Marketing your trips to groups can be tricky. Whether it's marketing to a family or a group of friends, there's always someone who has the most influence over the final purchase decision. As a tour and activity operator, you need to understand who this person is and speak directly to them if you want their business.
I've combed through academic research papers to find out who these purchase influencers are, and how you can tailor your marketing messages to get noticed by purchase influencers and convince them to book a trip with you.
Women's purchasing roles have grown. In 2015, Mintel reports that whether it might be everyday items like food and appliances, newer products like technology, or big and high-investment purchases like a holiday, women are increasingly calling the shots. Particularly, mothers.
In 2004, research by Erdogan Koc from Bandirma Onyedi Eylul University in Turkey found that wives are playing a significant role in researching holiday plans, analysing what suits their families best and making the final purchase decision.
Another study that compared results from 1976 and 2001 between families in Kansas and Singapore also found that wives were having a more significant role in throughout the entire vacation planning process. In 1976, most of the money-related decisions were made by husbands (e.g. how long to stay and vacation budget). In 2001, these decisions were reported to be made together, a joint decision. Other decisions made together as a couple include travel destination and the activities and excursions to book on a trip.
Key takeaway: Marketing to families include addressing common questions mothers and wives will have when planning their next vacation. If your trips are family friendly, consider spending more money targeting mothers and wives.
2. The more experienced partner in LGBTQ families
Including LGBTQ families in this article was important because traditional heterosexual marketing insights no longer applies. For instance, the common notion that wives are responsible for information collection during the planning process doesn't apply to couples comprised of two husbands or two wives.
So who then is responsible and has the most influence over the vacation planning process?
In his thesis, Lukas Kucera interviewed 5 different families and found that research responsibilities were generally assigned according to who had the most experience and capability in the area. And in turn, this person had more influence over the final travel decision.
When it comes to making the final decision, Kucera found that the dominant partner in gay couples ends up having the final say, while joint decisions are made along the way. As for lesbian couples, this and other decisions throughout the planning process are made together.
Kucera also explored some factors that influence travel decisions like their previous experience at the destination and the perception of locals towards gay and lesbian families. Labels like "gay friendly" barely influence their decisions.
Another rather obvious point is that LGBTQ families want to avoid risks during their holidays, and sometimes, that includes avoiding legal risks. Here's a quote from one of the participants:
“Being lesbian moms requires some additional considerations, too. In addition to the possibility of having to deal with discrimination, harassment, and persecution during what should be a relaxing getaway, we need to deal with the practical fact that our legal marriage isn’t recognized in most states or foreign countries.”
This can become an issue if an accident occurs and parents need to make medical decisions for their children.
Key takeaway: Gender normative marketing is out the door when it comes to attracting LGBTQ families. You will be marketing to knowledgeable and experienced travelers so create messages that are honest and authentic. Be prepared to address any concerns parents might have, and be sure to point out potential risks they might face (and provide solutions) if they visit your destination.
3. Children in families
Understanding children's roles in the travel planning and decision making process is important as well, especially when it comes to understanding how spouses from both heterosexual and LGBTQ families arrive at a joint decision.
So far, researchers have found that children exert two types on influences that is highly dependent on their ages.
Passive influence (babies, toddlers and children below 11 years)
A study on how parents with young children choose their holiday accommodation found that children exert influence over logistical issues like travel distance, accommodation safety and child-friendly amenities available. Other less tangible factors include the quality of interaction between hotel staff and children and the family-oriented programmes offered also influence parents decisions.
Here's an interview excerpt of the participant talking about a positive encounter they had:
“During our stay at Pangkor Laut, the hotel staff took care of my son while we dined in peace. They played with him and took him away for ﬁsh feeding at the hotel pond.”
"Holidays are an extraordinary “free space” which allows for more negotiation power being bestowed on children than in everyday life.” - Therekelson (2010)
Nanda, Hu and Bai found that older children have more influence over the vacation planning process, especially at the information collection or research stage. Plus, children with more knowledge and expertise will have more influence over a family's travel decisions.
Another interesting discussion in this paper was that children's strategies to influence their parent's decisions by anticipating how their parents would respond. For example, if parents tend to reason with their children, children will also try reasoning with their parents. On the other hand, if parents are more logical and use excuses like "it's too expensive", these children are likely to seek out deals, discounts or even compromise on their request.
Key takeaway: When it comes to marketing to children, researchers say that it "entails determining the most important age group, the type of family that majority of them are from, the communication environment at home, their economic power, and their knowledge of and perceived importance towards the product".
4. Luxe travel agents serving high-end customers
Another key decision maker that is often responsible for organising group travel are travel agents. Research into specialist luxury travel agents identified a clear and rapid decision making process luxury travel agents use to create the best experience for their customers.
They first gain a better understanding of their client, a process called profiling. Then, they choose a destination, suitable attractions and identify an operator to work with.
"Destination risks and efficient booking procedures are considered early, to select a region. Location, activities and wildlife are then balanced to select an operator, relying heavily on the agent's own experience. Agents may reconsider each step iteratively in the light of their own knowledge and experience of all the people and places involved."
In the paper, agents say that they prefer to use “one on-ground intermediary per country to [save] time”, and that they tend to go back to the same operators again and again because they're already familiar with the booking procedures. Since they “[deal] with lots of tasks each day” they generally “prioritise an operator that makes life easy”.
When considering operators who offer unique products (like conservation aspects) but are located in remote areas, agents noted that while it gives them a competitive advantage, "need to give us the tools to sell the product and facilitate the logistics”.
Finally, for operators interested in working with luxury travel agents, “I give only one chance to an operator”. These high expectations reflect the high risks they undertake when working with a new operator or when selling a new product. "One negative experience can …undermine a reputation”, “I can't risk…my clients' experience”, and “our reputation is at risk if expectations are not met”.
Key takeaway: Make the lives of specialist luxury travel agents as easy as possible with a streamlined online booking solution.
A research paper studying how Chinese international students make travel decisions found that disagreement prevention was a key element in ensuring that the decision-making process went on as smoothly as possible.
This mirrors countless articles found on Google with titles like "How to travel with friends (and not want to kill them)" or "Escape your scene, not your squad".
Researchers found that three main decision-making models are employed in group travel scenarios - leadership, division or work and shared decision-making. Translated into everyday language, this means that a group is likely to nominate the most experienced traveller to lead the planning process, or that the most experienced traveller was the one who initiated the idea to travel.
Another five disagreement prevention strategies were found as well - travelling with like-minded people, adequate preparation, empathy and mutual understanding, tolerance and compensation.
Key takeaway: For tour operators hoping to attract groups of travelers, up you game by providing additional services and/or tips and tricks to make planning easier for the group leader (who is also an experienced traveler). With the buy-in of the leader, it would be easy to get the whole group to agree to joining your excursion.