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It seems like everyone is talking about experiential travel these days. But is this really a new trend, or is it just a new way of defining what people have always wanted? Has there ever been a time when people haven’t wanted to ride a cable car in San Francisco, get a custom-made suit in Hong Kong or toss back a pint in an Irish pub?
Perhaps the real trend is how the travel industry as a whole is responding to the demand for these experiences. No matter how it started, the good news is that group travel consultants have plenty of new, more authentic programs to offer their clients.
Clients and agents who prefer to book packaged travel will find that even tour operators are retooling some of their product lines. Collette, for example, launched its Explorations line in 2010. Targeted toward small groups, the tours provide a more immersive experience, including distinctive accommodations and a wider variety of culinary options.
“We’re hearing more and more from travelers who want to be immersed in the history, people and culture of a destination, and our tours are designed to cater to those inquisitive travelers,” said Dan Sullivan Jr., president and CEO of Collette. “On our Explorations line, you can really delve into a destination by having dinner with locals or participating in a cooking class with a professional chef.”
Group planners who work with hotels will also find that numerous brands have introduced locally oriented, hands-on experiences for their guests.
Destination Hotels & Resorts, for example, has launched its Destination Discoveries program, featuring unique educational experiences in each destination.
“The Pacific Northwest is a wonderland to explore,” said Ken Daugherty, general manager of Skamania Lodge, a Destination Hotels & Resorts property in Washington state. “We’ve found that guests have a thirst to learn, especially about the natural world. Helicopter tours of Mount St. Helens or rides down the White Salmon River provide insight into the area. Skamania Lodge attempts to immerse its guests in the grandeur of the Columbia River Gorge in an effort to both educate and entertain. And hopefully they help guests become better people in the process.”
At the Inn and Spa at Loretto, a Destination Hotels & Resorts property based in Santa Fe, N.M., guests are encouraged to sample the local color.
“We recognize that guests want more of an experiential stay when traveling to Santa Fe, and have developed the YOLO Santa Fe package in response,” said Tom McCann, general manager. “Experiences include a behind-the-scenes tour of Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio and a custom belt and buckle fitting from a silversmith in Santa Fe.”
Whether or not experiential travel is really a new trend, travelers can certainly benefit from the new range of hands-on experiences available to them. The trend also gives travel agents a new way to connect with their clients, while offering them a more comprehensive travel experience.