Three research trends defining travel, tourism and hospitality

May 25, 2016

Two weeks ago, Chief Development Officer Derek Eccleston guided a room full of research professionals through the MRS first Travel, Tourism and Hospitality event in over 20 years. Following on his first post sharing key thoughts and learnings from the day, here Derek elaborates on some of the research trends defining the industry.

It was a fantastic honour to lead a group of like-minded and passionate research individuals through the recent MRS Travel, Tourism and Hospitality conference. With over 30 speakers from across the sector discussing key trends and sharing the very latest in travel research approaches, it was a rare opportunity to discuss with the very best what the future might hold for the travel industry.

Thanks to the growing trend surrounding customer experience, research and insight is coming to the forefront. Businesses are becoming more customer centric and therefore there’s an even greater need to listen and understand customers.

There were three key research trends that shone through across the course of the day, each with better insight at its heart. 

Be Agile

Breakthroughs often come from a spark of creative thinking. Or flexibility. Or both.

Take the Wellcome Trust who operate under tight budgets so as not to impinge on the organisation’s substantial commitment to worthy causes. Facing a desire to get deeper into actual customer journeys, but lacking the budget for a full blown ethnographic study, the insight team recruited from their own staff and trained them to be ethnographers for the day. The insight was cost-effective and powerful

The elusive truth

The notion that customers cannot always be relied upon to accurately articulate their own needs and desires was a common theme from some of the larger international brands.

Delta Airlines asked customers what they wanted to eat on board. ‘Salad’ came back as the answer. An analysis of the debris left behind by passengers, however, told a different story. Hardly an ounce of steak was left uneaten, versus a veritable compost heap of returned salad.

As one presenter explained “95% of thinking is in the sub-conscious”. Therefore, if respondents consider their response to a question for too long, they are not acting as they do in the real world.

Applying this thinking, IHG pursued an implicit approach to their large conjoint study. Simply, participants were ‘timed out’ and marked as neutral if one from a choice set was not selected within a defined (and short) time window. The logic being that system 1 responses are how consumers make decisions and we should replicate this in surveys to get to the truth.

Emotion is king

The needs and wants of leisure (rather than business) travelers lean heavily towards the emotional.

Whilst this topic could fill a conference on its own, it was addressed in great style by a couple of sessions.

Semiotics and projection techniques are vital to understanding the emotional need-states of consumers and in relation to the latter, Transport Focus has implemented a bespoke, non-linear, visual response set to evaluate how customers feel at the end of a journey.

Meanwhile TUI shared some fascinating insights to explain that emotion is personal. We all want relaxation on holiday, but some view this as resting, while others relax by being active. Holiday suppliers must understand this and build relevant experiences around the customer.