Have you ever heard the term Fully Independent Traveler (FIT)?
Most people see emerging technologies as the number one factor that keeps transforming the tourism industry. While this is true, another important piece of the industry’s transformation puzzle is the travelers themselves. The needs of travelers are constantly shifting, and brand-new traveler segments emerge on a regular basis.
One of these segments is fully independent travelers.
Tour operators and travel agencies see many opportunities in this segment of travelers. Should you focus on it as well or continue – business as usual? There is only one way to answer that question. You need more information on this type of traveler. Let’s see what a fully independent traveler is, what makes them unique, and work our way towards whether this is an exciting option for you and how to target independent travelers.
What is a fully independent traveler?
Fully independent travelers (or FIT) is a term that stems from independent foreign tours. The independent foreign tour is no longer used, and you will often find these tourists addressed as FITs. The F in this acronym stands for ‘fully.’
But what is a fully independent traveler then? While the concept of a traveler encompasses all kinds of travelers, it’s most often used to describe people who enjoy mass tourism and holiday packages. They don’t mind using the products that somebody else created for them, including complete travel and stay arrangements.
FITs are entirely different from your standard travelers. They don’t find mass tourism and holiday package offers particularly attractive. In fact, they are not interested in them at all. They have a more individualistic approach to travel.
The definition of FIT goes like this:
“FIT is a person who travels completely independently and free of a tour operator and travel agency assistance.”
In other words, a FIT manages and arranges the itinerary according to their needs and preferences. It includes everything ranging from transportation arrangements and hotel stay to excursions and sightseeing.
What are other acceptable uses of this term?
Today, FIT is a common term in the tourism industry. However, there are still many people that use it interchangeably with other terms. Different terms should not confuse you as they all refer to the same thing – a fully independent traveler. The best way to avoid confusion is to get familiar with all other terms commonly used in the industry.
Here is a complete list of other acceptations of this term:
- Free Independent Traveler;
- Free Independent Tourist;
- Fully Independent Traveler;
- Foreign Independent Traveler;
- Foreign Independent Tourist;
- Frequent Independent Traveler;
- Flexible Independent Travel;
- Frequent Individual Traveler.
Now that you know what FIT is and all the synonyms you can potentially encounter online and when networking, let’s see what makes FITs unique. Or, in other words, the behavior, needs, expectations, and wants of FITs.
What are the features of Fully Independent Travellers?
We’ve already established that FITs work out their itineraries independently and arrange travel plans to reflect their unique needs. They also don’t travel on group tours. But is there anything more that these travelers share in common? Below you can find all the features of FITs.
Traveling solo, in couples, or in small intimate groups
When we talk about FITs, we refer to a group of travelers who are not interested in being part of big groups surrounded by people they don’t know. Many of them prefer to go on a trip by themselves. However, some of them don’t exclusively travel solo.
FITs are also known to travel in couples. They can also plan trips as a small group. These groups are intimate, meaning they usually include friends and family members.
It’s a diverse demographic group
Usually, travelers with specific travel behavior, needs, and wants, are found in the same demographic segment based on age. This is not the case with FITs. It’s quite a diverse demographic group. Most often, the youngest members are millennials, but they are soon to be joined by Generation Z (those born in the mid and late 90s). 30% of Gen Z prefer to travel alone, and 20% of the same generation plan to go on a solo backpacking trip.
On the other side, you can also find retirees as one of the most active FITs. They are more experienced in travel and know what they want to get out of a trip. It enables them to custom-tailor their experiences and travel entirely independently.
They have above-average income
Another vital factor to consider is the income of travelers. Group travel packages and transportation are popular because they come with attractive price tags and are often found on first-minute and last-minute discounts.
Independent travel is more expensive than standard travel. That’s why you will find most FITs to have above-average incomes. It enables them to afford more costly forms of travel, including accommodation and transportation. Most of the FITs have an income in the $150,000 range.
Planning their own unique itineraries
The travel products tour operators and travel agencies offer are often pre-built. Many travelers find this quite convenient as they need not worry about anything except packing their bags. With FITs, the situation is quite the opposite. They want to have complete control over the travel experience.
That’s why FITs plan their own unique itineraries. With so much information readily available online, FIT tourists can research destinations independently and plan their itineraries as if they are travel specialists.
Booking their own transportation and accommodation
The standard tourist does like to explore various accommodation and transportation opportunities. However, their options are limited by the travel agency’s offer. Also, when choosing a travel agent, they often have to book transportation and accommodation through an agency.
FITs book transportation and accommodation on their own. There are many transportation companies and hotels that offer direct booking. It makes it easier for FITs to find what they need. They can book a flight at a specific time and make their independent travel dreams come true.
