Why We Travel

By Ryan Clarke

“In a world where governments are increasingly interested in building barriers and insisting on our separateness, it is up to travellers to tear down the walls, reveal our shared humanity, and cause the good kind of global warming – the thawing of the human heart.”

– Kevin Grange, Beneath the Blossom Rain

I want to look at the reasons we travel as a way of improving our approach to marketing travel experiences. I believe our reasons for travel fit into three categories of motivation: economic necessity, self-development, and identity affirmation. By better understanding why we travel, we can improve our approach to marketing travel experiences on the web.

Travel for Economic Necessity or Opportunity

In the beginning, economic travel was really the only reason to travel. Human beings would change physical environments in order to find new and/or better forms of food and shelter. Following a herd of buffalo with the hope of eating one might be the only way to keep the kids alive.

As our modes of transportation evolved, so too did our business relationships. People began to look beyond their direct neighbours and started working with people on the other side of the planet in entirely different cultures. Sharing resources and technology through partnerships (however one-sided they might have been) allowed the global economy to evolve into what it is today. Travel was a huge part of establishing and maintaining these relationships.

Economic necessity was the first way humans thought about travel. And whether you were boarding a sailboat from Valencia to look for spices, or a plane at O’Hare to open a new office for Xerox, you were essentially doing the same thing. The goal of travel was not leisure, or self-discovery, it was a kind of economic mission.

Today, we simply refer to this business travel and it represents a $1.3 trillion global industry.

Travel as a form of Self-Development

The industrial revolution led to excess capacity in commercial shipping lines. If there was extra space on the boat, why not bring people? For the first time, instead of using ships to migrate across the ocean, the traveller would now simply be coming to visit. Of course, this type of travel was reserved for elite social classes, those that could afford not only the fare, but the freedom to skip work for a few months.

“…tourism is an 18th century invention. Tourism is travel without a real purpose. The pilgrims, for example, wanted to find salvation; the conquistadors wanted to conquer. What changed in the 18th century is that people began to travel for fun.”

Hasso Spode, Free University of Berlin

As an actual “travel industry” developed and expanded, leisure travel became accessible to the middle class. Travel became a social badge of honour for a much wider segment of the population, remaining a source of captivating stories to be shared at dinner parties. We were, indeed, defined by where we travelled.

This perspective of travel as a form of self-development through leisure persists in many cultures, but it is quickly being supplanted by a new approach.

Travel as a form of Identity-Affirmation

More recently, humankind’s approach to travel, especially for the group that self-identifies as “travellers”, has changed in a subtle but important way. People no longer travel to change or improve themselves, instead, they travel to affirm their idea about themselves.

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” ― G.K. Chesterton

It’s a subtle but important difference.

The message that works in marketing today is not “go on this trip and be changed”. Instead, it’s “go on this trip because this is what someone like you would do”. If you are an adventurous person, you will do this; if you are a romantic person, you will do that. If you want both adventure and romance, well, then, you have to do this other thing.

The stories that travellers want from a trip are, more than ever, deeply connected to their values. When Wallop works with luxury, experiential travel brands, our goal is to tell honest stories about the travel experience, through a lens informed by the values that we have defined collaboratively with the client. Our Digital Strategy Lead, Kristen, wrote a great piece about Persona-Based Marketing, here.

When it comes to high-end hotel experiences, we know that people are careful with how they spend their money and time. What is sometimes forgotten, today it’s much more than the simple investment of time and money – the trip is an investment in the way they see themselves.

Travel is a method of affirming one’s values.

How and Where will change, but not Why

The “how” and “where” of travel will inevitably continue to evolve. However, I believe the “why” will always incorporate the three motivating factors outlined above.

The sharing economy has been a topic of much debate recently. With companies like Uber and Airbnb taking hold, we’re witnessing again technology’s role in making use of excess resources and capacity. More than that, perhaps witnessing a more efficient alignment with travellers’ values-based motivations.

Both companies provide services that satisfy an economic interest (in saving money), a method of self-development (to ride or stay with complete strangers), and a way of affirming a set of values (up-and-coming neighbourhood, greater independence, more efficient transportation, demonopolization etc).

In order to compete in the new paradigm, experiential travel brands must align their messaging with travellers’ motivations to affirm their own values and identity. Brands that promise to change people’s lives will come across as patronizing and out of touch.

Like this article?

Get industry insights, inspiring stories, and curated content delivered straight to your inbox. Unsubscribe in just one click. We respect your privacy, and your personal information will never be shared with any third parties.