The fact is, I've flown on some airlines and stayed with some hotel brands literally hundreds of times; you would think that might fuel some degree of recognition and customer intimacy. Sure, these brands have their loyalty programs and I actively play in them all, but aside from getting the (admitted) advantage of having "priority access'' printed out on my boarding pass and the privilege of being among the first to board a soon-to-be-cramped airplane, I can't say that anyone has reached out to engage me in ways that truly seem to understand me or anticipate my unique needs.
Why is that?
One hotel chain for which I tote around a platinum-level membership in its frequency program recognizes my lofty status by continuing to send me frequent emails of weekend escapes and other "deals" to properties that have no relation to where I actually live or places I travel. There's no excuse for this major brand, in this day and age, not to parse out its offers to me in a way that recognizes my location and then delivers those places that are related to me -- whether they be locations that are a reasonable drive/fly distance from my home, destinations that have convenient air service from my local airport or places I've previously been.
Not only is it wasteful marketing that isn't maximizing the company's effort or investment, but it's insulting to me as one of its "better" customers. It says, "We may know you, but we don't really care about you. You may have stayed with us multiple times and deposited with us tons of personal information, but we've chosen to ignore the relevancy it might help us to create and instead continue to treat like you like a number."
In a world where marketing success is increasingly measured by customer engagement, it's imperative that brands build relevance with their customers and leverage the countless opportunities to create greater intimacy and understanding that you know me and are here to partner with me in my travels.
Of course, I shouldn't be totally surprised. Building a personal dialogue with your customers still represents the Holy Grail in marketing and travel isn't the only category that is struggling. But, that certainly doesn't explain why there remain whole market segments that our industry has chosen to largely ignore.
For example, why does the travel industry continue to see the world as largely traveling in pairs, when in fact 100 million adults or nearly 42% of the U.S. population is single? And, nearly 25% of all Americans who travel domestically or abroad do so alone. You'd think a market this big would get a little more attention. After all, the 25 million singles aged 42 and older spend nearly $28 billion annually in travel.
As we all look to find growing markets, it's amazing that our industry hasn't done more to appeal to this huge audience that continues to grow rapidly. In fact, by 2030, single females who live alone are forecasted to become the single largest demographic group in the U.S.
Obviously, Norwegian Cruise Lines has seen the trend and wisely configured its newest ship, Epic, to have 128 "studio" suites targeted squarely at accommodating the growing singles market. But, even more astutely, they rid themselves of the dreaded "single" supplement, an industry-wide practice that penalizes single people for traveling alone.
The world no longer is all about double occupancy, and it's time more brands stood up and appealed to the solo traveler with products and services and messages that are relevant to their needs and interests.
So, too, the gay traveler seems underserved in the travel community, despite the fact that Forrester estimates the segment represents more than 5% of the online travel market, or 7.2 million people. But here, again, it requires a brand to understand the unique concerns this audience has when it considers destinations and travel providers, and it requires brands to better provide the kinds of information, sensitivity, understanding, products and services that are important to this audience.
I believe there are still some significant opportunities for brands to build market share and create increased loyalty if they can begin to talk to me and my fellow travelers in ways that acknowledge and speak to us as individuals.
Given the data-rich and technologically advanced environment we're all living and working in, advancing a true one-to-one dialogue has never been more attainable.
The sooner you embrace the individual, the better you can serve me and all the other me's out there.