Experiential Travel Tops Tour Operator Trend

Experiential Travel Tops Tour Operator Trend

Tour operators continue to rise to the challenge of offering new experiential adventures in a variety of travel styles By: Mindy Poder
Adventure travel is a growing niche of experiential travel. // © 2013 Thinkstock
Adventure travel is a growing niche of experiential travel. // © 2013 Thinkstock

Each year, particular destinations rise from relative obscurity to the covers of travel brochures, and particular travel styles are touted as the most in touch with consumer preferences. This year was the Year of Experiential Travel, with countries such as Cuba and Myanmar remaining in the lead as the most talked-about destinations. Nonetheless, many tour operators found that classic destinations and styles of touring remain resilient, driving tour operators to continue to offer a richer variety of destinations, insider experiences and tour styles.

“We still include the occasional museum, as many of our guests appreciate the historical overview, but, from a cultural perspective, museums can never do justice to the real thing,” said Larry Kwan, president of Pacific Delight Tours. “Participating in an aboriginal ceremony, incorporating Tai Chi into one’s morning routine and eating lunch with a local family allow vacationers to experience their destination’s culture from the inside, viewing it as a living, breathing celebration versus a glimpse from behind panes of glass.”

According to Kwan, experiential travel is not a fad — it’s a generational shift within the traveling public. As a result, tour operators have continued to stud itineraries with descriptions of what clients do, rather than what they see.

“Our Local Favorites are hands-on, behind-the-scenes or uniquely experiential opportunities for travelers to get local insight,” said Jennifer Halboth, director of channel marketing for the Globus Family of Brands. “We introduced these inclusions on every Globus tour last year and have shored up our offerings even more for 2014.”

Experiential offerings are becoming increasingly more expert, with long-term strategic partnerships adding gravity to insider opportunities.

Tauck, for instance, recently announced a partnership with content experts BBC Earth. Eventually, technologies used in BBC Earth’s popular programming — the motion-activated camera traps, infrared night-vision cameras, long-range directional microphones and small fiber-optic endoscopic cameras — will be used to provide a more intimate experience on new co-created Earth Journeys itineraries.

Though intimate, insider experiences and novel destinations — such as Cuba and Myanmar — are growing in demand, the surprising takeaway for many is that broader, multi-country tours are also still popular.

“Maybe the biggest surprise was how well our Panoramas [multi-country tours] did this past year,” said Halboth.  “It is proof that the Panorama tour is as relevant as ever — particularly since the Panorama tour actually draws our youngest average aged traveler.”

Travel agents should be flexible about travel styles and understand that operators are working hard to offer a match for unique client segments. Signature Travel Network, for instance, recently chose G Adventures as a selected supplier. The company not only meets clients’ growing demand for adventure travel and travel with a purpose, but it also allows agents to better match clients through a selection of seven unique traveling styles and a variety of travel destinations and price points from which to choose.

This year, several operators made Wi-Fi access a guaranteed fixture on tour transportation, and more operators continued to offer guaranteed departures. Indeed the definition of a luxury amenity, versus an added value, changes each year.

“While the industry has more or less recovered and rates are steadily increasing, the demand for value is keeping prices from returning to pre-recession levels, particularly in the high-end market where the emphasis on affordable luxury has become a permanent fixture,” said Kwan. “As tour operators, we have to adapt and embrace new trends in order to remain successful.”

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