Exploring destinations on their own
Finally, traditional travel packages often include excursions and sightseeing tours at the destination. Tourists can pursue their own adventures outside these pre-arranged tours but often have very little time to do so.
Independent tourists don’t like to adapt to a schedule somebody else created for them. Instead, they want to explore destinations at their own pace. They are interested in various things, including culture, food, history, and architecture. And since they are independent, they can cherry-pick what the destination has to offer and make their trip one of a kind.
Is the FIT segment interesting for tour operators and travel agencies?
The FIT segment is quite interesting for tour operators and travel agencies as there is excellent potential to generate new revenue streams from FITs. The FIT markets throughout the world keep growing. The pre-pandemic figures indicate that it was growing 7.5% on average per year in western Europe. As the restrictions are being lifted, it’s expected that the market will continue to grow at least at the same pace.
Asian destinations, especially Chinese and Thailand localities, are quite popular among FITs. Many backpackers, the sub-segment of FITs, visited Bangkok, and 63% of them were from Europe alone. Hong Kong’s revenue from FIT products keeps on increasing. Over four years, it went up by more than 100%, from HK$2 billion to HK$5.6 billion.
According to the Solo Traveler Reader Survey, 70% of solo travelers preferred to stay completely independent while traveling. 40% spend $1,000 on average per week, excluding airfare, while 30% spend $2,500 on average per week.
Another way to assess the potential value of catering to the needs of FITs is to take a look at the solo travel search trends on major search engines. Over two years, from 2020 to 2022, the number of searches for solo travel on Google quadrupled.
Post-pandemic travel trends are pretty interesting. Google trends indicate that solo travel is trending with a massive increase of over 700%.Booking also reports some interesting numbers. According to their report, the number of solo travelers increased by 100% after the pandemic.
It appears that Australia is the number one option among FITs. According to the latest research, this continent is the most popular destination for international solo tourists.
How can tour operators and travel agencies target FITs?
If you find these numbers compelling, you probably want to tap into the FIT market. But is there a way to do it? Tour operators and travel agencies have plenty of options for attracting more FITs and increasing their revenue.
Tour operators have to shift their approach when it comes to creating travel packages. Instead of creating complete packages, they need to focus more on single niche experiences before selling them to consumers and travel agents. Here are some tips tour operators can follow when including culture, food, history, nature, and architecture-related products in their offer:
- Focus on smaller products – instead of creating A-Z experiences, focus on creating single products to attract FITs;
- Choose quality before quantity – when creating products, be mindful of the value the travel experience delivers instead of simply following the “the more, the better” rule;
- Include optional local tour guides – make tour guides optional, as FITs often prefer to explore destinations alone without a guide. Keeping it as an option will enable you to attract also FITs that want to learn something from a local guide;
- Include products for solo, couple, and small group travel – FITs love to travel either solo or in small groups; keep this in mind when creating products;
- Diversify offer – don’t base your products on just one type of experience; diversify your offer by creating culture, architecture, nature, history, and food-oriented products.
When it comes to travel agencies, the most important thing they can do to target FITs is to drop their pre-planned travel itineraries. But before you can implement this strategy, you need to align with tour operators that offer agencies to hand-pick products.
Since travel agencies are the storefront travelers often explore before booking a trip, you would also need to revisit your website. Most importantly, you must create and deliver a new interface enabling FITs to interact with the products in your listings.
For instance, you can create an itinerary builder and connect it with your product database. It will enable FITs to use it whenever they need to create a specialized itinerary that reflects their unique needs.
Furthermore, you should make your offers more attractive by optimizing costs. Offering affordable booking opportunities to FITs while still being able to remain profitable can be challenging. That’s where platforms such as Hotelmize can help you out. It will help you take advantage of booking price volatility and enable you to offer products at competitive prices.
Finally, you should optimize your marketing strategies to consider the needs, wants, and preferences of FITs. For instance, you can revise your SEO strategy to target FIT-related keywords in your blog posts and product descriptions.
PPC marketing is also an option because it allows you to target specific keywords and appear in relevant search results. You can extend your marketing efforts to social media platforms as well. Don’t forget that many FITs are tech-savvy and like to spend time on social media.
Some platforms, such as Facebook, already have targeting filters in the “People Traveling to This Location” category to help you reach FITs, including:
- Fresh arrivals from the airport;
- Travelers who are interested in a specific characteristic of a city;
- Newly engaged and newlywed couples;
- Birthday celebrators;
- Parents who are traveling with kids in a location.
FITs are travelers who value independence above everything else. They include people of all ages with above-average income who prefer to create their own itineraries, book transport, and accommodation on their own, and explore destinations solo or in small groups.
Given that the FIT market looks healthy and keeps growing, tour operators and travel agencies are becoming more interested in it with every passing year. If you want to tap into this market, the strategies we’ve outlined will help you target FITs.
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