Everything You Need to Know to About Experiential Travel
- Guests want more from their hotel stays and this focus on experience is changing the industry
- Age and demographics of the travellers depend largely on the experience offered
- Crafting experiences gives your brand the opportunity to showcase itself and create lasting memories with guests.
The rise of experiential travel has changed the way in which the hospitality industry puts together packages and markets them. Whilst there are still some travellers that just want a room and to be done with it, there are a growing number of others – from all generations, that are looking for more.
These people are looking for an experience.
Optimising your hotel marketing and advertising strategy to attract experiential travellers means knowing who your target customers are, what they’re looking for – and how you can present your services in an enticing, immersive way.
How has the Focus on Experiential Travel Impacted the Industry?
The entire travel and hospitality industry has been affected by the move towards more experiential offerings. Where adventure tourism and soft adventure tourism were once niche areas that were focused more on specific locations, the experiential traveller is now looking for more expansive and inclusive offerings that highlight not only the specific location but immerse them in activities that engage all five senses.
Hotels are no longer just places to check-in and sleep. Potential guests are still looking for comfortable rooms, soft pillows and exceptional services; but when they’re making their booking decisions there is now considerably more focus on what else is available.
From Meditation in the Dessert to Gin Tasting Weekends, Haunted Tours and Cooking Classes – hotels who think outside of the box and showcase different elements of their environment, local community, personal lore or skills will be able to appeal to an audience who are actively seeking something different to try.
When travelling to destination locations, many of the top complaints revolve around there being not enough to do, the experience not matching what was expected, and the location not being as welcoming as they expected.
Some hotels and resorts are partnering with tour operators or local businesses to link their services together to give a unique backdrop to the traveller’s journey. Others are evaluating their own services and creating new activities that their guests can take part in, and some are using both methods to elevate their approach.
For example Lemon Locke, London has a dedicated ‘Experience’ category on their website and offers collaborations with local artists, exhibition spaces, and yoga classes – as well as unique dining experiences their guests can book in advance.
The Lanesborough, London have also taken the initiative to put together a current events calendar, tourist spot guide, and offer concierge assistance for their guests to make the most of their stay.
However these businesses are doing it, their goal is the same – to attract the attention of guests who want to do more, see more and experience more, and to increase bookings with customers who, when satisfied, are highly likely to recommend them and / or return.
The trend of experiential travel is a growing one, aided by technology, and greater ease in being able to research and book vacations.
One of the biggest sources of experiential travel competition hotels are facing is Airbnb. They have recently acknowledged the necessity of offering experiences, and now have over 15,000 listings with a strong promotional call to action:
“Experiences – Because you don’t travel to sleep. Memorable activities led by locals, created for the curious.”
Some of the different categories of events that Airbnb offer include:
- Arts & Crafts Classes
- Photography Classes
- Fishing Experiences
- Sports Classes
- Nature Walks & Guided Hikes
- Historical Walks & Tours
- Wellness Classes
Hoteliers need to understand that this isn’t a passing phase, that experiential travel is a long-lasting trend that’s likely here to stay.
How a business implements this with regards to local and global tourists will make a significant difference in obtaining bookings or not.
Who Wants Experiential Travel?
An Experiential Traveller is someone who looks to get more from their vacation, who wants to literally experience new things. This can range from learning new skills, to visiting culturally interesting locations, to taking part in a location specific event.
Breaking down the statistics
Regardless of their initial motivation, these travellers are booking their destinations with the experience in mind being a goal of the vacation.
Age and overall demographics for experiential travellers are difficult to pin down and will largely depend on the type of experience being offered. Younger travellers may prefer challenging experiences and engaging with on trend subjects whereas older demographics may prefer experiences that are focused on historical or cultural value.
The specific type of guest you should be aiming to attract will depend on your location, the offerings available and who your typical customers are.
Social Media and greater technological integration in more remote parts of the world has seen potential guests be able to discover, research, book, visit and share about a greater number of locations.
Experiential Marketing looks at the emotional and visual impact a location can have and promotes it to visitors.
For example: If you own an establishment in an area of natural beauty, such as the Devon coastline, you might want to think about offering walking tours, or information on your website on local walking tours, route maps, etc. You could partner up with local businesses, such as those who fish out at sea or offer nature events (such as visiting the puffins on Lundy Island), or even set up a geo-caching route that allows guests the chance to go treasure hunting.
If your venue is situated in an older part of a city, and has an interesting history surrounding it (such as some of the locations in Coventry that were reportedly on the route Lady Godiva took on her petition ride) then you could think about offering tours of the area, the chance to follow the path themselves, or if your venue has it’s own lore, such as a haunted room, famous past owners or a local legend, then you could think about creating mini-tours that educate your guests on the hotel as well as the story.
By offering something unique to either yourself or your immediate location, you’re giving the customer a precious memory that they can’t obtain anywhere else and creating a lasting bond with them.
With more options available, the competition is fierce between hoteliers and customers are more inclined to see experiential travel as something that should be standard – rather than a promotional offer; mass tourism and generic stays don’t give people the connection they’re determined to get – it doesn’t resonate as a reason why they should spend their hard earned money.
