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American Express survey finds travelers want high-tech, high-touch

Some 85 percent said that “spending money on travel is an investment worth making.”

Some 85 percent said that “spending money on travel is an investment worth making.”  (iStock)

American Express Travel, which is celebrating 100 years of service this month, unveiled results of a new survey that found travelers in the future will use both high-tech options and high-touch human service to create unique travel experiences.

The survey, conducted for American Express by The Futures Company, polled more than 1,000 consumers in the U.S. on their attitudes toward travel. It found that travelers are placing an even higher premium on the experiences they enjoy through travel, as well as the personal service provided by travel professionals.

Eighty-two percent said they are more interested in making memories than making money; 85 percent said they plan to travel as much, if not more, for leisure travel in the next five years; and 91 percent said they would rather focus on meaningful life experiences over their profession. Some 85 percent also agree with the statement that “spending money on travel is an investment worth making,” and 64 percent agree with the statement that “leisure travel is a big priority in my life.”

Travelers also are far more resilient and eager to travel: 60 percent disagree with the statement that “with all of the risk and uncertainly in the world today, it makes me want to travel less.”

Ninety-three percent of travelers said that despite digital advances in the travel industry, personal service can’t be replaced. And that trend is prevalent even among millennial travelers: 83 percent of millennials value personalization and want to have travel brands track their habits in exchange for a better, more individual experience.

Travelers also aren’t looking for cookie-cutter experiences: 85 percent of those surveyed said that a customized itinerary is far more appealing than a pre-packaged one, and 72 percent said they would spend more time planning a trip that is tailored to their interests. Even better for travel agents, 90 percent of those surveyed said they appreciate the efforts of a travel professional who can customize an experience based on their preferences.

While there is a perception that technology is replacing human customer service in the travel industry, the survey found that a personal touch remains critical: 93 percent of respondents said they feel the value of personal service can’t be replaced despite digital advances in the travel industry, especially at times when something goes wrong with a trip. Indeed, 89 percent said they want human assistance for canceled flights or lost luggage, while 53 percent said they want it for getting an insider view of a destination.

At the same time, travelers do prefer to use technology for certain aspects of their trip. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed said they turn to technology for air and hotel bookings; 73 percent said they use the web for researching places to go for leisure travel; 60 percent said they will use technology to check in for flights and hotels; and 47 percent said they want the technological capability to share their travel experiences on social media to add to their enjoyment of the trip (65 percent of millennials said they want the same capability).

That said, travelers don’t want to be left high and dry by technology without some way to connect with a real person. Some 79 percent overall agree with the statement “many of my travel hassles could be made up for by exceptional customer service,” while 72 percent agreed with the statement “I expect higher levels of customer service when I travel than in my daily life.”

Like other surveys, the American Express poll finds travelers place a high value on experiences. Ninety percent agree with the statement “I appreciate when a travel service company strives to customize my experience based on my preferences.” Drilling down on that statement: 91 percent say they focus on meaningful life experiences; 88 percent said they invest time in life experiences; 85 percent want a personalized itinerary; and 72 percent said they spend more time planning a travel experience that is tailored to their interests and preferences.

"Increasingly, travelers want to see the world on their terms with tailored, personalized and differentiated experiences that reflect their passions and needs," said Claire Bennett, executive vice president of American Express Travel. "The boundaries between technology and personal service are being blurred, allowing more intimate connections for travelers with the world around them.”

Bennett said there were three major insights from the survey: First, the travel industry is incredibly healthy; second, that travelers want both high-tech and high touch; and third, travelers value a personal connection that makes a difference when they travel.

Beyond just surveying the U.S. travel market, the Futures Company also did a cross-country comparison among the U.S., U.K., Mexico and China, polling more than 1,000 travelers in each country.

When asked how much they expect to be traveling five years from now, 37 percent of U.S. travelers said more, versus 48 percent who said the same and 15 percent who said less. Thirty-three percent of U.K. travelers said more, versus 49 percent said the same and 17 percent said less.

In Mexico and China, however, travelers overwhelming said they would travel more. Some 61 percent of Mexican travelers said they would travel more, versus 29 percent who said yes and 10 percent who said the same. In China, a whopping 66 percent of travelers said more, while 28 percent said the same and 6 percent said less.

The difference among travelers in the four countries also was evident in a desire for personal service. Ninety-six percent of Chinese travelers said they would travel more if they received more personalized service, compared with 72 percent of Mexican travelers, 48 percent of U.K. travelers and 45 percent of U.S. travelers. 

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