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The Link Between High-Value Travelers and Discovery

Many of our subscribers told us that this year, they're most interested in learning about how to attract high-value visitors & guests. Traveling is a privilege for many, but even amongst recessions, people will find ways to save up and see the world or spend on luxury goods.

In fact, there are now reports that are showing that Gen Z-ers are saving money by living with their parents and (instead of putting that money towards savings) are splurging on big retail purchases and travels. Let’s face it: most people aren’t wise with their hard-earned cash. Household savings rates surged in 2020 and 2021 but are now below what they were in 2019 in the US. Ouch.

So while household income is one indicator of wealth, it isn’t always a worthwhile indicator to focus on when you’re trying to figure out who the high-value guests are. Propensity to spend might just be the better thing to look at.

And last summer, Google and Bain & Co explored just that. They found that ‘high roller’ travelers (people with a very high propensity to spend) are more likely to travel long distances and spend more than average. Voracious travelers also had a high propensity to spend, and these tend to be your younger, digital savvy consumers who seek out the best accommodations, experiences, and services.

And then you have comf-trotters (those primarily interested in relaxing), sports enthusiasts (those seeking out physical activity), and lazy voyagers (older, seeking quiet) all of whom are a bit tighter with the purse strings.

After comparing all five of these ‘archetypes’ it became clear to us that the high roller and voracious traveler had two very important things in common (besides propensity to spend): a high priority of discovery and exotic locations.

And this prompted an important question for us: if discovery is a key part of what high-value travelers are seeking, what’s it really all about? In this study it’s been labeled as “wanting to learn more about the destination”.

But why are people willing to pay more to learn about a destination? What’s the intrinsic value in that? Have you ever stopped to wonder why discovery is such an essential part of travel? Why people care about what’s going on halfway across the world and how those people live their lives? And what is the link between people’s propensity to spend and their thirst for discovery?

The answers to these questions will help us all become better experience designers. And while we don’t have all the answers, we believe it has to do with a few key things:

Dopamine moves us towards our goals and it’s the way we track pleasure, success, and whether we’re doing well or poorly. It is the universal currency of foraging, seeking and wanting more, according to neuroscientist, Andrew Huberman. Dopamine is the ‘feel good’ hormone that provides the same sense of pleasure and reward. So, our brains and bodies actually crave this process of seeking and uncovering novel insights – it’s part of our physical makeup!

When our everyday life is mundane and void of new things to learn about, we have no choice but to venture outside of our bubble. Of course we can turn to books, movies, or wikipedia rabbit holes (as stories have their own transportive quality) but real, multi-sensory discovery delivers a much higher dopamine hit, with its multiple layers of delight. In fact, some might wonder whether these smaller, continuous dopamine hits from stories are the fuel that drives us to want to experience these places in real life for greater, heightened pleasure.

Here’s the kicker, though: when our basic needs aren’t being met, we’re less likely to be able to tap into curiosity and wonder. So, it would make sense that those who have more security, financial, and health troubles have less capacity and desire for discovery on a physical level.

It might explain why someone who is seeking relaxation or sports is less interested in discovery (according to this study). Because if you’re burned out or your physical wellness is your top concern, it’s very easy to be tunnel-visioned on seeking out whatever is going to restore your health (and not so much on the destination or local culture). There is a real opportunity here of course, because other cultures have so much to teach us (especially Americans) about health, but that's a story for another day.

And while the "lazy voyager" does have higher interest in discovery, their desire for quiet and their low propensity to spend seems to trump their willingness to go out to explore. So just because the desire for discovery is there, doesn't mean there aren't more pressing needs that come first for certain travelers.

There have been some fascinating studies on the neuroscience behind people’s thirst for knowledge, and we believe this is just one important aspect of the discovery desire. Because ultimately, what people do with the insights they uncover to enrich their lives is really what what matters most. After all, there's external discovery and then theres internal (self) discovery... but that’s also another story for another day.

The point (and today’s theory) is: people who have gotten to a place in their life where they are more resourced (good health, decent financial standing) are more likely to be enticed by destination discovery because they have the capacity for it, and it delivers an immense amount of pleasure. As much pleasure as an enjoyable meal, winning a game, or making money! And while all of us have this innate pull to discover within us, those dealing with hardships might have less of a priority for this cerebral pleasure.

So next time you say you want to attract high-value travelers, keep this in mind. Stop focusing so much on what’s going on in their bank account, and ask yourself: what’s going on in their life? Do they have the desire, capacity, and propensity to spend on discovery? Or are they money rich, time/health poor? Maybe they don't live luxuriously, but they aren't in survival mode and they save up for a big trip every year because they value cultural exploration. These travelers are just as valuable, so think about all of this as you approach your marketing and experience design now.


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