American Marketer


Online reviews to influence affluent travelers over peer recommendations: report

March 11, 2013


Affluent consumers will spend more on vacations this year and rely on online reviews and discount offers to make their travel decisions, according to a new report by Unity Marketing.

The "Affluent Consumers & Their Travel Plans for 2013" trend report revealed that 45 percent of respondents plan to spend more on travel in 2013 from 2012. The data also revealed habits of affluent travelers when booking vacations that luxury marketers should consider to take advantage of consumers’ willingness to spend.

"I was most impressed by the positive 45 percent, which is nearby half, who are expecting to spend more on travel in 2013 versus 2012," said Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, Stephens, PA. "Typically, you see 25-30 percent.

"Consumers are spending more, thinking more about travel and want to get on the road and participate in trips," she said.

Unity Marketing surveyed 1,300 affluent consumers with an average income $267,800 and average age of 45.4 years for its latest Luxury Trend Report.

Careful spending

The Affluent Consumers & Their Travel Plans report uncovered habits of today’s luxury travelers.

Affluent consumers are more willing to spend on a hotel experience than on transportation to and from their destination.

The survey found that consumers are more likely to fly in coach class or travel by car, but they want to stay at a four- or five-star hotel.

Survey respondents reported plans to take an average of 2.8 vacations of four or more days in 2013, which is the same as their 2012 plans.

Additionally, respondents reported that they are looking for relaxation and stress reduction, sightseeing experiences and culinary and wine experiences. These types of experiences gained more popularity among respondents compared to a 2011 survey.

The report also found popular travel destinations by comparing this year’s responses with those from 2012 research.

Three popular destinations this year will be the Caribbean, Asia and Australia or New Zealand.

Quite a few luxury hotel marketers are raising awareness of their properties by tapping one or more of these trends, but travel brands might thrive this year if they take into account all of the prospective plans of affluent consumers.

One major shift to consider is that respondents believe online reviews and discount offers are more important in planning travel this year compared to the 2011 survey.

Indeed, luxury marketers should remain cautious in offering discounts that appeal to the masses to avoid diluting the brand.

More notable for hotel marketers, consumers previously relied on opinions from friends and family but are now turning to online reviews from strangers to plan travel.

"This year what beat out the influences of friends and relatives, that first-hand experiences, is online reviews," Ms. Danziger said.

"This shows that luxury travelers are really using their computer as a tool to help them make their decisions and are listening to reviews of people they don't know," she said. "That is another important finding and has a lot of implications.

"Travel providers better be online and need to be responsive to consumers."

Time to travel

Another recent study found that affluent consumers are most willing to spend on leisure travel this year.

U.S. affluent consumers plan to spend within the high-ticket travel and automotive categories in 2013 since they are now most comfortable making large purchases after the recession, according to new research from the Shullman Research Center.

The new Shullman Luxury and Affluence Monthly Pulse survey found that 54 percent of respondents with a household income of $250,000 or more and 51 percent of respondents with a household income of $500,000-plus will spend on domestic leisure travel this year, followed by automotive, jewelry and fashion.

The most-popular U.S. states to which affluent consumers are considering traveling include Florida, California, Arizona, Colorado and Hawaii. New York was also a popular city destination (see story).

Unity Marketing’s research as well as U.S. consumers’ attitude toward their personal financial situation are likely to propel the luxury travel industry for the remainder of the year.

But travel providers can only thrive if they rethink their marketing strategy in terms of consumers' habits today.

"It is important to understand the changing dynamics of their customer," Ms. Danziger said. "The decisions that companies made even five years ago about marketing were absolutely spot-on for five years ago, but consumers today are changing."

Final Take
Tricia Carr, editorial assistant on Luxury Daily, New York