Big Interview: Understanding paradoxical consumers top tap into their value

Big Interview: Understanding paradoxical consumers top tap into their value

Ahead of ITB, we sat down with Chinmai Sharma, global head, lodging, ground & sea of Sabre, to find out how to better understand and better address the needs of travellers that have contradicting preferences

Q: In your session at ITB Berlin, you are speaking about the paradoxical consumer and how to address their needs. Can you provide some background on that? 

A: The paradoxical consumer refers to individuals who exhibit seemingly contradictory preferences, behaviours, or purchasing patterns. Addressing the needs of paradoxical consumers requires a nuanced approach that acknowledges and embraces their contradictory desires. The management consulting company Accenture call it “the human paradox” in one of their reports. The authors make the case that in an increasingly volatile world, consumers are becoming more and more unpredictable. They are trying to harmonise their personal believes and values with practical realities in a complex world. That means that what consumers tell us might be actually different from what they do. For instance, a study by McKinsey found that while 84% of travellers say that sustainability is a very important factor in their purchase decisions, 50% say they’re not sure if they would actually pay a premium for sustainable products.

Q: What do these paradoxical choices manifest in travel?

A: Changes in consumer behaviour will have a direct impact on travel choices. As an example, a paradoxical traveller might seek both luxury and affordability in their purchases. Travelers might fly on a low-cost airline and then stay at a luxury spa hotel. Or they might stay at an expensive hotel and then explore the city for cheap street food to have an authentic experience. “Bleisure” is another growing example where travellers are combining reasons of traveling – someone might fly business class for a work trip, have their partner join them for the weekend, and then fly back together economy because it’s not on their employer’s dime. The same consumer, but very different behaviours and different needs between coming and going.

Q: How can travel businesses respond to this shift in consumer behaviour?

A: Consumer expectations are evolving rapidly – and travel companies need to change just as quickly if they want to thrive. The biggest shift is probably one in mindset: Businesses need to stop considering consumers as single-minded, one-dimensional entities and treat them as complex individuals that make paradoxical choices. This unpredictability challenges traditional one-size-fits-all offerings, pushing the industry towards more flexible and dynamic models. Operators need to be agile, adapting their services and products quickly based on real-time data. It's about creating a more personalised travel experience, which, in turn, requires a deep understanding of customer behaviour and preferences.

Travel businesses need to first identify paradoxical consumer segments within their target audience and then understand their diverse preferences, behaviours, and motivations. They can then offer customisable products and services that allow consumers to tailor their experience according to their conflicting preferences.

Q: What’s the role of technology, and Sabre specifically, when it comes to addressing the needs of today’s travelers? 

A: Technology is key when it comes to meeting the needs of today’s complex, demanding consumers. Sabre is utilising advanced analytics to understand their behaviours, enabling our customers to deliver personalised travel options that cater to the dynamic preferences of travelersFrom predictive analytics to personalised retailing, we offer solutions that allow our customers to not just respond to but anticipate the needs of their travelers. This, coupled with our commitment to innovation, ensures that our partners are well-equipped to meet the demands of the paradoxical consumer.

Sabre also has a long term partnership with Google which involves integrating its technology and travel data with Google's platforms to enhance the travel booking experience for users. Sabre leverages Google's data analytics capabilities to gain insights into traveler behavior and preferences. By analyzing vast amounts of travel data, Sabre can offer personalised recommendations and tailored travel experiences to users, enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Q: What's your take on the future of travel retailing in light of these trends?

A: I think that we are standing on the precipice of an exciting retailing era in travel. The travel industry is complex and highly fragmented, and in the past has delivered a retailing experience which was very manual and static, with very little opportunities for personalisation. The industry has made some great progress in the last few years towards rules-based automation and some personalisation. Thanks to the advances in artificial and machine learning, we are now moving towards a future of intelligent automation and hyper-personalisation. The next few years will be really interesting, with more personalised and better experiences for travellers and greater revenue opportunities for travel businesses.