By Larry and Adam Mogelonsky
The travel recovery that hotels are gearing up for over the next year will not see the same guest behavior as in 2019. The world has changed and hotels have to adapt to the new demands. One key direction where travel is headed is towards time maximization – filling a vacation or work trip with meaningful moments because you never know when the prospects of moving freely about the globe will grind to a halt once again.
This concept of time maximization means that guests will be seeking hotel brands that aid with this goal by designing trips and itineraries that make those experiences a reality. Travelers are looking for operators who can reduce the friction of experiential travel by handling the logistics on their behalf along with a guarantee of safety and seamless execution.
To help give hoteliers some inspiration as to what will attract guests who are keen on experiential travel in the post-pandemic era, we sat down with Geraint Hamer, VP of Tours, Packages and Wholesale for TRIPS by Culture Trip – a company that really needs no introduction as it’s a foremost worldwide hub for unique travel experiences. Culture Trip launched TRIPS in late 2021 as its curated series of immersive, cultural, multi-night vacations for small groups, with the first departures already underway.
Not that it needs hammering home, but can you cite any recent statistics that point to the growth of travel experiences since the onset of the pandemic?
In 2021, we surveyed 2,000 Americans and found that one in four Americans (24%) don’t want to travel as they did before the pandemic; they’d rather travel in a more meaningful and responsible way. We responded to these post-pandemic desires to explore the world in a different way with our small-group adventures that are curated by travel experts and led by local insiders. We combine immersive experiences with one-of-a-kind and (often) boutique places to stay, and a whole load of thoughtful research behind the scenes which is ideal for people with limited time to plan their next adventure.
What forces should hoteliers be cognizant of regarding the rising demand for experiential travel?
The world is opening up again, which is fantastic to see; humans crave human connection and exploration. Some travelers naturally are still a bit hesitant. I think we can all do our part to encourage them while at the same time making sure they can book with confidence. We want to enable people to enjoy these once-in-a-lifetime experiences and give them reassurance while making it hassle-free for them. That’s why we offer a Covid Booking Guarantee which gives customers complete confidence when booking should plans need to change due to the latest regulations, and we ensure we have safety protocols in place across all our adventures.
How are travelers finding the experiences they want and what immediate steps can hotels take to broaden the exposure of their experiences?
Making a travel decision can be a longer process – more so now than before the pandemic as there are many things to consider such as travel regulations. First, people research and read a lot before they actually book. Travel content such as ours is one touchpoint during the research process. With guests using so many channels it’s not easy to cover them all, especially when you’re a small, independent operator. That’s why it’s important for hotels to really think about the kind of consumers they want to attract and understand the kind of channels this audience likes to use. Taking these first steps can help you reach the right audience at the right time and the right place; it’s more efficient than trying to cover everything if you don’t have the time, budget and resources like big players might have.
Can you cite any specific examples where specific hotels or brands have excelled at creating a strong, profitable experiences program?
Hotel Húsafell is part of our Iceland trip; it’s a modern property with sweeping views over swathes of unspoiled landscape. Part of the hotel experience is the Húsafell Canyon Baths, fed by the Giljaböð Hot Springs and a relatively new attraction in Iceland where you are invited to bathe as Vikings once did. The Húsafell locals who undertook the Canyon Baths project went to great lengths to keep the entire structure as environmentally unobtrusive, sustainable and true to the area’s heritage as possible.
Matera in Southern Italy is also a great example. Known for its ancient hillside cave dwellings in the UNESCO-listed Sassi area (and its recent appearance in the latest James Bond movie), this is one of the world’s oldest cities. In this endless maze of caves, some were restored and turned into hotels. The Corte San Pietro – part of our Southern Italy Tour – lets guests sleep in rooms with ancient tuft walls and vaults. And there are modern art projects and cooking classes using local produce, too.
In South Korea, we found a stunning cliffside temple to stay in. Built in the sixth century, Golgulsa Temple houses 12 caves carved into the side of a mountain close to the former capital of the former Silla Kingdom. It’s a serene place to spend a night. Guests will not only glimpse the Buddhist way of life, but also learn all about sunmudo – a traditional Korean martial art and form of moving meditation that dates back over a millennium.
With many hotels having budget constraints at present, do you have any tips for hotels to develop their experience programs without compromising other operations?
Collaborating with the local community can be a great way to affordably enhance the guest experience. You could, for example, one day per week or per month host and showcase independent businesses that are local or from your immediate neighborhood at your property. This provides small businesses with much needed support, and it’s interesting for your guests as they might discover a shop or a producer they otherwise wouldn’t find. We know that people are increasingly looking to discover and to connect with authentic, local activities and products, so this could be an experience that motivates travelers to choose your hotel.
Looking beyond the immediate travel recovery period, what experiential travel trends do you think will be top of mind for hotel guests within the next five years?
After two years of travel deprivation, many people are prioritizing those bucket list moments that we have all been craving for so long; instead of thinking that one day in the distant future they might fulfill those dreams, many want to experience them now. Guests want a responsible, purposeful approach to travel; this means caring for the world, but also for local communities. They also want unforgettable experiences to create memories we will cherish forever (and share on our social channels). Next think local immersion; it’s not just that we haven’t been able to travel, we also haven’t been able to make new friends or spend enough time with the people we love, making reconnection top of mind.
In short, it’s now much more about a more meaningful way of traveling. Being able to explore the world has just become so much more precious, and it’s our job to make sure our guests get these experiences from us as they go out to explore the world again.
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Editor’s note: To discuss business challenges or speaking engagements please contact Larry or Adam directly.