The Growth of Experiential Travel

You’re scrolling through your friends’ Instagram posts, wondering how they have so many vacation days, when you feel this need building. You see them riding camels through the Sahara and tasting salmon nigiri in Shinjuku, and then glance at your desktop background of a three-year-old picture from Cape Cod, which pales in comparison to such exotic adventures.

Travel has often been about escape and relaxation — lazy days on the beach, soaking up the sun and sipping margaritas. But recent travel trends have shifted from escape to experience — specifically more immersive, adventurous and authentic experiences.

Just take a look at Airbnb and you’ll see that they offer their consumers more than just a place to stay. They provide all of the main points of traveling on their homepage. Alongside the familiar ‘Homes’ tab, you’ll find ‘Experiences,’ offering anything from surfing lessons in Bali, to kimono-making in Tokyo and a ‘Restaurants’ tab that provides direct access to menus, ratings, and reservations. There is something inherently gratifying about experiencing a place through its food, people, and culture. Sure, you can start off the day at Starbucks with a latte and have dinner at some Italian chain, but can’t you just do that at home?

Surf Lessons | Travel Experiences

Essentially, experiential travel means steering clear of tourist hotspots and exploring the lesser known gems to achieve a more genuine and local sense of a region. One of my favorite things to do while I lived in Shenzhen was to discover different restaurants and choose random items off the menu – which wasn’t difficult because my Mandarin definitely needs work. Of course, this method of ordering is a bit of a gamble, but I have found it to be much more exciting than playing it safe. As they say, life truly begins at the edge of your comfort zone. And I certainly wasn’t comfortable eating an entire squid in Tokyo, but I’ll remember that meal for the rest of my life.

Changing Traveler Motivations

Travelers are realizing that there is a difference between types of vacation experiences. In Skift’s 2017 U.S. Experiential Survey, when asked, “What is more important to you when planning travel?”, 65% of travelers chose ‘experiencing something new’ over ‘feeling rested and recharged’.

Of course, it’s nice to lounge on a sandy beach, but that is a surface-level experience that can be found on almost any coastline in the world. Learning to salsa dance in Cuba, or taking a cooking class in Paris — these unique experiences resonate with you for a much longer period of time. By tying experiences, learning, and emotions to your travels, you come away with an altered perspective of yourself and the world.

Furthermore, 60% of travelers would rather go to a new destination over one they’ve already visited. The unknown is always more interesting, and many travelers today cross off destinations they’ve already been to in hopes of uncovering the next unique culture, food, or landscape.

All types of travel are not equal. For example, a month spent backpacking through Southeast Asia had a much more profound effect on me than a weekend trip to Geneva, mainly because I was further outside my comfort zone in Asia. For a vacation to truly have an impact and expand your worldview, you must push the boundaries of what you are comfortable with. At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you are looking for in a vacation, and more and more people are looking for those boundary-pushing adventures.

Experiential Travel: Sushi Making

Appealing to the Experiential Traveler

Now that we’ve examined the motivations of the experience-seeker and know that they value authenticity, adventure, and novelty, what can travel brands do to effectively capture the heart of this type of traveler? Here are a few tips for how to incorporate experiences into your marketing and services:

  • Offer personalization: Consumers are moving away from the one size fits all packages and tours. Providing personalized excursions with smaller group sizes and more customizable options is one way to stand out in a crowded market.
  • Create a local’s guide: If you’ve been to any travel site recently, I’m sure you’ve seen something along the lines of “insider tips” or “local favorites.” Go a step beyond the standard city map and give your guests a neighborhood guide of businesses, attractions and events that are frequented by locals. They’ll appreciate the personal touch and the opportunity to explore places that are off the beaten tourist path.
  • Provide opportunities to engage with the local culture: Hotels should look for ways to collaborate with other companies and locals to provide an “inside look” into the culture of the area. Locals know the area better than anyone but of course aren’t just waiting at the airport. That’s where hoteliers come in – acting as the connection between the traveler and local. If your property is in Hawaii, consider offering ukulele lessons, canoeing, hula dancing, or other kinds of immersion into Hawaiian culture. You can even partner with a local company who already has these offerings. For example, beach resorts such as Mukul and Four Seasons Maldives have partnered with Tropicsurf, an international surf school to run onsite academies.
  • Focus on hands-on experiences: Travelers today don’t merely want the end result. They want to be a part of the process. It’s not just about eating sushi; it’s about going to the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo and seeing firsthand the bustling, way-too-early morning market where fish are weighed and measured and sold. Go beyond “spectator experiences,” and provide encounters that are immersive and hands-on.
  • Use visual content to market your experiences: Marketing visuals should give an authentic look at your travel experience and inspire users to take action. User-generated content is a great way to infuse authenticity into your marketing campaigns, so think of creative ways you can encourage your guests to share their experience on social media and review sites.

While travel, by definition, has always been about experiences, there is no doubt a growing demand for experiences that are unique, cultural, immersive and memorable. Hotels are no longer selling just a place to sleep. They’re selling an adventure into the unknown.

The Growth of Experiential Travel

Marketing , Travel