As we settle deeper into the summer travel season, many of us are taking long overdue vacations with family and friends, booking a romantic getaway, or planning the iconic summer college tour with our kids. It’s during this time that I am especially reminded of one fundamental truth that sometimes gets lost in the travel industry: While we remain one, individual traveler, each of us travels for all sorts of reasons, in all sorts of ways, driven by different circumstances and needs.
Not that long ago, many hotel chains assumed that there was a different and distinct traveler for each of their brands. But today, successful brands recognize that travelers wear many hats and to keep customers loyal, they have to meet a host of travel needs. The companies that segment the customer—and not the market—are better positioned to understand their customers’ experiences and better accommodate their needs.
When my children were younger, I made a conscious effort to take one of them with me on a business trip at least once a year. It was a great opportunity for us to spend time together, and the kids always got to experience a taste of the business travel life. Those trips have given me some of my fondest travel memories. When searching for places to stay, I would always look for properties that had activities for families but that could also accommodate my business travel needs. While I was still one traveler, I was both a business traveler and a father looking to spend some quality time with his family.
At Marriott in the 1980’s, we were looking to expand our brand offerings. At the time, we assumed that each brand met the needs of a certain demographic, a certain type of traveler—we were segmenting the market. But we quickly realized that every Marriott customer had a range of reasons and circumstances to travel—both personal and professional. In other words, the hotel the traveler chose to book was highly correlated to the type of trip they were planning to take.
This realization forced us to rethink our marketing efforts and heavily influenced the thinking behind Marriott’s loyalty rewards program—we needed to segment the customer. We found that customers were most satisfied when they could earn rewards points across a range of brands. This insight not only ensured the success of the rewards program but also increased our number of repeat customers.
So as millions of Americans set out for their great summer adventures of all kinds, our industry should stay focused on our number one goal: always meet your customer’s needs. And to do that effectively (and build brand loyalty), we have to serve all of their needs for their particular travel circumstance—whether it’s for business, leisure or both.