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‘People want to reclaim what’s real. Mass tourism is no longer sufficient.’
That’s what Jamie Wong, CEO of Vayable, has to say about the rise of experiential travel. The peer-to-peer experience finding platform shuttered operations in 2019, but Wong’s words still have weight in 2022 – in fact, the message has never been truer.
What Is Experiential Travel?
Also known as ‘immersion travel’, this form of tourism is built around the notion of meaningful engagement: travelers with a desire to connect with a country’s culture or environment will seek out opportunities to do just that, whether by selecting tours and experiences in line with niche interests or opting for accommodation which mirrors their ethics or expectations for something ‘different’.
Often described as ‘transformative’, experiential travel has undergone a boom in recent years: in 2018, a Skift report found that 65% of United States travelers would prefer to experience ‘something new’ versus feeling ‘rested and recharged’, whilst a shift in attitudes post-pandemic saw travelers booking trips that were out of the ordinary once compared to their previous habits. Perhaps most revealingly, Gen Z – the next ‘big spenders’ in the travel landscape – appear to be leading the charge: in 2019, Airbnb announced that ‘Experiences’ booked in Thailand by customers aged 24 or under had increased by 228% year-on-year, a clear signal that truly immersive escapes are on the rise.
Evidently, keeping up with changing trends and customer demand is crucial for advisors hoping to keep ahead of the game. As always, we’re here to equip you with the knowledge you need to succeed: from The Compass – Bedsonline’s data-powered tool which helps you to identify destination trends at a glance – to today’s article, here’s everything you need to know about booking experiential travel.
It’s been said that the best way to explore a destination is to follow your belly – and just as our waistlines expand after a vacation full of good eats, so too does the popularity of food tourism. In 2019, the food tourism market was valued at $1116.7 billion, and is expected to bloat to an estimated value of $1795.5 billion by 2027.
While the trend’s popularity may well be fed by Instagram – where food posts are the third most consumed type of content on the platform (43%) –, this type of tourism is hardly fresh on the market. For decades, public figures like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern have tantilized our tastebuds via the medium of television, while publications such as Conde Nast have long inspired tourists to drop in at the crème de la crème of global restaurants, should they ever be in town. Indeed, the online world has opened up new ways in which delectable delights can be discovered – just check out @girleatsworld for proof.
Naturally, visual appeal can only go so far. Travelers are hungry for foodie experiences, with 80% making an effort to actively research food and drink before departure. In America, 95% of citizens say that they’re interest in having ‘some kind of unique food experience’, while 70% of global travelers claim to select a destination based on the food and drink they can enjoy in-country. So whether it’s okonomiyaki in Osaka, pinchos in Palma or a cooking class in Cusco, one thing is clear: an insatiable desire for the world’s best bites could be what drives your next big booking. Search for irresistible culinary experiences in our Booking Engine!
History and Culture
Delving deep into a destination’s history is a sure-fire way to familiarize oneself with its culture – but these days, tourists are eager to enhance their awareness via the most authentic means possible.
A desire to ‘give back’ is driving the increasing popularity of cultural interaction tours or experiences. For those who are willing to exchange creature comforts for richness of mind, a homestay with members of a Bornean tribe is one way to expand their horizons; elsewhere, a half-day excursion to meet with Nairobi’s Maasai tribe could prove illuminating.
Similarly, plenty of tourists are eager to seek out an education while traveling. From Phnom Penh’s ‘killing fields’ to Ho Chi Minh’s War Remnants museum, empathetic travelers who are compelled to learn more about such tragic events can do so, as long as they behave respectfully. This rise in ‘dark tourism’ – in which a destination shares its scars with inquisitive excursionists – has gained traction over the years: in one survey of 900+ Americans, 82% said they had visited at least one ‘dark tourism’ destination in their lifetime (of those who hadn’t yet, 63% said they were interested), while according to Kiwi.com, the number of British tourists searching for such experiences jumped by 307% in 2018.
Of course, much of a country’s culture and history is told through good old fashioned storytelling: re-enactments of gladiator battles, for example, illustrate Rome’s bloody battles through immersive means…but if make-believe isn’t to your client’s taste, perhaps access to the gladiator’s gate will be enough to inspire their imagination.
Sometimes, going back to basics is all that’s needed. The allure of the ‘great outdoors’ cannot be contested, certainly not in the aftermath of COVID-19. An attractive choice during the pandemic – during which friends and families could get away without worrying about the risks that compact modes of transport, such as flying, could bring –, rural travel has also proven to have the potential to stimulate local economic growth, with its appeal extending beyond a desire to be at one with nature: in fact, the social impact of supporting local communities is an increasing matter of pride among travelers.
Unspoiled landscapes, exotic wildlife and the simplicity of, say, camping, each have their unique appeal, so powerful to the point that travelers may be willing to forgo the facilities and amenities one might typically expect whilst on vacation. Indeed, nature tourism is wholly experiential: from trekking in the Costa Rican rainforest to sightseeing in New Zealand’s scenic Canterbury landscape (famous also for its picturesque camping spots), this trend is all about life outside of the comfort zone. If your clients aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to their creature comforts, you can still tap into what makes this type of travel so desirable: check out the Green Hotels in our Booking Engine for an ethical stay, and pad out their trip with excursions designed to bring them closer to nature.