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The Importance of Experience to the Traveler of the Future

Today’s leisure travel sector is being impacted by a more diverse range of factors than ever before. These range from consumer confidence, to Brexit, to geopolitics, to the weather—all at a time when traveler demographics are evolving faster than ever before.

The youngest millennials are now in their mid-20s, Generation Z has graduated college, 150 million Chinese—and growing—are traveling, and India will have 50 million outbound tourists by next year. This shift to the East means evolving preferences and changing expectations about their leisure travel. While profoundly impacting the hospitality industry, it also represents opportunities for companies to cater to new customers and innovate to stay competitive.

Increasingly this is driven by the overall experience of traveling to a place. Travelers want to experience it; they want to smell it, to see it, to taste it, to get to know it, to live in it. There are a number of key macro trends impacting the industry today and for the future.

  • Authentic Experiences: Increasingly, travelers are seeking authentic cultural, heritage and historical experiences when they travel. They want to learn something, meet the locals and experience the culture in a genuine way. Companies and destinations need to curate these authentic experiences. China’s rapidly growing traveling population includes a large segment seeking destinations and experiences that immerse them in local culture and history. Guides, operators, hotels and restaurants need to employ people who can speak the language and cater to Chinese dining and other preferences.
  • International Reach: The ease of air travel and the growing middle-class travel segment (as well as luxury and ultra-luxury segments) in places like China and India are taking these travelers farther from home and to markets previously untouched by these travelers. Hospitality businesses will need to adjust their offers to cater to new tastes and preferences to capture this market.
  • Sustainability: Perhaps an over-used buzz word but travelers do increasingly care about their footprint. Research shows that consumers expect sustainability to be part of the experiences and products offered. For destination marketers, that means sustainability messages need to be embedded in the entire lifecycle of the travel experience. This goes way beyond using your hotel towels for a second day to everything you touch and engage with.
  • Technology: The contemporary traveler expects high-quality technology to be part of their travel experience. Accustomed to smart phones and apps, travelers are more self-sufficient in finding their way and accessing information. They want to be in a place and find information about its history, culture or where to eat the best local food at the touch of a button. However, they expect intuitive, modern and up-to-date applications, and a steady stream of high-speed Wi-Fi to keep them connected.
  • Wellness, health and mindfulness: Perhaps the opposite of the hyper-connected traveler, increasingly many people now want to find ways to switch-off, and rejuvenate in a calm, serene place. It is not just about a spectacular hotel spa, it is about spaces and places dedicated to well-being. Destinations that offer outdoor exercise, places for private retreat and reflection, and activities focused on self-care are growing in popularity. It could be about star gazing rather than thumping discos, yoga and meditation programs, or breathtaking vistas to take in or photograph without throngs of tourists. Even classic beachside resorts are now adapting their programming to include more exercise options, yoga classes and other active experiences for guests. Many travelers are seeking quiet and stillness to counterbalance their always-on lifestyles.
  • Firsters: Tourists—both well-traveled and less experienced—want to get off the beaten path and visit less explored places and experience them before the masses arrive. Recently there has been a substantial increase in visitors to places like Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. The newest, and perhaps most surprising, new tourism destination is Saudi Arabia, which only recently opened its doors to tourists recently and more than 25,000 came in the first couple of weeks alone. The Kingdom is investing heavily in authentic cultural and heritage experiences that can rival Petra and other global heritage hotspots, as well as breathtaking Red Sea resorts, many targeted at the luxury and ultra-luxury segments. These destinations appeal to the traveler who wants to get there before everyone else does—which is certainly true of Saudi Arabia, or, like in Cuba, see them before they change.

These are fundamental trends will continue to shape the travel and hospitality industry. It will be those destinations that can adapt and cater to these evolving expectations that will succeed as travelers seek new and dynamic experiences around the world.

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