Individuality in Travel
BY JULIA XIAO '24
Have you ever received a promo in the mail for a cruise? Seen an ad for a cheap flight? Whether it be a reprisal-seeking student or a hopeful family, people worldwide greatly enjoy traveling and tourism. Typically, travel packages include the flight, room, and if lucky, adventure and good memories to take away. Cruises and resorts are more inclusive by providing food and more amenities. Despite the industries’ marketing of fun-filled adventures for individuals and family, they see travelers as a point of data in the eyes of profit; increasingly, customers become disillusioned that they are “main characters,” whose experience matters most.
A convenient vacation leads people to happily buy in, but the negative side of marketing values profit over the consumer’s well-being. For example, as reported by the travel news company, Skift, 113 cruise lines spent $34.6 million advertising across print, TV, and digital platforms during the 2021 pandemic era, yet COVID-19 messaging was almost non-existent. Rather, the imagery focused on luxury and relaxation. In fact, the travel industry urged people to book a reward after a long hibernation—‘you deserve it.’ Although travel boosts mental health, the lack of health precautions disregards each traveler’s well-being. Consequently, sick returnees can spread illness to their local communities, creating a magnifying effect. Those who responsibly stay home get punished for vacationers’ actions, and the travel industry only encourages the spread. It blurs all of society as potential customers, without caring for the health and safety of local communities, individual travelers, and tourists.
The Royal Caribbean is an example of a company appearing to treat consumers as main characters, but only providing a false promise of individuality. Opening its website, browsers are slammed with tactics meant to elicit a purchase. First, a pop up requests an email sign-up in order to receive $50, through which the company latches onto the individual. Second, in early December of 2023, the website glaringly stated, “up to $650 off + 30% off all cruises + kids sail free*.” These promotions and their limited appeal pressure the browser to immediately book. Next, the Icon of the Seas’ itinerary hones in on enticing the customer through specific niches, such as a supper club with eight courses and live jazz and convenient hop on, hop off excursions. These unique experiences enhance the participant’s feeling of being special because they are not commonly found in daily life. However, the offerings are not truly individually tailored—anyone with a ticket can participate. Although targeted marketing prevails in all industries, travel stands out because for average Americans, a trip is a significant purchase that takes sacrifice and saving to obtain.
Tourism and travel make irreplaceable stories; although they hold special meaning, the companies do not prioritize the buyer’s enjoyment. Overbooking is a common practice in airlines, hotels, and sometimes cruises because providers expect some cancellations and want to maximize revenue with full capacity. Overbooking shows the emphasis on revenue over individuals because conflicts arise when not enough cancel. In November of 2023, after Royal Caribbean overbooked their eight-day cruise, they simply notified passengers at the last minute of being “unable to allocate a stateroom number to [the] reservation” (USA Today). The original compensation was a full refund and future cruise certificate worth 25% of their fare. After becoming viral on social media, the compensation became a full refund plus future cruise certificates worth the full fare and complimentary Deluxe Beverage packages. The initial news is impersonal and unapologetic, and the offer is low; the travelers cleared their schedules and might not have the ability to re-schedule, and the issue is the company’s fault. Royal Caribbean poorly treated customers, only reconsidering their offer since they couldn’t get away with it. They prey on the victim’s inability to protest as an individual, and the beautiful experience they advertise is only a vulnerable mirage.
Another issue is the travel industry’s impact on the local communities, which are not the priority. While tourists pass through hot-spots for a short period of time, the local residents end up as background. For instance, in Hawaii, tourism is rising to an extent that the locals oppose. Overcrowding strains the natural environment and disrupts the inhabitants with noise and pollution. Below the surface, Hawaii has a housing crisis, yet homes are taken for tourism rentals (AP News). Excessive tourism harms the locals who lose their voice and individuality. Further, the passersby's accomplishment of seeing the world is exaggerated when surface level area that was explore.
From 2013 to 2022, the Travel and Tourism industry amounted to 7.6% of the global GDP, securing its position as a major market. Travel & Tourism GDP is set to annually grow 5.8% on average between 2022 and 2032, outpacing the 2.7% overall economic growth. With the sector’s growth, the amount of experiences, travel booking, and providers all are projected to increase, so eyes are on the question: Will the travel industry care more about each customer’s individual satisfaction? There are signs that the travel industry may grow to better value people’s experiences. Nowadays, travelers are increasingly sharing their experiences online, and the dissemination has a beneficial exposing effect as companies know consumers can track and compare. Yet, the ball remains solely in the provider’s court. All consumers can do is conduct individual research, set realistic expectations, avoid too much emotional emphasis to prevent disappointment, and consider travel the same way as any other product or service. After all, travel is not easily catered to an individual’s tastes.