Last updated: How to understand your travel customers and their needs

How to understand your travel customers and their needs


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With current customer management tools, companies are able to amass an incredible amount of data about travel customers preferences and choices, allowing them to customize their offerings to different traveler types.

Personally, I can be a bit finicky when it comes to my air travel, the hotel in which I stay, and where I dine on the road. Some would call this “high maintenance,” but I prefer to call it “confidence in knowing what I like.” We all have preferences when we travel, so it’s important to understand your traveler customer and their needs.

Beyond queen or king: Traveler customers have detailed preferences

Beyond “aisle or window” on the plane, “queen or king” in the hotel and “compact or very compact” at the car rental counter, technology allows us to suggest options to the different types of travelers based on past selections or their segmentation.

For example, I have a rule I won’t eat at a restaurant that also has a location in my home city. Cuban food in Miami, green chile dishes in Albuquerque, BBQ and fried chicken in Memphis — the list goes on forever. This forces me to explore local options and get a sense of the local cuisine instead of eating the same food I can get at home.

However, I’m a seasoned business traveler and my likes are probably very different from families traveling with small children. They might embrace the familiarity and predictability of a chain restaurant where they know what their kids will eat, minimizing the dinnertime drama.

The parents know that they can get that Hawaiian-style pineapple and ham pizza at the franchised pizza restaurant, eliminating a potential conflict with the kids. This, however, violates my rule on pizza – no fruit, no vegetables (the stray black olive or mushroom is acceptable) – just pig, cow, and cheese. I was raised in the Midwest and this is how pizza is made in Chicago. And never Ranch dressing. Never.

Segmenting your travel customers

It’s important to segment your offerings for travel customers via different traveler types.

Let’s discuss a few:

  1. Business: This person wants service, speed, and convenience with less emphasis on price. They’re typically not thrilled about being away from family and want as few disruptions, distractions and annoyances. I actually have in one my hotel profiles that I prefer “Room on a high floor, away from the elevator.”
  2. Luxury: These travelers are willing to pay a premium for the ultimate experience, desire a peaceful and relaxing experience. Their whole purpose for the journey is likely something as a reward or special occasion, with price not necessarily being their key decision-making factor.
  3. Family: Typically this group is looking for things like convenience, amenities (is childcare available for Mom and Dad’s date night? Is there a pool?), and they may not have a desire to pay for a luxurious environment.
  4. First-time and occasional traveler: This is a group that I believe is often overlooked. Did you know that 95% of the population travels once or not at all each year? I’ve been traveling since I was a youngster and have seen many things, but a new traveler might be intimidated by everything from airport security to selecting a seat on the plane to paying for meals on a flight. This group tends to be the one requiring extra guidance and “hand holding” on the journey.

How to make the travel experience better

Let’s dig a bit into some of how one can be easily overwhelmed with the travel experience. My wife travels a few times a year with me and could never understand why I was so adamant about getting to the airport early and ensuring an early boarding position. I’m well over 6 feet tall, but at 5′ 4″, she has no problem putting her bag under the seat and still being comfortable, but I jam everything in the overhead so I have a place to put my feet – I want to get on early so I don’t lose access to that overhead storage. (Hmmm, maybe if airlines offered an easy way to get some extra legroom for a reasonable price, they would target us tall guys and other “full size” travelers.)

Similarly, arriving late in the evening at the hotel, the business traveler is probably well aware of how late room service is available, but a first-time traveler may have no idea that there’s no restaurant at their selected hotel and all local places have closed, leaving them to eat frozen burritos from the corner market. Not an ideal situation if you’re new to travel or are traveling with young children.

This can all be achieved by asking the right questions at the time of booking and tracking customer preference and purchases with an effective CRM system and loyalty program. A restaurant may only get one chance to delight a customer and it’s important the offering match the traveler’s needs.

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