the destination and manage local customs.”

I found this new research pretty interesting. It’s helpful to understand why people are drawn to packaged travel. Knowing what your customers want in a trip can help you build more satisfying products, refine your company’s marketing approach and help you find new clients who have similar tastes to your current travelers.

As helpful as this information is, though, the study tells only part of the story of packaged travel. USTOA’s active membership comprises 57 of the largest tour companies in the country that operate trips under 160 brands. Many sell their products through travel agents. As a result, the study focused mainly on the travelers who bought retail tour packages and traveled with big companies.

What the study missed were the hundreds of smaller tour companies that serve their local communities and sell directly to customers, building relationships that last for years. And it overlooked the thousands of group leaders and volunteer travel coordinators who plan trips for their churches, community groups, affinity clubs or even just old friends.

If the researchers had surveyed these smaller operators and their customers, they would have found another major motivating factor in the group travel industry: community.

People might come on your trips because they appreciate the convenience, security and expertise you provide. But they’re also coming because of you. They enjoy the friendship you offer and the kinship that comes from traveling with a community of people they know and enjoy.

As you plan your travel lineup and your marketing plan for 2019 and beyond, keep the importance of community and relationships in mind. Your travelers can always find someone else to package a vacation for them. But they won’t find another you to go along on the trip.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.