Michael Brein is The Travel Psychologist. If you want to get inside the head of travelers, he’s the guy to ask. So I asked him: As one of the most interesting summers in the history of travel winds down, what are travelers thinking? And what are they afraid of?
A new survey says a majority of travelers “somewhat” agree this is a good time to find a deal. What’s going on?
In a way, it reflects the same trend as economists are suggesting — that the recession is over — and that’s reflected directly in people’s opinions of travel. This is probably the peak of still-good travel offers.
But this could begin to turn around.
So the deals are here, but people don’t think they are?
We’ve become a bit dubious and jaded, don’t you think? We want to believe, truly we do, but we are still skeptical. What’s the catch? Deals are really there for the picking.
What’s it going to take to change public opinion?
You know, when people start dipping their toes into travel again — come-on-in-the-water’s-fine syndrome — they’ll grab some last-minute, tail-end deals if they try, before the trend swings upwards again. I’ll bet confidence is starting to move upwards now. Travel will parallel the consumer confidence graph, with a slight lag.
OK, let’s stay with syndromes. We’ve seen a lot of interesting things happen in travel in the last year. Have you noticed any new syndromes, disorders, illnesses?
I love syndromes. The more TSA and Homeland Security stresses that are added upon increasing airport stress, I’ll bet this causes aberrant behavior to come out. It’s hard to prove, though. Witness the Ron Paul campaigner and his bizarre interaction with TSA. Call it anxiety creep.
How about phobias? What are travelers afraid of?
People seem a little more anxious about the increasing delays they are hearing about. And there has been a run on airplane disasters lately. That has to be on the minds of people — some people anyway.
So, if you’re afraid to board a plane — what would you say to someone, other than the obvious, which is that it’s statistically safer that driving?
Well, it’s hard to reason with people who have ingrained fears, but, generally, the odds are on their side. I like the rite of passage concept in this regard. Those who are fearful and go through more or less more stressful experiences will subjectively feel that much more relieved, and, hence, better, upon arrival.
Thus, they will have a relatively happier arrival experience than rest of us more normal travelers. They go through the hazing process of getting through the airport, boarding, getting there. The reward of safe arrival looms, so putting that into words to the anxious travelers: “Think about how great it will be when you arrive — it’ll be just wonderful!” — that has to resonate.
What are airlines afraid of?
Here’s a good one: United Breaks Guitars. Did you see that one?
Yes, I did.
That’s a relatively new phobia.
A wonderful new phenomenon.
How would you treat it?
Get with the program. Airlines must improve customer relations. That’s the [cure].
As a psychologist, what do you think we’ve learned from the last year — recession, fare sales, airline accidents, hotel foreclosures, and all?
Well, you can panic, which means that everything gets curbed, muted, withdrawn. Or you can develop more patience. This patience, when put to practice, means that it is not an all-or-none proposition.
Adjust to the conditions and plan travel accordingly. I think this is one of the things I’ve learned.