From sharing a yurt with a nomadic family to sleeping among the monkeys in jungle treehouses, today’s travelers are increasingly on the lookout for authentic experiences and exotic adventures.
This shift has created and fueled demand for experiential travel – a form of tourism where people focus on experiencing a destination by connecting to its nature and landscapes, culture, residents and way of life.
Experiential travel first took off – and is still most prevalent – in Africa. Think luxury tents on the Serengeti plains of Tanzania or a safari in the wilderness of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Now, hoteliers believe it’s time for experiential travel to take hold in the Americas.
“The majority of the demand for experiential travel in Africa is coming from the U.S. and Canada,” explains Luca Franco, President and CEO of Luxury Frontiers. “Right now, supply is limited in the Americas, so the growth potential is enormous.”
A new way of experiencing the Americas
With its multitude of natural attractions – and no shortage of space – the Americas offer plenty of development opportunities for experiential travel sites.
Patagonia, the Amazon, Argentina and Peru are prime candidates in South America: they have the land needed for development and are home to incredibly popular tourist attractions from majestic national parks to well-preserved historical sites. Guided tours provide the accessibility tourists need as well as local familiarity that helps keep the experience genuine, while helping supplement the limited public transportation of the region.
“These locations are perfect for experiential travel as they’re easily accessible, and their residents generally speak one of two languages: English and Spanish,” notes Franco. “South America has so many beautiful, natural places that are ripe for development.”
In the continental U.S., opportunities are abound in Montana, Colorado and the Southwest, especially California, Arizona and Utah, where a plethora of national parks already draw in millions of visitors a year. British Columbia is on developers’ short list in Canada, as well as remote areas of Manitoba and Quebec.
What’s the catch?
Finding open land and developing a unique experience isn’t all it takes to succeed in the experiential travel sector.
“Experiential travel must be consumer-driven,” says Franco. “You have to start with what the consumer wants and then create a product or an experience that exceeds their expectations. Experiential travelers are looking beyond the walls of a hotel or simple sightseeing. They want to collect life-defining memories. These travelers are looking for moments that stay with them long after the vacation is over. Projects that are engaging and designed to continue attracting guests for three, five years down the road are the ones that will succeed in the long term.”
So what do consumers want from their experience-based travel? “Travelers want to feel immersed in local culture. They want to embrace a destination’s climate, heritage and cultural norms – they want to feel like they’re a part of the community,” says Dan Fenton, Executive Vice President, Tourism, with JLL’s Hotels & Hospitality Group.
Consumers also want to discover their destinations through educational or physical adventures, and they seek connection to their environments, their companions and themselves via spiritual and inspirational moments during their travels.
“Sustainability is also key as younger generations become more aware of their impact on the world around them and actively choose experiences and accommodation options that are socially and environmentally responsible,” says Fenton.
According to a Booking.com report, 68 percent of travelers are more likely to choose a particular accommodation if has eco-friendly credentials. And more resorts are taking note, says Fenton, from using recycled materials to effectively managing energy consumption and waste management to limit their impact on the environment.
Creating experiential travel for tomorrow
While experiential travel may be in its infancy in the Americas, it’s nevertheless a fast-evolving concept within the wider travel industry. “Right now, the market is attracted to luxury tents and luxury treehouses,” Franco explains. He predicts that floating rooms – a tent or cabin built on a deck that can float on a lake or other body of water – will be the next trend to shake up experiential travel.
“The opportunities for experiential travel are endless. You can rent an entire island in the Maldives,” says Franco. “Destinations and developers have to think big about how they’ll create memorable and unique experiences and adventure-based travel that will attract tourists from around the world.”
Yet many travelers are keen to fit in numerous experiences on a single trip. As such, Franco notes that itinerary-based travel will be at the top of travelers’ to-do lists. This system gives consumers the opportunity to enjoy different cities, experiences and cultures within a relatively short time frame.
Indeed, as more consumers become more ambitious in their vacation plans, experiential travel is set to make a lasting impact on America’s hospitality industry. “The opportunity is tremendous. The market is here, the demand for outdoor adventure and eco-friendly tourism is here – now it’s down to America’s hospitality industry to create and deliver the experiences,” concludes Franco.