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The rise of the experiential traveller and what it means for the travel market

Alessandro Petazzi, Co-Founder & CEO, Musement | May 5th, 2016

As modern life has become globalised and significantly homogenized due to the widespread adoption of new technologies, the expectations and desires of travellers have changed. Through mobile devices, tablets and computers, travellers are more connected than ever, and yet, paradoxically, they are also increasingly isolated and disconnected from that kind of travel experience that gives great emotional reward. So today travellers feel the need to specifically look for those experiences: hence the rise of the experiential traveller. Indeed, one-size-fits-all itineraries and pre-packaged tours for groups have lost their appeal. The discerning experiential traveller yearns for authentic, engaging, life-enhancing activities. Activities that tap into their individual passions – be it in the realm of food, wine, sky-diving, history, architecture, football or epic natural landscapes.

This is particularly true with Millennials, who represent a totally new class of travellers. Driven by the motto “YOLO” (you only live once), they increasingly embrace experience over material ownership. “To be” rather than “to have” has become the trend. One which has occurred with the pervasiveness of technology. We see this with the rise of Uber versus owning a car or renting one’s own apartment via Airbnb without fearing it will be trashed – a concept that previous generations would find inconceivable.

This rise of the experiential traveller has clear implications for the travel market, since it entails a shift in the very concept of travelling. The market needs to embrace technological sophistication and individual requirements and adapt accordingly. Innovators like booking.com and expedia.com have stepped up and provided travellers with great options for booking hotels and flights but what is still missing is a well-structured offer in terms of experiences. In fact, the web is awash with independent operators promoting any kind of experiences, and the result is an overwhelming and disorderly sea of possibilities among which the traveller gets lost. Who should they choose and trust – especially in the absence of big names?

However, this gap also brings a huge opportunity for those operators who wish to guide travellers through this labyrinth. But how do you do this? The key to successfully organise travel experiences is to understand how travellers make their decisions. For some people, experiences can be the main driver of a journey. For example, London for the Wimbledon tennis tournament or Baracuda Point, Malaysia for deep-sea diving. Alternatively, the location itself can be the driver – you choose to go to Florence because you want to see the city and its beauties. What follows is a question of where to visit: the Uffizi Gallery or the Ponte Vecchio? Clearly, in this sense flights and hotels, although they play a big role, are not key drivers to travelling, since they promise less emotional satisfaction. Who spends the days preceding a hard earned holiday dreaming of… their flight?

What should be done, then, is to separate these various drivers and activities into segments and treat them differently – instead of just throwing them into one basket under the label of “tours and activities”. In this way the traveller will be presented with a more structured set of choices. Besides, through the identification of multiple segments travel companies will acquire a more complete understanding of advanced purchase dynamics for individual travel categories. This will help them target individuals in a more accurate way and increase advanced sales.

That’s not all: these targeted suggestions should also be supplied with descriptions to instil confidence as well as be accessible via mobile devices in a simple manner. Currently available technology enables companies to undertake such activity with much more ease and precision. Indeed, technology allows companies to direct travellers towards their preferred experiences through two kinds of profiling: explicit self-profiling by the customer (e.g. “I am an art lover!” – which traditional travel agents were also able to do) and implicit profiling (e.g. I know you have a similar browsing behaviour to people who have bought items for a romantic weekend, so if you are interested in a weekend away I can try and recommend something romantic).

Overall, travel companies today can take advantage of many tools: they can use the latest technology, efficiently aggregate activities and use profiling techniques. And if they do this properly, the potential reward is substantial: a recent survey by the World Travel & Tourism Council reported that 2015 has been the 6th consecutive year of positive growth for the sector, which has contributed US$7.2 trillion to world GDP, i.e. 3.1% more than in 2014. That’s one big pie for savvy curators to take a slice of.