Understanding Guests

Traveler Psychology in 2022: Seeking Happiness

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January 13, 2022

Traveler Psychology in 2022: Seeking Happiness

The 21st century was dubbed the “Experience Economy” and over the last 20+ years, we’ve seen an influx of experiences, tours, and activities surge the market. But why? What is driving this desire for experiences over tangible goods? 

In 2017 McKinsey put out a report that showed us that consumers are indeed spending more on experience-related services. Their research found (not surprisingly) that a strong desire for happiness combined with the need for social media validation were the reasons for this new direction in spending.

Happiness is defined as “a state of well-being and contentment; a pleasurable or satisfying experience”. But haven’t people always been on a quest for happiness? The pursuit to feel good is not something new or novel. 

That being said, the changes that have taken place in our world over the last decade are bringing people’s stress, worry, and pain to new heights. Since 2011, the world’s negative experience index has risen steadily. Of course, the occurrences of the last 2 years have only added to this steady upward trend. But as you can see, people have been experiencing more stress, anxiety, and worry even before the pandemic. 

The more negativity we experience on a daily basis, the more we seek out experiences that counter the negative feelings. The more chaos we experience, the more we seek experiences that bring us peace. The more boredom we experience, the more we seek experiences that bring us excitement. 

Emotions are the backbone to every experience. If you think about it – you’re not really selling an experience, you’re selling a feeling. In his compelling book, How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer makes the case that rationality depends on emotion.  Motivation is driven by feeling, not intellect.  Lehrer points out, “Emotion and motivation share the same Latin root, movere, which means to move. The world is full of things and it is our feelings that help us choose among them.”

As we enter a new year, with so many people fed up with COVID restrictions, worried about their health, and unsure what 2022 will hold, here are some things to keep in mind as you market to and serve travelers. 

1. Everyone’s definition of happiness is different – get clear on yours

While happiness is a universal motivation, my concept of happiness is likely different than yours. My concept of happiness 15 years ago is different than it is now – and yours probably is too. This is all to say that (1) happiness is malleable and (2) you can’t make everyone happy. Especially if you don’t know what makes them happy. 

So why not try to focus on people that share your ideal vision of happiness? Circle back to your values and purpose to understand what your ideal vision of this might be. Spend time learning about the range of human emotions and deepening your EQ (emotional intelligence). The better you are at explaining your concept of happiness, the easier it will become to sell this promise of happiness to prospective guests. 

2. Evaluate the emotional value of each touchpoint in your tour/activity

While it’s true that we seek experiences over things because experiences bring us joy and heightened positive emotions, each experience is made up of ‘things’. The things people see, touch, taste, smell, and hear during their tour or activity contribute to their mood. 

Your job is to mitigate the negative sensory touchpoints and find ways to increase the positive ones. Of course, there are always things out of our control (for example, loud street noises) but even ‘negative’ stimulus can be counteracted in creative ways. A good distraction can turn a negative experience into a positive one.

3. Consider the long-term emotional impact of your experience

One of the major problems with travel experiences and activities? They can be very fleeting. While every experience has some sort of ripple effect, some ripple effects are stronger and more valuable than others. 

You’re promising your guests a few hours of fun & excitement, but what happens when they return home? Is it possible that your experience has resulted in long-term happiness for your guests? 

Some hosts may say “not my problem” but I’m going to challenge you to consider how your experience results in long-lasting happiness for visitors. What are people taking away with them (perhaps a new perspective, hobby, passion, ritual, friendship, etc.) that will result in more positive emotions in the days/weeks/months/years to come?

There’s no question that travel provides many happy memories to people around the world. But now more than ever, the focus of every travel experience needs to be on the wellbeing of the guests and helping them cultivate greater levels of happiness. Are you up for the challenge? Because as the Experience Economy forges ahead, the competition will become fierce. Tours and activities that offer something beyond just entertainment and R&R will see strong growth in the years to come. 

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