Sure, the destination is important too but when it comes to making travel plans, it’s what you can do when you get that counts most.
Nothing new you might think. And you’d be right.
Many travelers have always veered toward experiences over destinations. Not interested in the ‘If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium’ form of touring around the European continent, they have actively searched for tours that offer local experiences, especially those related to food, wine, and culture.
So it should come as no surprise that the 2011 United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) survey highlights experiential travel, or the ‘E’ factor, as potentially the biggest travel trends for tour operators in 2012.
85% of the tour operators who took part in the survey rated experiential travel as highly important to their overall growth and sales.
These results are related, in the most part, to the fact that nearly 60% of tour operator customers are the time-rich and travel-hungry Baby Boomer generation.
It was this baby boomer generation that popularized traveling on a shoestring through Europe, Asia, and South America in the 1960s and 1970s.
Now retired or nearing retirement, these baby boomers, with their ‘forever young’ attitude, are turning towards experiential travel.
But what is experiential travel?
As it’s most basic, experiential travel could be defined as act of simply heading off beyond the beaten tourist path and becoming immersed in authentic local culture.
PURE Life Experiences, a networking platform for the Experiential and Transformational Travel sector founded in 2009, offers a much more in-depth definition:
…a journey away from home, involving a truly memorable and powerful experience (active, cultural, natural, social, or spiritual) that will enrich a person’s life and improve the way that they connect with both loved ones and with the world.” (Pure Insights, November 2011, p.4)
Of course, in reality it all depends on the individual traveler and how much they want to immerse themselves in the experience.
What this means for travel industry?
If the baby boomer generation says it wants travel with the ‘E’ factor, then the travel industry needs to sit up and take notice.
The boomer generation spans those born over an 18 year period – between 1946 and 1964 – and the older part of this segment is only just reaching retirement age. The boomers will therefore be a source market for the global tourism industry for several decades and will have most impact when the latter part of the group retires around 2024.” (Deloitte Hospitality 2015 Game changers or spectators?, p. 17)
Popular travel magazine Afar, whose mission is to “inspire and guide those who travel the world seeking to connect with its people, experience their culture, and understand their perspectives”, embraces these eight core values:
- Explore from the inside looking out
- Provide a sense of cultural immersion
- Offer the unexpected
- Touch on a range of emotions
- Be genuine, real, authentic
- Promote connection
- Feed the curious
- Celebrate global diversity
They might just be theoretical values but they’d make the perfect building blocks with which tour companies could create experiential travel itineraries.
The wider possibilities…
There is no escaping the fact that the baby boomer generation will have a profound affect in shaping the future of the travel industry.
So it’s really just a question of how effectively the travel industry responds to this growing travel market.
Logically, a thorough understanding of this customer base should be the first response. And there is probably no better resource for this than a study conducted by the Association of Travel Marketing Directors.
The resultant 13 Truths about baby boomer travel drafted by Kim Ross provides the perfect blueprint for travel companies planning on targeting this growing source market.
Chief among these truths is fact that boomers, who see themselves as ‘forever young’, are more active, desire unusual destinations and experiences, and demand immediate gratification.
They’ve got the money. They’ve got the time. And more importantly, they have clear travel expectations:
- To have more authentic, hands on experiences.
- To learn and do rather than just watch.
- To converse rather than just listen.
In other words, they want to be active participants in authentic experiences that blend with the natural and social environment of a destination.
Small theme-based itineraries that relate to learning new skills – languages, cooking, wine tasting, painting, photography, etc – are high on their list, as are itineraries that take allow them to experience wildlife and nature tours in sustainable and eco-friendly ways.
More over, they have an increased interest in traveling to not only emerging destinations such as Vietnam, India, Ecuador, and China but also to damaged destinations such as Egypt, Japan, and New Zealand who, in the past year, have been hard-hit by natural and man-made disasters.
Those in the travel industry who recognize this will, in the end, have the competitive edge when creating ‘E’ rich itineraries aimed at this target market.