The evolution of the experience sector
Travel providers are constantly creating new experiences in a bid to win guests. But has the term ‘experience’ become just another industry cliché and what are travellers actually searching for? Douglas Quinby, tours and attractions expert and CEO of Arival shared his perspective on this burgeoning sector during a recent sit down with Click.
Click.: What does the tours, attractions and experience landscape look like today?
Quinby: There’s currently an enormous amount of excitement around the tours and activities sector because it’s really one of the last big sectors - if not the only - within travel that’s not fully established within the industry. There’s a lot of interest from travellers and consumers in having more experiences: numerous studies show the shift in spend from ‘things to have’ to ‘things to do’.
It’s worth noting that travellers don’t think in terms of experiences. When used as a verb, you can say that travellers want to experience things, sure, but they think in terms of specific activities they want to do more so than in categories.
Click.: What are the trends influencing this?
Quinby: Experience is the new marketing term. The concept was driven by the rise of vacation rentals and the unique opportunities they could offer guests. Ten years ago it was the sharing economy and now we’re in the experience economy. And since the bandwagon is moving along, everyone should jump on board - right? The thing is, anything can be classed as an experience: I can walk my dog and suddenly that’s an experience. This has led to the term becoming so broad that it’s become sort of meaningless. It’s so all encompassing that it’s become jargon.
Whole generations of travellers - especially younger millennials and rising gen zers - have already taken many trips and are experienced travellers. They’ve done the ‘highlights of the city’ tour and now want to explore a destination on a deeper level, connecting with locals, neighbourhoods and authentic food. Because of this trend, there’s been discussion around the classic bus tour and ‘must-see’ attraction tours declining in favour of more localised activities, but it’s not an either or situation. If anything, it just creates more depth.
Looking towards the future, there’s going to be more diversity than ever creating an opportunity in this sector. The growth of online marketplaces is enabling small entrepreneurs to reach travellers in a way that was never possible before and we are seeing different types of activities made available as a result.
Click.: How can properties best tap into this market?
Quinby: Every provider - whether you manage tours and activities or accommodations - should look at what their speciality is, their customer insights, and how they can best leverage what their guest wants to create an extraordinary opportunity. Research activities and tours in your location that will match your customer well and discuss the feasibility of forming partnerships with suppliers who provide those. The truth is, travellers aren’t - with very few exceptions - going abroad purely to stay in a particular property. Where they stay is super important to them, but they’re primarily travelling to see a new place and get a taste of a new culture.
Some of the most interesting examples of accommodations that have really stepped into the tours and activities sector are those who simply observe what their guests are already doing, and form partnerships based on those customer insights. Hostels are leading this: more than 90% of operators sell tours and tickets because they recognise their guests are mostly solo travellers or small leisure groups. For example, many hostel guests sign up for free walking tours and so many hostels have developed partnerships with walking tour providers.
Every accommodation and hotel provider has this opportunity to package their property with unique offerings. To be successful in doing so you need to be realistic about what you can offer, your value proposition and who your customers are - rather than simply chasing trends.
Click.: What should an accommodation provider consider when creating their experience offering?
Quinby: Whether you are a major branded chain hotel, a local boutique B&B or an apartment provider, ask yourself ‘what is unique to my property and local environment’? What differentiates your customers? Does your property attract a certain type of guest, and if so, what are they searching for when travelling?
This differentiating element should be the first consideration when conceptualising guest activities. While experiences can provide an additional revenue stream, this shouldn’t be the main goal. It could certainly turn into that over time, but start off adding incremental value, increasing the overall guest experience and adding another marketing angle to how you position your property. There are some exceptional examples where the tour extension of a property has become quite substantial, but that’s more the exception than the rule.
- Travellers are increasingly pursuing experiences: numerous studies show the shift in spend from ‘things to have’ to ‘things to do’
- Experience, as a marketing concept, was driven by the rise of vacation rentals and the unique opportunities they provided guests
- Hostels are making strides in this market and more than 90% of operators sell tours and tickets to guests
- A properties differentiating element should be the first consideration when developing guest experiences