What travel brands need to know about their most dedicated customers

Brands can engage the most frequent travelers by leaning into both new and existing technology
Unsplash / Morning Consult artwork by Ashley Berry
April 23, 2024 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • The most frequent business travelers are high-earning millennials, while the generational makeup of frequent leisure travelers more closely mirrors the general population.

  • 65% of frequent business travelers are early tech adopters, compared to just 39% of frequent leisure travelers.

  • WhatsApp represents an opportunity for many travel brands, as usage is up among both frequent business and leisure travelers.

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The summer of 2024 is set to be another busy one for the travel industry. Bookings are up and  many Americans say they are planning to travel more this year than they did in 2023. With post-pandemic travel back in full force, companies in the industry who are welcoming new customers must not ignore their most loyal ones: those who take multiple trips a year.

Understanding this group requires some nuance, and Morning Consult Intelligence data reveals key differences between those who are traveling the most frequently for business, and those who are doing so for leisure.

Frequent business travelers are mostly millennials, and all frequent travelers skew high income

They may be similar in their propensity to travel often, but the most frequent business and leisure travelers differ when it comes to demographics. Around half (49%) of frequent business travelers, defined as U.S. adults who travel five or more times annually for business, are millennials — understandable, as the generation also makes up a plurality of the American workforce. The generational split of frequent leisure travelers, those who travel five or more times annually for leisure, on the other hand, more closely mirrors the general population. 

Key demographics of frequent business and leisure travelers

Demographic makeup of each group
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Morning Consult Intelligence gathered 38,347 survey responses April 18, 2023 - April 18, 2024, with a margin of error of +/- 0.5 percentage points.

The consistency between the makeup of frequent leisure travelers and the general population shows that no single age group is more prone to travel frequently than the others. So what does differentiate those who take many leisure trips annually? Income. While more than half of all U.S. respondents live in households earning less than $50,000 annually and only 17% earn $100,000 or more, those numbers shift to 32% and 34% for frequent leisure travelers. The same is true for business travelers — those in higher income brackets are not only more likely to travel for work, but far more likely to do so frequently.

Frequent business travelers are more driven by tech, trends and status

The most frequent business travelers also differ from their leisure counterparts when it comes to psychographics. For example, the notion of external validation is a much stronger motivator for the frequent business traveler: they are 22 percentage points more likely than frequent leisure travelers to say they strive to achieve a high social status (55% agree) and 21 points more likely to say they are always looking for the latest trends (61% say this is true). This suggests that their travel preferences will be influenced by social caché, and that reinforcing the trendiness of their choices, as well as giving ample opportunity and prompting to share those choices with others, will resonate.

On the other hand, the most frequent leisure travelers are slightly more driven by habit, and prefer reliability from their products and services more so than business travelers. Notably though, the most differentiated motivators for frequent leisure travelers are also highly relevant for their business-traveling counterparts, suggesting that those motivators — reliability, consistency, loyalty — can be used to appeal to all frequent travelers, no matter the occasion.

Motivators of frequent business and leisure travelers

Share who said they related to the following prompts
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Morning Consult Intelligence gathered 38,347 survey responses April 18, 2023 - April 18, 2024, with a margin of error of +/- 0.5 percentage points.

The key motivator that sets frequent business travelers apart from their leisure counterparts is technology. Nearly two-thirds say they are generally among the first to try new tech products, 26 percentage points higher than frequent leisure travelers. Their status as early adopters suggests an openness to new tools and platforms introduced by brands, and perhaps even hints at an expectation of tech-enabled fluidity in their travels. As the travel industry continues to evaluate new consumer-facing technologies such as artificial intelligence, this could prove to be a key audience for testing, feedback and optimization.

WhatsApp is a key platform to connect with frequent business travelers

The travel industry is (rightly) hyperfocused on new technology, but brands also mustn’t discount the opportunity to tap into existing technologies to connect with travelers. One platform in particular to consider is WhatsApp: it’s used by 30% of U.S. adults, but 43% of frequent leisure travelers and a whopping 68% of frequent business travelers. And what’s more, those numbers have grown notably over the past year: by 8 percentage points among the general population, 16 points for frequent leisure travelers and 24 points for business travelers.

WhatsApp usage is growing quickly among business travelers

Share of respondents who use WhatsApp
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Morning Consult Intelligence gathered 168,571 survey responses April 18, 2023 - April 18, 2024, with a margin of error of +/- 0.5 percentage points.

WhatsApp may be billed primarily as a messaging app, but the possibilities for business stretch far beyond one-to-one communication. Brands can use the platform for seamless customer service, to share booking confirmations and updates, even to create personalized itineraries. And in some markets, WhatsApp even facilitates payments — all on a platform where over two-thirds of frequent business travelers are already engaging, leading to a more seamless overall experience.

What’s more, the platform’s popularity is truly global, with more than 2 billion users worldwide. To wit, Morning Consult data shows that U.S. adults who travel internationally are more likely to use WhatsApp than those who travel domestically, suggesting experiences with the app while traveling abroad may be influencing consumers’ behaviors and expectations. Harnessing the power of WhatsApp will help travel brands to connect with the most frequent travelers and perhaps engage new ones as well.

Morning Consult Intelligence customers can access the platform here. If you are interested in learning more about our Audience data, reach out to your Morning Consult contact or email [email protected].

Lindsey Roeschke is a travel & hospitality analyst. Lindsey’s work focuses on behavior and expectations in travel (among other categories), particularly through a generational and cultural lens. In addition to her research and advisory background, Lindsey has more than a decade of experience in the advertising world.
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