With the arrival of the summer travel season, Razorfish, in conjunction with VICE Media Group, released findings from a new research study that aims to understand what makes a memorable travel experience for today’s price-conscious traveler. The study, titled Epic Travel Experiences of the Thrifty Traveler, unpacks the motivations and desires of budget travelers who seek and craft epic travel experiences in the face of rising ticket prices, high fuel costs, and inflation.
Travel brands need to understand how best to navigate these dynamics so that they engage with their audiences in the most targeted and meaningful way. The study explores the new mindset of these thrifty Gen Z and millennial travelers, and it seeks to define the new “essentials” of what constitutes a rewarding travel experience for them.
For two years, consumers were immersed in safety precautions that kept them closer to home. But now, as travelers emerge from COVID-19 lockdowns and mandates, the travel industry anticipates what some call the summer of “revenge travel,” with bookings already booming despite economic headwinds. There is no denying that changing consumer attitudes and behaviors, coupled with 40-year high inflation, have transformed the travel landscape. In turn, motivations around travel, the way consumers approach their planning, and their expectations of the experience have changed irrevocably.
True immersion doesn’t have a hefty price tag
A major shift in the travel landscape includes the perception of a “memorable experience.” Gone are the days of a 5-star luxury hotel stay to convey one’s vacation status. Instead, consumers today look at the holistic travel experience to determine its worth. The study found that 75% of respondents say the trips they value the most are ones that do not cost a lot of money. Further, 40% are willing to spend half or more of their travel budget on a highly curated moment or experience. Forty-seven percent of travelers, and 55% of Gen Z specifically, say that spending a lot of money on a trip could even dilute a more immersive and authentic experience.
In fact, with extended remote work policies, 75% of people are open to a digital nomad lifestyle, and 42% want the opportunity to “live” in a new place, rather just visit it. Further, 40% of travelers expect to forge a connection with the local culture and community while 87% say stumbling upon an activity on a trip is more rewarding than planning for it.
Consumers want personalized experiences that create stories to tell
All travelers agree that it is important to have a personalized journey, regardless of budget. According to the Razorfish study, two in five respondents stated that the purpose of a trip is, “to capture a singular, epic moment,” while 90% of respondents believe the most important keepsake from a trip is a story to tell about it. But, today’s travelers also value personal enrichment: 79% believe that traveling isn’t about getting to a new place, it’s about how you grow as a result of the journey.
No two travelers are alike
Despite a common desire for bespoke, curated experiences, generational differences emerge when it comes to emotional drivers: 43% of respondents (52% of Gen Z) want to get out of their comfort zone and 39% (50% of Gen Z) want a sense of risk and excitement while traveling. Gen Z specifically seeks out a sense of suffering, with 64% (42% overall) saying the more complicated the journey (e.g., multi-leg) to arrive at a destination, the better.
The study also found marked gender differences in how men and women get their travel inspiration. For example, 73% of women (vs. 55% of men) seek travel inspiration from friends, family, and coworkers, and 24% of men turn to news sites (vs. 14% of women). Gender also plays a role when it comes to:
- Lodging: 66% of women are more likely to stay in an Airbnb while 38% of men prefer an all-inclusive resort
- Experiences: 58% of men say the purpose of a trip is to capture a singular epic moment vs. 28% of women
- Transportation: 38% of men will splurge on transportation vs. 68% of women who are more cost-conscious
“The public health, cultural, geo-political, and economic shifts over the past few years have undeniably transformed the travel industry,” said Malavika Rao, Senior Director, Brand Strategy at Razorfish. “Pent-up travel demand and rising inflation have created a unique confluence for travel brands. As individuals re-enter the world of travel, brands need to understand how to best leverage their resources to create the most valuable engagements and experiences that align with evolving traveler expectations despite today’s macro pressures.”
“Consumers today view themselves as a traveler instead of a tourist—the term traveler carries cachet,” said Julie Arbit, Global SVP, Insights at VICE Media Group. “This view is due to the numerous global events over the past two years that have had an effect on consumers’ expectations and desires around travel. Gone are the days of mundane travel--for business or leisure--and instead, consumers now look for spontaneity and excitement in their adventures. Travel brands that provide the opportunity for consumers to step outside of their comfort zones will come out on top at the end of this busy summer season.”
Travel brands need to understand how to navigate the evolving landscape and meet the shifting priorities of today’s travelers. With this in mind, Razorfish recommends that brands remember:
- No two travelers are alike: Understand where needs converge and diverge, and personalize your experience to different travel segments.
- Elevate the experience: Sell the benefit, not just the journey.
- Keep it 100% authentic: Think like a local, market like a local.
- Travel choices are influenced by culture: Understand the true sources of inspiration and intersect them in the moment.
- Stories are the ultimate currency: Ensure there are ample opportunities for people to write their own.
- Reimagine the value exchange of travel: Entertainment is short-lived; enrichment and transformation are forever.
Razorfish and VICE Media Group conducted two phases of research in the US. During Phase 1, Razorfish conducted 12 one-hour IDIs with members of VICE and Refinery29’s online communities, VICE Voices and Mad Chatter. These participants had traveled within the month leading up to the interviews and classified their trip as low budget/cost-conscious. Phase 2, February 4 - February 21, 2022, consisted of an online survey. Razorfish quantified learnings using an online survey that included 548 Gen Z and Millennial VICE and Refinery29 audience members. These respondents were recent travelers and incorporated elements of low budget/cost-conscious travel in their trips. The budget element was important to carry through both phases in order to illustrate how to create accessible epic experiences at any price point.
Of the 12 budget travelers interviewed, 100% were millennials and 50% female, 50% male. Of the 548 budget travelers surveyed, 25% were Gen Z and 75% millennials; 53% were female, 47% male and 3% nonbinary.
Katie McGovern, SourceCode Communications
David LaBar, Razorfish