In travel, trust is paramount, perhaps more so than in other industries

May 12, 2017 - At its very core is the travellers’ willingness to get out of their comfort zones and throw caution to the wind; otherwise they would remain in the controlled environment of their homes. Though the risk-taking happens in varying degrees, depending on the travellers’ personality and circumstances, trust plays a major role in choosing where to go and which suppliers to use. The choice of travel provider is inextricably linked with the choice of destination and travellers need to trust in both.

As people start to plan their spring break and summer vacation trips, it is important to recognize how much trust plays into the equation. Each year, we publish the Gustavson Brand Trust Index, a ranking of leading Canadian and global brands. We survey more than 6,000 people and measure their trust in over 270 brands across 27 industry sectors. The survey has taught us invaluable lessons about the currency of trust. These lessons apply particularly well to hospitality and travel providers and to destinations. Travel has high impact on the environment and on local communities and our choices may have far-reaching consequences.

So what do we look for in making decisions? We need to trust that our choice is reliable, high quality, and good value for money, as well as safe and secure. We need to trust that we are treated well and are seen as welcome visitors, and that we receive honest communications and high responsiveness to our concerns from both travel providers and government agencies.

And of increasing importance, especially in the travel industry today, we need to trust that the brands and destinations we choose demonstrate a broader set of values, such as respecting and protecting the natural environment and contributing to local communities.

In recent years we have seen a "flight to safety" in choice of destinations as global tensions have risen and fears of personal security have come to the fore. At the same time, we are seeing a tightening of visa restrictions in some countries and even a willingness to override previous commitments. The recent actions by President Trump, for example in banning visitors with valid visas from entering the United States, will have the effect of eroding trust in the USA brand. To the extent that visitors from certain backgrounds are made to feel unwelcome, trust is further eroded, irrespective of any actions that are taken by travel providers.

Shannon Stowell, president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association has broken down the essential requirements that travel providers should meet in order to develop trust with their customers. Before the trip begins, the tour operator/agent needs to provide extensive information and answer questions that anticipate customer needs, even those the customer may not be able to articulate. Timeliness of communications is also hugely important. During the trip, the customer must feel safe and understood. Guides who pay attention to the customers’ experiences and concerns will also help raise trust levels. Lastly, trip follow-up is important for building overall trust in a travel brand.

Trust issues take on particular significance for adventure travel. Customers look for reassurance that the provider has been in business for an acceptable length of time, has had a good history with few incidents, is a member of a recognized association, can provide references and testimonials, is clearly differentiated from its competitors, and demonstrates strong values around sustainability.

In today’s world being authentic, responsible and sustainable is no longer an option, it’s a business imperative. It is no accident that the United Nations designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Building and sustaining trust in this context is essential.

Saul Klein, PhD
Dean, Peter B. Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria