Guest Post: Behavioural science can address the reticence of ‘cognitive misers’

Guest Post: Behavioural science can address the reticence of ‘cognitive misers’

Dr Jane Leighton, head of behavioural science at behave, explains how firms can overcome blocks to booking

Dr Jane Leighton, head of behavioural science consultancy at behave explains how travel firms can help clients overcome the blocks to booking a holiday

In recent weeks, thousands of Brits flocked to Portugal, as travel restrictions finally eased in March only for the country to be placed in the UK’s amber list.

Most people have been waiting for that breath of foreign air for over a year, as the spread of COVID-19 scuppered many people’s holiday plans last summer, causing pent-up demand in the travel sector.

Despite this, the vast majority of people are actually not planning to travel abroad this summer, according to YouGov research.

Most people still say they would feel uncomfortable travelling, even once all restrictions are lifted.

And the government’s flip flopping of the traffic light system is likely to exacerbate this. When the “green light” day does finally come across the board, it’s likely that demand for holidays will increase, but perhaps not as much as the travel industry hopes.

So, what is holding people back and how can we ensure that people will travel once it’s safe and responsible to do so?

This is where behavioural science comes in. Often customers are not making decisions and behaving as we might expect.

This is because instead of being entirely rational, decision making is biased by unconscious mental processes, or shortcuts, that typically allow people to make fast, smart decisions but can also lead to them making seemingly irrational choices.

Because we don’t always act rationally, changing people’s behaviour is less about changing people’s minds and more about changing how you frame a choice so that it aligns with how people’s minds work.

Travel needs to become an intuitive and emotionally rewarding choice and there are many ways to do this – one of which is to make things easy for the consumer.

Humans tend to be ‘cognitive misers’, with limited time and energy to focus on every decision.

Studies show that the brain prefers to expend as little energy as possible, seeking solutions to problems that take the least mental effort.

Going on holiday is now a lot more complex and effortful than in the past: there may be restrictions at your destination, you need to fill in various additional forms and you’re likely to have to carry out numerous Covid tests; travel advice is also changing on a regular basis – evidenced by the situation in Portugal.

We know that small, seemingly irrelevant details that make a task more challenging can make the difference between doing something and putting it off – sometimes indefinitely.

Therefore, helping consumers navigate this new and complex world is likely to be an effective strategy. This can be done in a number of ways:

  1. Simplify information

Ensuring that travel requirements are presented in a concise, simple and easy to digest way will make customers’ lives easier and make travel seem less daunting.

For example, breaking the list of travel requirements into smaller, more manageable chunks can help make sure people are not overwhelmed with information.

Similarly, providing checklists is often helpful, so that passengers can clearly identify the steps they need to complete at each stage of travel.

  1. Decrease the ‘hassle factor

We can be deterred from a behaviour by seemingly small barriers. Decreasing the hassle factor of going on holiday by, for example, helping travellers arrange their Covid tests prior to and after arrival in the UK is likely to help reduce travel friction.

Tui have recently started offering easy and affordable testing packages to do just that.

Making travel easier and more hassle free is just one way to help change behaviour. It’s unlikely that there will be one silver bullet that will drive recovery of the travel industry and undoubtedly that recovery is largely dependent on the course of the pandemic in the coming months.

However, by understanding the many forces that influence behaviour, we can make it easier for people to start returning to normal life once it’s sensible to do so.