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The Growth of Experiential Travel

Updated: Jul 19, 2019

Photo Credit Bas Van Oort

Imagine you’re scrolling through Instagram posts, wondering how your favorite travel blogger has so many vacation days, and then you feel this ‘need’ building. After scrolling through the high definition images of them riding camels through the Sahara and tasting salmon nigiri in Shinjuku, and then you glance at your desktop background of a three-year-old picture from Cape Cod, which pales in comparison to such exotic adventures.

Travel has often been about escape and relaxation — lazy days on the beach, soaking up the sun and sipping on the most popular local drink at the time. But recent travel trends have shifted from escape to experience — specifically more immersive, adventurous and authentic experiences.

There’s an old Chinese proverb that says traveling thousands of miles is a better way to learn and understand the world than reading thousands of books. Driven by millennial travelers and affluent tourists in new markets, experience is the key motivation for traveling today, as consumers increasingly look to amass experiences rather than things.

Just take a look at the local Airbnb’s and you’ll see that they offer their consumers more than just a place to stay. You’ll find carefully crafted ‘Experiences’, offering anything from Turtle Watching in Trinidad to Whale Watching in Dominica and a ‘Restaurants’ tab that provides direct access to menus, ratings, and reservations. There is something inherently gratifying about experiencing a place through its food, people, and culture. Sure, you can start off the day at Starbucks with a latte and have dinner at your favorite cafe, but can’t you just do that at home?

Essentially, experiential travel means steering clear of tourist hotspots and exploring the lesser known gems to achieve a more genuine and local sense of a region. A great example is the Kalinago Creole culture in Dominica - where people from other parts of the world would book a round trip to experience this while on vacation. Furthermore, 60% of travelers would rather go to a new destination over one they’ve already visited. The unknown is always more interesting, and many travelers today cross off destinations they’ve already been to in hopes of uncovering the next unique culture, food, or landscape.

For the last three to five years we’re seeing more travelers balancing their itineraries with a mix of classic sightseeing and more unique local experiences. Instead of having a glass of wine in their typical fine dining restaurants, travelers in 2019 would prefer to tour a winery to get the entire experience of pressing the grapes to the tasting process and bottling their own wine which is done in places like Spain. Experiential travel has risen dramatically through what is being advertised not just on your news feed but through huge sites like Netflix, which features a variety of documentaries highlighting unique destinations and foods from around the world, and, it sells.

Food is becoming part of the new definition of adventure travel, which is less about adrenaline and more about “experiencing a new culture,'' according to a recent study by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). This drive to discover new cultures and experiences is leading travelers to become increasingly adventurous in their choice of destination. Luxury travel agency Virtuoso reports that the primary motivation for affluent travelers is to explore new destinations, with Japan the top emerging destination for 2019, followed by Croatia, Portugal, Iceland and Egypt.

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