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Traveler Tribes 2033: What Mistakes Can We Avoid when Researching the Future of Travel? – By Jack Miles

Namibian landscape in Africa - Unsplash

What mistakes can we avoid when researching the future of travel?

In my first piece on Traveler Tribes 2033 we explored some of the thinking behind the structure of the project, examining what we were working to achieve and how we did so. Today, I would like to look at some of the decisions we took to ensure accuracy, to create the best possible understanding of what travel might look like in ten years’ time. 

Traveler Tribes 2033 was a complex, global endeavor. 

Travel itself is complicated as it contains so many elements – from inspiration, through the journey and into the destination. Further complication is then added as travelers themselves are complex, and looking into the future adds additional challenges. 

With this in mind, below are some of the key steps we took in search of accuracy. 

Moment in time 

Firstly, we were deliberate in the selection of 2033 – rather than 2030. We know that if we are specific about a timeframe, being as precise as possible, it is easier for participants to imagine what the world of tomorrow will be like. 

If we asked about 2030, this might be considered too close to the present day, and people can find it hard to expand their horizons and differentiate. Asking about 2030 would also have risked people imagining the whole decade, the 2030s. At the same time, 2040 is too distant, and we risk having conversations around space travel and other distant ambitions. 

The Institute for the Future is explicit in saying we must be as precise as possible when we examine the future and that looking ten years into the future is the most appropriate timeframe to use. 

From the data 

Launching the project, we were unsure how many Traveler Tribes may be discovered – less than three and we might miss some of the nuances of each, while with more than seven or eight, we might struggle to make them truly distinct.

Looking at the data from various perspectives and different numbers of potential Traveler Tribes, if a Traveler Tribe’s profile emerged frequently, this was the sign the Traveler Tribe had the potential to be concrete – it was ‘real’. With Traveler Tribes 2033, the four Traveler Tribes emerged from the data with real strength and consistency.

With Memory Makers and Pioneering Pathfinders there was clarity from the start – which is understandable, one is perhaps more progressive and one a little more conversative in their views of technology. The two remaining Traveler Tribes – Travel Tech-fluencers and Excited Experientialists – sit somewhere in between. 

Reality check 

One of the most important elements was the work with experts – people in a position to interrogate the Traveler Tribes. We worked with a hugely diverse set of people who were able to share expertise in constructive ways. 

Before surveying travelers to collect the data the Traveler Tribes were based on, we interviewed people who worked in travel-adjacent sectors, including sustainability, mobility and elsewhere to understand their view on how travel – and travelers – will change. 

We also spoke to behavioral scientists and psychologists to ask them, based on what they know about human behavior, what the barriers are to the changes other experts predicted?

A good example is the role of virtual reality (VR). People tend to be afraid of risk, of losing what they have, and VR can help prevent that. If a traveler is able to see a destination before they make a booking, to see they would enjoy a visit through a VR headset, the chances of loss are reduced. Thus, we see a growing role for VR in the future. 

The ordering of the expert inputs was so important in the process of Traveler Tribes 2033 – with the behavioral scientists really underpinning the human angle on the project, tying it to reality. If we had done things in a different order, we could have ended up with overly ambitious suggestions for change that lacked that grounding. 

This feedback helped inform the content for the survey responsible for collecting the data on which the Traveler Tribes are based. The breadth of experts we spoke to, and the way we had experts in human behavior evaluate their predictions meant that the data the Traveler Tribes were based on would be based on a broad view of travel and what future behavior was realistic. 

We called on a diverse array of opinions again to evaluate the Traveler Tribes we created. This was important to make sure the Traveler Tribes were intuitive, not created in an echo chamber and that the story for each Traveler Tribe was compelling and realistic. 

People are people 

Finally, people tend to be more skeptical in their belief in change carried out by others. 

If asked if they are personally willing to pay a higher price for a flight powered by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in the future, for example, they say they are. However, when asked if other people are willing to make the change, they are less confident they will. 

Is it useful to know this – allowing us to further ground the Traveler Tribes 2033 project. The project was quite ambitious, but we worked to tie everything to the reality of human behavior: how people make decisions in general; how human behavior will evolve by 2033; how people respond to surveys, and the pace of change in the industry to date.

By applying this understanding – coupled to the planning outlined in my first blog – we believe we have captured a legitimate portrait of the future, deepening our understanding of how travel might look in 2033.

Jack Miles

Jack Miles is the Senior Director, Northstar Research Partners. Connect with Jack on LinkedIn.

Posted by on May 25, 2023.

Categories: Trends

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