Background: A Booming Global Travel Industry

As the global community becomes increasingly connected, the volume of international travel for both business and pleasure is at an all time high.

In recent years, the most quickly expanding segment of travelers has been young individuals traveling abroad to expand their cultural horizons and develop skills that will increase their professional prospects in the global marketplace.

Young people between the ages of 18-25 are now traveling to more places and spending more money and time on these excursions than ever before. According to Forbes Magazine, over $200 billion of the estimated $1 trillion that the travel tourism industry grossed in 2012 came from this consumer segment, and this trend is expected to increase steadily.

A new study conducted by the World Youth Student and Educational Travel Confederation provided a comprehensive view of this newly emerging segment of travelers, which now accounts for over 20% of all global travel spending. The report highlighted several key points about these young travelers:

  • Young people are traveling for educational and professional purposes – not leisure. With global unemployment remaining high, more young adults are now deferring their entrance into the job market in favor of traveling abroad to learn languages, work for non-profit and volunteer organizations, or gain some type of international work experience.
  • Young people are now spending longer periods of time abroad, and requiring more goods and services during their travel periods.
  • The destinations young people are visiting is shifting; rather than spending time in major international cities, this travel segment tends to spend time in more remote areas of the country they are visiting.

It is no secret that this market segment is on the rise. Travel organizations, governmental travel bureaus, and hospitality providers are now looking to attract these young tourists to their destinations. In order to make their product as attractive as possible to travelers, however, travel marketers must thoroughly understand the needs of their customer base.

Essential Research Question: How to Meet the Needs of a Growing Travel Industry

A focus group discussion is a great way to elicit rich insights into the psyche of the traveler, since many people are happy to speak about their travel experiences with great enthusiasm.

The fact that this topic naturally prompts rich discussion is certainly to a researcher’s benefit, but this can also present challenges in designing a fruitful study. How do you make sure respondents are providing valuable information as opposed to lengthy personal anecdotes and experiences? How can you prevent the more dominant participants from taking valuable group time to give a detailed account of all the ceviche they ate in Machu Picchu?

Identify Key Needs and Get Specific!

Before developing a discussion guide for a focus group on travel, it is essential to distinguish between priority issues and problem topics. The former are points that will elicit specific and valuable insights for the client; the latter are irrelevant points likely to lead participants into meandering and superficial discussion.

How can you tell the difference? In a recent study conducted by SIS International Research on airport purchasing behavior, for instance, a client was interested in understanding international travelers’ attitudes towards shopping in airports. More specifically, the client wondered whether passengers see an advantage to buying items in airports as opposed to in their city of destination, and if so, which items in particular do they perceive this way?

To extract this information, these groups were designed with a heavily visual structure. Throughout the discussions, respondents were shown photos of shopping areas in airports, airport shopping brochures, and other value messages currently distributed at arriving terminals. By keeping respondents focused on a visual prompt, the moderator had an invaluable tool at his disposal. Instead of allowing participants to offer up general accounts of their travel experiences, these visual aids helped keep the discussion focused on their attitudes towards airport shopping, and their reactions towards the shopping environments and value communications displayed in the photos.

This approach was instrumental in highlighting the study’s key findings:

  • American passengers perceive high value in purchasing duty free alcohol and spirits, and little to no value in cosmetics, clothing accessories, and jewelry purchased in airports.
  • Passengers expect inflated food prices in airports, and are willing to spend 20-30% more than they would outside the airport.
  • American travelers are interested in unique cultural experiences in airports that reflect the place they are in. When an airport shops sell local food, beverages, and clothing items in a manner that reflects pride in their local culture, passengers are more likely to take note and purchase these items.

Thanks to a precise discussion guide based on strong visual aids, these focus groups delivered specific and actionable results for the client.

Although a ten minute story about fly fishing in Norway may have been enthralling to some, it would not have shed any light on purchasing behavior in airports. In this care, a discussion based firmly on visual stimuli proved an excellent method of separating the wheat from the chaff in a focus group on travel.