The search for meaningful experiences will govern consumer shopping habits in 2012, particularly when it comes to their travel choices.
Growing interest in travel for health and wellness reflects this consumer hunger for meaning. So too does interest in sustainability, and consumers are looking for new and innovative travel experiences in this realm as well.
Much of the search for meaning will be driven by baby boomers entering retirement who seek new opportunities for fulfillment. But that’s mostly true of older boomers; younger boomers have less time and far fewer travel dollars to spend.
And no matter what choices consumers make, it’s increasingly likely consumers will look to mobile technology to guide them.
These are among the conclusions of trend and marketing experts who spoke with Travel Market Report about consumer desires and expectations in 2012. The experts identified five key trends that will drive travel in 2012.
Understand the motivation
For agents, awareness of the forces driving consumer choices is particularly important, because those forces are deeper and more complex than in pre-recessionary times, according to trend consultant Daniel Levine.
“My challenge to agents is that there are a lot of products out there, but it’s important to understand what’s motivating people to spend right now,” he said.
Levine cited two motivations in particular – concern with the environment and the desire for time with family and friends. “One way to analyze whether you can sell something is to consider if it embraces these trends: Does it do something that it is interesting green-wise? Will it bring people closer to friends and family?”
Trend #1: Meaningful experiences
People with the means to pay are just as willing to pay a lot of money for travel as they were back when the economy was booming, but now they want travel to deliver a more meaningful experience, Levine noted.
“People are more value conscious now – and also conscious of their values,” he said. “They are looking at self-growth and at helping others.”
This trend, which took hold after the economic meltdown in 2008, is no mere fad, he said. “It will be with us for a long time. Bank balances go up and down, but what do you have left?
“Perhaps this trend of focusing on what’s important is the silver lining of the economic downturn,” Levine said.
Hotel companies and other suppliers have taken note, he said, citing programs for travelers who want to give back to local communities.
Trend #2: DIY health
A do-it-yourself (DIY)) approach to health is among the top consumer trends for 2012 identified by Henry Mason, director of research and analysis for Trendwatching.com.
He sees DIY health as having major implications for the travel industry.
“Consumers are going to great length to find products, services, treatments and experiences that promise overall well-being, but that are also fun, interesting and accessible,” he said.
“Wellness-related tourism, from yoga retreats to undergoing complicated medical operations, is a great example of this trend.”
Trend #3: Green, with a cool twist
Today’s consumers care about green issues, but their eyes may glaze over upon hearing that a hotel is LEED-certified or that it has a great recycling program. These days, consumers want green to have a cool twist, according to Levine.
“If it’s something exciting that embraces the green trend, consumers will respond,” he said.
“For example, the York Hotel in Toronto has beehives on the roof and invites guests to come up and see the beekeeping operations. There’s a club in Rotterdam with a dance floor that generates electricity when people dance.”
Trend #4: Generational differences among boomers
While it’s no secret that baby boomers will be an even greater source of travel business this year, Levine said it’s important to realize there are actually two different generations within the demographic, which is normally defined as everyone born between 1946 and 1964.
“The older half is a completely different market than the younger half,” he said. While older boomers are entering retirement, younger boomers are wondering if there will be adequate benefits for them to retire at all.
“The younger ones, who are in their 40s and 50s and are actually the bigger half, are still working and much more worried about money.
“Whenever the media talks about baby boomers and what they want, they are only talking about the older half. There are two demographic shifts going on, not one.”
Trend #5: Mobile, mobile everywhere
Both Levine and Mason identified mobile technology as a huge and growing force behind consumer choices. Mobile devices are being used for everything from flight check-in to finding a restaurant within a two-block radius that serves eggplant parmesan.
“What it means for tourism is that people are making decisions closer to the time that they do those things,” Levine said. “If you want to visit a park and it’s raining, you consult your device about museums.”
While Mason believes that in 2012 consumers will continue to do most of their travel research at their desktops, he said agents should get involved with mobile by helping clients find the best destination apps for their trips and, better yet, launching their own apps or co-branding with existing ones.
“With consumers increasingly able to serve themselves in many areas of the booking process, travel agents should consider how they can become brand butlers and deliver additional services, tips and assistance,” he said.