Future airline travellers: suppliers need to be more nimble than ever


Attempting to determine how to satisfy the needs of the future traveller is growing more complex as travel suppliers wade through a dizzying array of emerging technologies and rapidly changing traveller behaviour and preferences. 

There is no shortage of research into future traveller trends, but the challenge facing travel suppliers is determining which trends will ultimately have staying power, as well as selecting the best technologies that cater to customers whose preferences continue to evolve in a constantly changing travel landscape.

Sales channels will continue to evolve, and there is the potential for virtual reality to play a major role in the development of new travel store fronts.


  • Research has suggested that future travellers could be categorised into six tribes and members of those groups have varying preferences for the level of engagement from travel suppliers.
  • Sales channels will continue to evolve, with the potential for virtual reality to play a major role in the development of new store fronts. 
  • What role will the tech titans Google and Amazon play in the future travel landscape? 

Travel tribes could become the norm for traveller segments in the future 

Although there is plenty of room for interpretation over changing traveller characteristics, there is no question that emerging traveller segments desire varying levels of engagement throughout the journey, and it is up to the travel suppliers to understand the specific needs of travel subsets. 

In their report, 'Future Traveller Tribes 2030', released in the middle of the current decade, Frost and Sullivan and Amadeus identified six travel tribes that are identified by their purchasing behaviours and motivations rather than by age, gender or cabin class.

The six tribes outlined in the report were: Simplicity Searchers, Reward Hunters, Social Capital Seekers, Cultural Purists, Ethical Travellers and Obligation Meeters. 

The types of experiences and levels of engagement those travellers seek will vary, according to the report. For example, Simplicity Searchers likely prefer very low levels of contact whereas Social Capital Seekers prefer very high levels. Conversely, the report states Simplicity Searchers prefer a very high degree of personalisation. 

Some of those travel tribes prefer a bundled purchasing experience and others, such as Cultural Purists, prefer à la carte pricing. 

Airlines aiming to serve the future traveller properly need to understand the characteristics of travellers in those segments or tribes and ensure that they, as airlines, have the right technology in place to deliver offers in the channels those customers prefer. 

Additionally, the report noted that the tribes' approach is dynamic, with individuals falling into different tribes depending on their trip. “The challenge for airlines is to understand which tribe the individual falls into and when, so that they can cater to their needs with appropriate products or services.” 

In the four years since the report’s publication, travel providers are asking whether those travel tribes have changed, and what kind of technology is necessary to ensure that the needs of those tribes are being met.

Selecting the right technology to cater to the future traveller properly is one of the biggest challenges airlines face. 

Where are the opportunities for suppliers in the changing travel cycle? 

That kind of universal access to the traveller could create new opportunities for airlines in the trip cycle. The report states that 48 to 24 hours before departure will become a critical stage for aligning the availability of upgrades and offers with customer preferences.

Another opportunity for airlines that is currently underutilised is post-trip. “Airlines should engage with travellers on their return home to better understand their needs and desires for future travel, and to build a stronger relationship with customers”, the report stated.

Just as opportunities within the travel cycle will evolve, so too will sales channels. Predictions of mobile dominance continue to grow, with the report concluding that “mobile applications with the ability to access location and store data offline, such as payment details and travel information, will come to completely dominate airline purchases by 2030”. 

The report also concludes that virtual reality storefronts could be as important as websites are today, giving potential customers a chance to experience trips before they buy. 

The elephants in the room; what will be the role of Google and Amazon

Just as sales channels will change and evolve in the coming years, distribution channels should also adapt to meet traveller needs. 

In the short term, IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) will be closely watched as all stakeholders in the programme work to reach a stated goal of having 20 airlines make 20% of their sales through NDC by 2020. 

But in many ways the long term composition of the travel distribution industry remains an unknown. What role will the tech giants such as Google and Amazon (and others) play in travel distribution in the next ten to twenty years? The continued proliferation of virtual assistants and their growing capabilities cannot be discounted as becoming formidable forces in the travel landscape in the future. 

Tech executive Mario Gavira recently wrote in Phocuswire that conversational commerce on those platforms will evolve during the next decade, combining voice and text interactions supported by visual information on all types of smart devices. 

If the prominence of those virtual assistants does rise and their capabilities grow to include booking and possibly the sale of ancillaries or upsales to higher priced fare families, what will the commercial relationships between airlines and Google and Amazon look like? 

Mr Gavira also expresses some caution about personalisation, which is prominent in any discussion regarding the future traveller. “…it is not all plain sailing in the world of personalisation”, he stated. “Multiplication of options and lack of comparability means end users are increasingly lost in a jungle of prices, services and sales channels.” 

Travel suppliers face the challenge of adapting to a rapidly changing landscape

Attempting to envisage the needs and profiles of future travellers is a living science, and developments and changes in customer preferences are occurring at a breakneck pace. 

The challenge for travel suppliers is gaining an in-depth understanding of evolving trends and ensuring their technology is nimble enough to handle rapid changes in the travel landscape. 

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