To Effectively Market to Travelers, You First Need to Understand Their Motivations

Focus on key differentiators to build meaningful connections

Today, young travelers have been coined the Airbnb generation, while older travelers are perceived as the Marriott Bonvoy generation. It’s more complex than that. Sure, we’re seeing rental-based travel on the rise among younger people, but it’s not exclusive to them. As a former Airbnb Superhost in Boston, I saw a wide range of guests from Emerson college students wanting to shoot a film on our deck, to athletes in their 40s looking for a place to stay for the Boston Marathon to boomers visiting the city for the first time. What distinguishes these travelers isn’t their age—it’s their mindset.

To effectively market to these groups it’s important to understand their travel motivations. At Havas Media, we start with the consumer journey and work to understand why someone is traveling, what’s most meaningful to them and why they’re choosing to travel in a particular way. In the course of this exercise, we’re able to identify triggers and pain points that help us determine if a traveler is more or less likely to book a particular trip. To figure out what motivates consumers to choose between the accommodation styles of companies like Airbnb and Marriot Bonvoy, I’ve identified several differentiators that can help inform how you market to each group.

Appetite for adventure

There’s a willingness from the Airbnb traveler to sacrifice some level of comfort in exchange for a unique adventure or experience. It’s the feeling that if you stay at a chain hotel, you won’t experience the city like a local. This mindset extends to parents trying to immerse their children in a new culture. Conversely, a less adventurous traveler could find Airbnb stress-inducing because of the number of unknowns. For this individual, a brand like Marriott Bonvoy is reliable and comforting, while Airbnb is risky and unknown.

The best ways to connect with travelers based on their travel style? Identify adventure-seekers by the types of destinations they’re planning or bookmarking. Companies like TripAdvisor are sitting on a wealth of first-party data against specific search queries on their site. You can segment these intent-based audiences and target them on TripAdvisor or elsewhere using audience extensions. By leveraging these rich signals on trip planning sites you can find and message travelers with greater precision.

Solo versus group travel

Airbnb and Marriott Bonvoy bookers aren’t mutually exclusive. Rather, it’s situational. A consultant traveling weekly for work might stay at Marriott Bonvoy hotels across the country and not even consider Airbnb. Yet, when planning her friend’s Miami bachelorette party, this same traveler might choose an Airbnb over a hotel, knowing it’s the more economical option. The price is right and she gets to share the space with her friends. Win, win.

To differentiate between group and non-group travelers, use intent-based signals like the ones described above on TripAdvisor and contextual media. Content is just as important as targeting—distinguish your messaging between group and non-group travelers. The content you reach individuals with is just as important as the context in which they’re receiving it.

Publishers like Refinery29 create an incredible amount of occasion and travel-related content. There are hundreds of wedding and bachelorette party-related pieces on Refinery29 right now, so you can target and retarget people when they are in the right mindset. You can also create custom content that leverages the credibility of the publisher and directs them to your brand.


Rewards and points are another major factor in choosing a destination or accommodation. Travelers who accumulate points with a particular hotel group are much more likely to choose a destination based on where they can get a free or discounted booking. This traveler is less likely to be in the market for Airbnb, and much more inclined to stick to their rewards provider.

So, how can you find this rewards-motivated person? Use credit card data to mine for purchase patterns. If someone books the same airline or hotel chain over and over again, you can assume they’re seeking points over price. Use this data to find and target people more or less likely to fall into this category. You can also partner with companies that have access to data about app downloads. For instance, if you are trying to find people who book on value over points/loyalty, create and target segments of people who have apps like TripAdvisor. Inversely, if you’re looking for those more apt to use loyalty programs, prioritize airline or hotel loyalty apps.

So, what does this mean for marketers?

To successfully create meaningful media experiences for travelers old and young, marketers need to deeply understand consumers’ motivations, mindsets and behaviors. The media experiences we develop for brands need to align with the consumer-planning journey rather than demographics.

This approach allows us to find tensions and opportunities that aren’t immediately obvious and draws us to the media that actually matter to consumers. Most often these opportunities live at the three-way intersection of who consumers are, what we say to them and where we say it. Once found, marketers can connect with consumers in more meaningful (and persuasive) ways.

Kelsey Chickering serves as VP of Strategy at Havas Media, leading teams on a variety of clients, including TripAdvisor and Eastern Bank, to build integrated creative and media experiences. Before joining Havas Media in 2017 she spent several years working in digital strategy at Hill Holiday.