When you’re traveling far from home, do you skip the standard tourist destinations in favor of atypical adventure? Do you set a rule that you will not eat at global chain restaurants you’re already familiar with, instead opting for local establishments? If so, you’re contributing to a growing trend in which travelers seek to immerse themselves in the local culture of a destination. This is commonly referred to as experiential travel, and it involves many aspects of the travel industry.
As the world becomes progressively globalized, it’s become easier for travelers to find elements of home or recognize sights they’ve already seen on social media while traveling—but often the point of travel is to leave home and step away from the familiar. Because of this, travelers are seeking out experiences that connect them to the local people and culture, rather than looking for the comforts of home and the road often traveled.
When it comes to actually making experiential travel happen, there are a number of companies and startups making waves. Two such startups hoping to make experiential travel more accessible are Vayable and Urbanbuddy, both apps that connect travelers to “expert” locals. As Vayable CEO Jamie Wong was recently quoted as saying, “People want to reclaim what’s real. Mass tourism is no longer sufficient.” Urbanbuddy is a mobile concierge for connecting hotel guests to locals through real-time chat!
Also getting into the game is Airbnb with the beta launch of their latest venture Airbnb Experience. Local hosts can earn extra money just by showing tourists their favorite local sights or activities. The program is an extension of Airbnb’s hospitality empire, whose users have booked 10 million rooms in 192 countries on its online marketplace since 2007.
Umapped goes one step further and offers a collaborative itinerary tool where content, offers, and recommendations by other travel suppliers – as well as friends and family – can be shared and added to your itinerary in real-time. Meanwhile, if travelers are looking to enjoy a meal and conversation with locals, they can turn to social dining apps like Grouper, Grubwithus, LeftoverSwap, EatWith, and HomeDine. These apps and programs are only growing in popularity as travelers do their research to make their trips unique.
The travel industry can think of experiential travel and its appeal regarding human relationships. We naturally gravitate toward meaningful, genuine relationships, rather than surface-level ones. It’s these more intimate relationships that leave lasting impressions because we form an emotional bond that surpasses the bond we form with acquaintances. So it is with travel: travelers are not as satisfied with trips that skim the surface of their destination. They want to walk away from their travels with fond memories and personal stories that other travelers cannot replicate.
A simple online search will return an abundance of sites dedicated to writing articles about experiential trips. The trend is so prevalent, popular travel magazine Afar dedicates much of their publication to building experiential travel itineraries for the planning traveler, and recently launched the Afar app mobile trip planner. Other magazines and blogs are following suit. It’s content that travelers want and need since they have to depend on others who live in or know the area to have an idea of what they can experience as a tourist.
Travel technology and hotel brands are joining in on promoting experiential travel, too—and they should, if they hope to remain a relevant and useful resource for travelers. To get started with encouraging experiential travel requires a change in mentality. To be truly authentic, travel brands need to start thinking like locals, no matter where the brand’s physical presence is. Travel brands have to scale down: rather than thinking about their global brand; they should think about their brand in the context of the destination. What does a destination local do every day? Where do they frequent? Where do they eat? What do the locals do on weekends? Are there traditions and customs locals follow? It’s not about the idea of travel as a whole when it comes to experiential travel. It’s about breaking it down to the minuscule, to the personal.
For example, a global hotel chain should be cognizant of the unique culture, services and atmosphere they offer at each destination. While the brand may remain consistent, the brick-and-mortar hotels must localize themselves. The hotel is often the gateway to the traveler’s destination, so it should mesh with its surroundings and be a local experience itself.
More than that, however, hoteliers and travel tech brands can—and indeed, must—find ways to collaborate with the local community and companies to provide an immersion into the culture of the area. The locals know the area better than anyone and are a valuable resource for travelers to turn to. However, travelers may not know where to go to find these knowledgeable locals. That’s where hoteliers and travel tech companies come in. Both can act as the connection point, conveniently fulfilling a need for the experiential traveler.
Experiential travel is a trend that hotels and travel tech companies cannot afford to ignore. The world is growing smaller as technologies make communication and travel simpler and quicker, leaving travelers searching for bigger adventures. Remember, travelers today aren’t just satisfied to visit a place. They want an immersion to experience it—and hotels and travel tech companies need to leverage (aka cash in) on the opportunity to make that happen.
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