Why do you travel?

I have walls of books and gigabytes of data on what has been written (including my own) about travel, the journey, and why human beings feel drawn inexorably to move around the planet. I wonder if the industry needs any more. Then I remember that my work is like that of a storyteller, to bring forward stories (mine or others) and re-tell them in a way that excites, surprises, and delights. My work is to reveal how the timeless motivations of human movement can transform the way we work as industry leaders and as participants in the globe-spanning choreography of travel.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked across the travel industry my entire career. I have worked in the bowels of travel technology (in Sabre’s top-secret, underground computer center in Tulsa), made multiple visits to Amadeus’ data center in Erding and the SNCF data center in Lille; B2B, B2C, B2B2C, B2M; worked in positions from programmer to president; and oversaw travel fulfillment of most types in 90+ countries.

My question is the same: why do you travel?

I am a firm believer that the journey itself is far more important than the origin or destination. However, my conviction is growing that many in the travel industry have overlooked a fundamental truth about humans moving from point A to point B. In general, we have focused on logistics, with only a small subset focused on the lived experience. And we assume that just because humans need to travel, we can operate businesses that serve necessity or luxury and little else.

I think that by investigating the depth and complexity of that need, we can unlock new opportunities and recreate raving fans like never before.

Before you throw up your hands, saying, “Jim, the travel industry is on life support due to covid-19, we’re just trying to stay alive, not rethink our philosophy of travel,” please bear with me for a moment.

No one is more empathetic about the suffering felt in the travel industry than I am. I love travel and everyone who makes it possible. I hurt for the millions of people whose livelihoods have evaporated, and the millions of stuck travelers. Although it’s too soon to predict how things will look when this pandemic subsides, when it does, I will be on the front lines with you, helping put things back together.

Over the past couple of weeks, I attended several webinars by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), Skift and TCG Consulting regarding the state of travel, and what’s next. Each brought unique dynamics together (investors, suppliers, travel management companies, corporates, and industry expert consultants). I have also spent a fair amount of time with leaders in the leisure travel space, each surmising how their businesses are affected and will return.

The world has been forced into an unnatural winter. We can only guess when it will end. And because I love this industry so passionately, I will say a hard thing: if we can’t operate business as usual, then we must use the time to do the deep work we wouldn’t have had time for under normal conditions.

What I’m writing about is a foundation for doing that deep work.

An established framework

Let’s start with a framework for understanding the reasons why people travel. This will help us look at the consumer experience with new eyes.

You’ve probably heard of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Introduced back in the 1940s, this theory of psychology has informed how we prioritize the things humans need to be healthy, happy, and fulfilled.

Here’s an example of Maslow’s hierarchy (Figure 1):

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Figure 1: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The pyramid is built from the bottom up, with physiological needs supporting everything else. I’m not going to explain each tier in Maslow’s hierarchy — there are plenty of psychologists and therapists who can do that for you. All I’m after is the concept that humans have definite needs, and they can be organized in a logical order, according to how we behave.

Next, I am going to propose a new hierarchy of needs for travelers, who are mostly humans (wink wink) and who also act in accordance with Maslow’s hierarchy.

Hierarchy of Luxury Travel Needs

Figure 2: Hierarchy of Luxury Travel Needs

Amadeus provided an excellent study and resulting paper[1] titled, Shaping the Future of Luxury Travel which included The Hierarchy of Luxury Travel Needs (Figure 2). Having spent a highlight of my career working for Matthew Upchurch at Virtuoso and interviewing countless luxury travel consultants to understand better and document their productivity methodologies, I think this hierarchy is truly insightful. Hierarchies are useful in many contexts — Amadeus’s hierarchy was an expansion of Maslow’s self-actualization tier. For my purposes, I will also use a triangular hierarchy as a parallel illustration to Maslow’s.

[1] https://amadeus.com/documents/en/travel-industry/report/shaping-the-future-of-luxury-travel-future-traveller-tribes-2030.pdf

Hierarchy of Travel Needs

In the Hierarchy of Travel Needs (Figure 3), let’s start with the foundation (as with any building, right?) As we explore each tier, you may wonder “what is the size and demographic of the market associated with each tier?” This is an excellent question and has been well defined elsewhere. However, my purpose is not to expose untapped markets, but to help you uncover opportunities in the markets you’re already aware of.

For the most part, this Hierarchy looks like the group of people who fill the seats of an airplane and pay the range of fares attributed to each flight based on supply and demand.

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