These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find an individual who doesn’t crave ‘experiences’ when they travel. Of course, at its core, all travel is about the experience, but in our modern era, ‘experiential travel’ has become its own niche, highlighting the desire by many, especially millennials, to have authentic, local and unique travel experiences that go beyond the same old pre-packaged fare.
So, What Is Experiential Travel all About?
Wendy Perrin, respected travel advocate and expert, in a report for Skift, explained the segment as such: “I think more people are travelling for a personal interest or a theme. Like they’ll fly to Lima to try out all the cool new Peruvian restaurants. Or they’re going to Italy, and it’s not about seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa or Colosseum. It’s about learning how to make homemade Tuscan cuisine, tiramisu or balsamic vinegar, meeting the chefs and winemakers, and stomping grapes during harvest season.”
In other words, it’s about taking the road less travelled and doing activities that are personalized to your unique interests, hobbies and passions. It’s also about connecting with locals who might not directly be in the field of travel, hospitality and tourism, but who have an intimate knowledge of their area of field.
But translating experiential and local tourism into a well-planned destination marketing plan isn’t easy. It requires DMOs to restructure how they view tourism, tour guides, tour expertise, and good travel experiences. It also requires a sixth sense for how different demographics define an ‘experience.’ For some, an experience is an action-packed adrenaline rush on top of a mountain, while for others, it’s making fire-oven pizzas with a seasoned pizza master.
There are many brands winning with this movement, however, and they are making major gains by thinking outside of the box. Here are a few ways they are attaining success with experiential travel:
They Go Local
Moving with the breakneck speed of the times, many travel brands are turning to ordinary locals for gains in the experiential travel market.
Take recent start-up showaround.com, for example. The company is disrupting the travel industry with their unique approach to guides in a city. On their website, they state: “There’s no reason to be just a mere tourist anymore, not when locals can show you an edgier, more beautiful and more authentic version of their city.” With showaround, individuals from cities all across the world can sign-up to show a tourist the different parts of their city from their own unique perspective.
Like “having a knowledgeable friend in every city you visit,” the company doesn’t rely on pre-packaged plans and information, but on authentic experiences crafted by regular citizens. They even boldly declare, “You don’t have to be an expert. All you need is a vibrant personality, an intimate knowledge of your city and a passion for meeting new people.”
They Go Expert
In contrast to the showaround’s ‘non-expert’ guides, other travellers are seeking experiential travel from experts—but not experts in the travel and tourism field. Instead, they want legitimate authorities in the fields that they are passionate about. So, for example, rather than taking a tour that offers surfing lessons at a popular surfing beach, many are opting to take private lessons with a local pro surfer who can show them where the best hidden waves reside.
And this is exactly the niche that Airbnb is capitalizing on with their ‘Airbnb Experiences.’ With Experiences, interested travellers can choose to surf with pros, box with champions, cook with chefs and even take taxidermy classes with taxidermists. The company truly delivers on their promise of helping travellers “Learn from deeply knowledgeable hosts who are active members of their communities and [who] love what they do.”
They Go Adventure
Adventure travel has also become a popular segment of the industry. In fact, since 2009, adventure travel has grown by 65% annually, according to an Adventure Tourism Market Study, by George Washington University and the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA).
Airbnb even has ‘Airbnb Adventures’—a separate category from Experiences that promises to “Ditch the tourist trails and go deeper with wildly unique adventures around the world.” These trips span the gamut of interests too. “You don’t need to be a BASE-jumping adrenaline junkie or a fearless backcountry camper. The only thing you need is the right guide,” their website states. Instead, you can create “curated journeys for the nervous novice up to the seasoned trekker, for a range of budgets, interests, and locations.”
In true Airbnb fashion, the company even created an extremely successful contest to promote Adventures, selecting six strangers from around the world to go on an adventure to an unknown location and experience a variety of exciting activities, from desert camping to canyon diving. This trip resulted in a stellar video for the promotion which showcased the intangible magic that happens when adventures really take shape. From tents blowing away in the wind to dancing in the forest with strangers, a large part of the allure from the adventure came from the unique, authentic and local elements of the trip—three attributes that will only gain steam with travel brands in the coming years.