by William Meek
The last few years, everyone from economists to retailers to travel planners have been talking about moving from a service economy to an experience economy. This idea, first floated twenty years ago in an article by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore asserts that companies need to go beyond service and create memorable experiences for their customers in order to be successful. Since then, buoyed by surveys and research that confirm that buyers, particularly the younger generations, really do crave experiences and will pay for them, companies have been attempting to figure out what this all means and how they can participate.
When considering the experience economy, travel is an interesting case because the end result of a travel purchase is indeed an authentic experience. So do consumers really need the purchase itself, or the research that goes into planning a trip, or the flight to the final destination, to be an experience in itself? Or do consumers just want to get to their destination quickly and comfortably so they can enjoy the experience they’ve planned?
These questions have led authors at Skift and PhocusWire to consider whether we are already in a “post-experience economy,” where companies need to go beyond branding and marketing that talks about an “experience” and focus on things the customer actually cares about.
Studies show that, not surprisingly, travelers are driven to book vacations based on what they want their travel experience to be in the destination they’re going to. The Expedia Multinational travel survey shows that travelers top priorities are: 1. The activities they’ll be doing on their trip 2. Having a once in a lifetime experience and 3. The cultural experience they’ll have at their destination. Things like price, deals, and transportation factor into the decision, but they’re secondary. They’re just a means to an end.
For travel companies struggling to figure out their place in the experience/post-experience economy, here are three questions to consider:
- Are your customers looking for an experience or just good service?
Not all travel services have to become experiences. Most people would actually prefer to have their plane travel not be memorable. While Southwest and JetBlue do a great job at making flights fun and more pleasant, what most customers want are the basics – comfort and reliability. If a company is struggling with these fundamentals, creating a faux “experience” on top is not going to help retain customers or get new ones.
- How can you make great service an experience in itself?
When people say they love to travel, they’re not talking about the actual process of travel – which honestly is often an ordeal. So companies that make the process easy, convenient, and fun can make an impression on customers. This could mean providing personalized service at a travel agency, or creating a mobile app that makes it easy to book a trip, or going above and beyond to ensure a trip goes smoothly. Consider the ways you can provide great service that actually makes a difference to your customer. These are often services that can’t be directly monetized, but they create loyal and happy customers.
- How can you become the facilitator, not the creator of experiences?
What travelers are looking for are unexpected surprises, authentic experiences – and these just can’t be manufactured. But they’re out there, just waiting to be unearthed. No matter where your product or services lies in the customer journey, consider how you can help facilitate great experiences when they arrive at their destination. Travel advisors can use social media to share hidden gems in popular destinations, or highlight up and coming destinations. Tour operators and even airlines, hotels, and OTAs can encourage travelers to get off the beaten path where they’re more likely to find the authentic experiences they crave.
The bottom line is that no matter what we’re calling it, customers want the same thing they’ve always wanted: They want companies to solve their problems for them and make their lives better. Travel companies have a unique opportunity to facilitate memorable experiences that produce happy and loyal customers – but first they need to deliver on the promise of excellent service.