Offering experiences and using storytelling techniques to promote a venue can encourage potential customers to not only emotionally connect, but to feel that they’re getting value for money and travel better.
There are as many reasons for travelling as there are people, which makes it impossible for any venue to cater to every person’s specific desires.
Your hotel needs to look at what it does best, what it can offer that’s different, and who it is already attracting before deciding on an avenue to pursue.
Some of the main reasons for experiential travel are:
- To experience new cultures or areas of historic significance
- To challenge themselves
- To benefit from wellbeing and wellness related destinations
- To attend specific location related events
- To create priceless memories
- To experience ‘Once in a Lifetime’ situations personally
- To merge business and leisure trips together (Bleisure)
Experiential tourism trends are also changing to focus on sustainability and eco-friendliness.
86% say they would be willing to spend some time on activities that offset the environmental impact of their stay, and 49% consider social issues in possible travel destinations when choosing where to go.
The expectation of travellers who are staying with you are high, and it’s important that you create an atmosphere or experience packages that you can fully deliver on.
Why is Experiential Travel Important?
From a customer perspective, experiences are important because they will become part of their life story; something they can look back on and cherish or turn into a regular event that enriches their sense of self.
From a business perspective, experiences give you the ability to showcase exactly what your hotel is, what you can do and why you should be respected as an industry leader. They are also an excellent source of User Generated Content (UGC) and referrals.
The more happy customers you have experiencing your brand, the more word-of-mouth referrals, positive reviews, returning and new customers you’ll bring in.
The type of experiences your venue can deliver will depend on different factors including:
- Your venue size
- Your budget
- Your location
- Your Unique Selling Points (USPs)
You should know who your customers are, and what they’ve expected from you in the past. If you don’t already have comprehensive buyer personas, you should use analytic tools to take a deeper look at the wants and needs of your audience.
When coming up with inspirational ideas to market your USPs and venue, you should be asking yourself:
- Who am I creating this package for?
- Is this experience something my customers actually want?
- What sort of demand is there for this type of experience?
- Is anyone else locally offering something similar or the same?
- Am I creating a general experience or an exclusive one?
- Is this experience time-limited?
The answers to these questions will help you not only prepare better ideas but give you a good idea of when to start marketing it.
For example, if you have a haunted room in your property and decide to do ghost tours, you could market this all year round – but in September and October you’re likely to get even more interest in the run up to Halloween.
Your ideas need to match your venue, your customers and the time of year you’re offering them. Customers want an experience that is going to excite and engage with them, something that makes genuine memories and is .
What is an Authentic Experience? Why Do You Need to Get it Right?
Defining an ‘authentic experience’ is difficult, and many hoteliers are nervous or unsure about labelling their services as such. This comes down to the somewhat unhelpful opinion that what you feel is authentic is authentic.
The key point here is feeling. What one person may consider to be authentic may not be the opinion of another.
The definition of authentic is: Made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.
And this is where you need to start.
To create an authentic experience, it needs to be done in an original way. You need to create something that is faithful and representative of your brand, and accurately conveys what customers are going to get when they make their booking decisions.
You can’t just look at what your competitors are doing and simply try to copy them. If you’re not offering something different or something of value, then you’re not going to stand out from the crowd.
It is vital that you never over-exaggerate what your experience can offer your guests, you need to be honest and transparent about what they can expect.
More than 80% of reputation damage comes from a mismatch between the ‘buzz’ and the reality.
Source: Status Labs
This doesn’t mean that you have to plainly and boringly list the facts, you need to take a creative approach to your experiential marketing.
Getting this approach right will establish your offering and give you the tools to promote it correctly.
Authentic experiences, as we discussed, are difficult to determine – but could include ideas such as:
- Afternoon Tea experiences
- Garden Tours (especially if you have historically cultivated grounds)
- Focused tours on the history of the hotel
- Offering immersive tours of local places of interest and culture
The main take-away here is that you need to develop an idea that works personally for your brand, that is expresses your vision and values, is different from other generic offerings and is provided on a sustainable, regular basis with an emphasis on quality and the customer.
Crafting Experiences – What This Means for Your Hotel
Once you’ve decided to create an experiential plan for your venue, there are different areas which you can consider when going forward:
Creating an Experience with Your Food and Beverage Offerings
Food and travel are a perfect pairing. For many travellers, experiencing local cuisine or dishes that are native to the country they’re visiting, is a highlight.If you have a restaurant on site, look at the dishes on your menu and determine whether or not you can add to it. You might consider working with local producers and artisanal F&B businesses to offer new dishes. If you take this route, you might consider giving your menu an overhaul so that every dish is representative of your local area or nationality; and that it’s complemented with beverages and condiments in the same way.By taking a fully local approach to your food, you’re generating a selling point that is completely unique to your area, and can be promoted across social media with detailed and delicious descriptions, stunning photos and engaging video content.
