​​As Demand for Group Travel Rises, Payment Challenges Loom

10 October 2021

When it was time to travel again, it wasn’t at all surprising that the majority of us prioritized trips to connect with family and friends. Airbnb dubbed 2021 the year of meaningful travel,” and survey after survey revealed the propensity for travel-starved consumers to favor trips that provided group accommodations, reservations, and experiences. 

But while enthusiasm for packing bags for group trips is high, being the one holding the bag for the IOU is not.

Group travelers increasingly want to book a trip and hold a reservation as a unit, but pay for their part of the bill individually, directly through the travel provider itself. To that end, travel industry leaders are automating the ability to split and individualize payments, more evidence of the increasing role that ease of payment plays in the overall travel experience.

A mix of travel and consumer trends are pushing travel providers to automate individual payment for group trips.

Travelers vacationing with family or friends say they want to experience something new -- whether it’s the activity or the destination itself. Adventure and experiential travel have boomed to that end, bouncing back fast. It helps that these trips align quite well with many of the major travel trends and preferences of the day -- many of the activities are outdoors, they’re eco-friendly by nature and provide authentic ways for travelers to immerse themselves in local cultures in a sustainable way.

These once-in-a-lifetime experiences carry high anticipation and the price tag to match. It’s in that environment that one friend or family member steps into the “accounts receivable” role and is tasked to do the equivalent of extending credit to family members or friends in expectation of timely payment. With transactions in thousands or even tens of thousands, it’s crucial to receive payment, but complex for that person to track everything. What’s more, chasing down money has the potential to inject unwanted emotions into what should have been an overwhelmingly positive experience.

Often, these trips are multi-generational, and that person is collecting payment in many different types -- Venmo, cash, checks, bitcoin (ok, maybe don’t invite that person). They’re reconciling all those different payment types against their personal bank account. That takes a lot of time, energy, and patience–all of which weighs against the enjoyment of the actual trip.

And with restrictions around travel loosening, travelers are also coming together from different countries again. Friends or family members who want to pay in different currencies can’t use all the familiar US consumer options for digital payments, and/or are forced to deal with high fees to move and exchange money. This could delay payments or introduce additional costs that will impact how they approach the trip itself.

We know that payment complexity causes friction in the travel experience. Some 40% of the 800 travelers Flywire surveyed said they have experienced problems traveling because of payment issues. And ease of payment is actually a factor in travel choice. Nearly ¾ said ease of payment influences their choice of travel agent or tour operator.

To that end, those in the industry are enabling some innovative payment experiences. And they’re finding that exceptional payer experiences drive efficiencies into their accounting operations.

Take Bella Coola, for instance, the British Columbian heli-ski company rated No. 1 in the world. It has absorbed payment complexity on the client end, viewing payments as an extension of its entire customer experience. Bella Coola makes it easy for people to pay for their individual parts of a trip, in their preferred currencies and amounts, and, with the Flywire platform, still receives those payments in Canadian dollars. It can hold a reservation for say, six people, and track individual payments within the group to ensure payment as a whole with ease.

Your business isn’t payments -- but it’s not your customer’s job either. Larger groups want the ability to book a reservation together as a unit, without one person owning the bill and then having to chase their friends or family to get paid. For this reason, providing more functionality to individualize and automate group payments will continue to surge in 2021 and beyond.