Indians are vacationing for so many reasons, the possibilities for marketers are endless.

The holiday season is finally here. Schools have closed for the summer vacations. Now, everyone seems to be headed for the annual break. Some of my friends have booked cruises towards Singapore. Another friend is happily heading to the beaches of Goa. A family we know has decided to see the Taj Mahal at Agra, and also visit Delhi and Jaipur. And a colleague has booked a villa in Spain for a week, where his family and he will soak in the Mediterranean sea, food and wine.

Indians are visibly spending much more on holiday travel today, compared to just a few years ago. In response, there is no dearth of marketers who are offering holiday packages of various kinds. Open any newspaper, and you will find vacation offers being advertised loudly by travel agencies, with descriptors such as “European Bonanza: 15 days all-inclusive for Rs 2 lakhs”, or “Caribbean cruises: US$ 449 per person for seven nights”. Typically, the advertisements are accompanied by a photograph of snow-clad Swiss mountains with cable cars, or a large luxury cruise liner.

These marketing efforts tend to commoditise holiday travel, reducing everything to the lowest common denominator of product (destination, number of days) and cost. That’s the way one would market basic commodities such as rice or toor dal. Such marketing does disservice to an exciting category such as vacations, particularly given the exotic and differentiated hues that this space offers. Only a few Indian marketers, such as the Taj Group of Hotels or Kerala Tourism, and niche online travel firms, have tried to do what marketers should actually be doing – identify consumer needs or insights, and then appeal to these needs as sharply as possible through terrific products and marketing campaigns.

This article makes the case that marketers of holidays – including travel agencies, hotel chains, railways, airlines, tourism boards – can be far more impactful and successful if they understand these fundamental consumer needs and thereafter segment their offerings to cater brilliantly to one or more of these needs. Fortunately, the field available is very wide, because holiday travel caters to multiple consumer needs, unlike, say, soap or toothpaste where there is a single predominant need.

In other words, a vacation is not just a vacation, it is much more – and the “much more” is quite different for various people. This point is best made when we examine why consumers are heading out on holidays. Here are ten reasons for holiday travel:

Rest and Rejuvenation: After a tiring year at office or home, a holiday is the much-needed break for body, mind and soul. Consumers seeking this will not want to travel incessantly during their vacations, they would rather simply relax at a single lovely location. So that’s exactly what marketers should offer.

Bonding and Relationships: Family bonding and renewal of relationships is yet another important reason for a holiday, particularly given today’s hectic pace of life, which is clearly not conducive to family members or partners spending time together at home. Here the product on offer should include interesting avenues for some active time together.

Health: Many people seek a health and wellness holiday, sometimes to address a specific health issue, at other times for a more general wellness uplift. They go to ayurvedic resorts, Himalayan ashrams that offer meditation camps, or spas that offer weight reduction therapies. Marketers can combine these specific benefits with exciting or exotic locales, to make the entire package irresistible. I have even heard of a famous guru offering a meditation holiday on a luxury cruise liner!

Adventure and active sport: Here is yet another distinct consumer need. These are people who wish to trek during their holidays, or learn skiing or white water rafting, and such. The most adventurous of this consumer type may even wish to go all the way upto base camp of Mount Everest, or journey to the source of the Nile. Of course, most of these “laymen adventurers” will also seek the promise of safety and comfort during the arduous journey. That’s fertile territory for excellent marketing.

Pilgrimage: A very simple holiday need, which expresses itself in large numbers of Indian consumers. They wish to visit well-known temples, churches or mosques. Sometimes, they seek a holiday where they can complete several such visits. We have seen lots of rudimentary marketing catering to this need (for example, Chardham Yatras offered by many travel agents), yet the opportunity ahead is to transform such pilgrimages into wholesome, contemporary and fun holidays as well.

Gambling: This is a primal human instinct, very popular for holidays amongst the rich and not-so-rich. That is why Macau and Las Vegas have become prime vacation spots in the world. While each of us is entitled to our point of view on gambling, the fact remains that Indian travel marketers can cater to this segmented need far more actively than they are doing today. Gambling on a cruise holiday or slot machines while flying in the skies, anyone?

History and culture: Culture buffs lust for holidays that take them to places of history, battlefields, museums, theatres, art galleries, ruins of kingdoms and the like. The more crumbling the ruins, the better. Here, the product has to be cleverly designed – for instance, such holidays come to life with a brilliant guide, or with bells and whistles such as meetings with famous artists thrown in. Again, a space that marketers have not explored aggressively enough.

Sports: Many people like following their favourite sports team, or watching iconic sports events – which could include Wimbledon (already popular with those who can afford it) or the finals of the Ranji Trophy cricket tournament (which can be made equally popular through great marketing campaigns). Once again, a segment that presents an excellent marketing opportunity, but is relatively unexplored today.

Drugs, rave parties and sexual gratification: These may not be legal needs in many countries, yet we must recognise that they are key holiday desires for a segment of the population. Locations such as Thailand or Goa are where people may head to fulfil these desires. Responsible marketers will choose to ignore this segment if it goes against the grain of their principles, yet the consumer need won’t go away, and there are countries where such holidays would be perfectly legal, within defined boundaries.

Status: Many people head to exotic locations primarily so that they are able to brag about their holidays when they return home. An Alaskan cruise or a visit to Milan brings its own badge of status at kitty parties or cocktail conversations. Of course, the product on offer here has to be very different from the ‘history and culture’ offering, given that the human need being served in fundamentally different.

There are many more reasons for holidays which we are unable to explore in this short article. These include nostalgia holidays to places which hold strong emotional personal history for the traveller; culinary holidays for foodies, a rapidly growing consumer segment; hobby holidays, where a personal passion such as photography can be pursued intensively; companionship holidays for extended dating between partners trying to discover each other; expensive overseas holidays which enable the person involved to spend unaccounted-for money with ease, and, of course, shopping holidays to places such as Dubai or Singapore which are ever popular.

If marketers can focus on each of these needs, build products and communication campaigns which can amplify and sharply cater to these consumer segments, then holiday marketing can certainly become far more exciting and effective. It will also enable the industry to rise well above the commodity space that it is stuck in today.

(This article was published on May 2, 2013)
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