Putting on or Connecting Your Hotel with Events
The subject or theme of the event will depend on your budget, location, size, skills and customer needs; but if you can put your own event on, then you’re not only giving your guests something else to experience, you’re building your brand reputation and having them spend their money with you. Look at what you can do within your premises and the skills of the staff you have available, or others that you might want to hire in. Evaluate your customer needs and think of creative ways you can appeal to them – it’s important however to stress that there is a fine balance between being unique and standing out, and being over-the-top or just plain weird.Your event and the marketing for it needs to strike that balance to succeed. If you’re unable to put your own events on, think about the local area; are there any local festivals or interesting events? Do you have a unique culture or exhibitions and museums in your vicinity? Linking up with other local businesses or event holders and promoting the area doesn’t just help you create an interesting experience for your potential guest, you can apply experiential tourism trends to your marketing and increase interest in the entire area. When putting together these experiences, you could consider offering special access tickets to your guests, behind-the-scenes talks or exclusive showings, etc. By working together with an event holder, they should be promoting you as well as you promoting them – and this will help increase your bookings with interested parties.
Embracing Local Culture
Tied into the idea of local events, you can help differentiate your hotel as an Experiential location by focusing on the history and culture surrounding you. The range in which you can embrace your local culture is huge – from describing the area and what your guests would be able to do, to theming rooms or holding events in that particular style. Having a good understanding of your local culture and the history of your home gives you authority and a sense of community. People love trivia, and the more you know and can explain, the more established and trustworthy your brand becomes. And, with more customers seeking ethical and responsible hospitality, showcasing your ties to the community and how you’re involved will attract a good response.
Work In-House or Bring in Local Partners to Aid your Hotel Brand Experience
To create a genuine and fulfilling experience, you might decide to create a specialised in-house team to work on that area of your business, giving these employees the time, direction and budget to focus on bringing your strategy to fruition.However, you may also decide that it’s not viable to do so, and working with local partners can help you offer the same experience. You should think about what businesses and services are available in your local area, and how you could utilise these to make the customer experience even better. For example, if your hotel is a fair distance away from the airport or other transport, you could partner up with a local taxi firm or bus service to ensure that your customers have easy access to transport when they need it.You could even consider taking this a step further and work with them to put on a tour of the area which then finishes at your venue, where you can put on a meal or even host an educational or fun afternoon.
Before you start putting on any events or specialising in specific areas, it’s a good idea to speak with your staff, evaluate your buyer personas and have a brain-storming session for ideas. Then, you can compare these against what is already available, that there is interest in – and what hasn’t been done before.
Once you’ve done this, you will have an informed plan of where to take your experience and how to begin putting it into place.
How to Successfully Market Your Experiential Offer
As with many other elements of your business, the way in which you market your experience can make the difference between success and failure. It is therefore essential that you carefully evaluate your offering, define your expectations for it, and determine a budget that will help you reach these goals.
Putting together a marketing strategy for your new offer is vital. You need to plan the steps you’re going to take to implement the event, determine what you need to make it work, how long it’s going to run for (is it a time limited event? Seasonal? Or something that you’re going to hold all year round?)
Once you have your strategy together, you need to decide how you’re going to measure your success – you need to determine which metrics you’re going to monitor ahead of time and ensure that you know how to read and understand them.
For example: If your initial goal is to attract customer engagement and increase awareness of the new campaign, you can’t just rely on likes and shares as indicators that the campaign is succeeding (these numbers can be easily manipulated and don’t function as useful data when used alone).
You should also be looking at number of visitors to the website, people talking about your brand (you’ll need to use social listening techniques) and engagement such as comments and queries.
By putting your measuring systems in place before you start, you will be able to accurately measure the impact your campaign is having and make necessary changes as you proceed.
During this initial phase, you also need to work out how you plan on marketing the experience. You need to create a mix of interesting and engaging content that clearly reveals what customers can obtain from booking with you, and that speaks in your brand voice.
Using emotional story telling is a good way to get customers engaged. Create posts that evoke feelings and emotions, and make people want to get involved. By telling a story, you’re also able to break up your posting schedule (like chapters) to encourage people to keep returning to learn more.
Your Digital PR is important. You need to make an impact and get people talking. By creating press releases or approaching other websites with your material, you should be aiming to have others sharing the news of your event and encouraging new guests.
Take your time to network both online and off, the more people you have involved in promoting your venue or sharing positive sentiment about it, the better your reputation will be, and the more likely you are to get bookings.
Never settle for ‘good enough’ when it comes to your marketing (and this includes the actual content), if you don’t think you’re sharing a ‘wow’ moment, then why should your visitors think any differently?
Experiential travel is the next evolution of tourism marketing and destination marketing combined under one umbrella term, which connects with customers, and the impact it’s having on the market will be long-lasting.
Your business can benefit from creating Experiential Travel packages and using storytelling techniques to invite interest in the area and encourage customers to book with you.
To get started with creating an Experiential Travel plan, you need to evaluate your business and your buyer personas and review where you currently stand in the market. Once you have this data together, you can make smart, informed choices that are best for you, your business and your bottom line.