Sell your community. Sell an experience.

Today's travellers are all about the experience. For municipal tourism organizations, the experiential travel trend presents a unique opportunity to market...

Tuesday May 30, 2017

Today’s travellers are all about the experience. For municipal tourism organizations, the experiential travel trend presents a unique opportunity to market what your community has to offer, taking advantage of your strengths, one-of-kind features and hidden gems, which may be otherwise overlooked.

However, selling these experiences requires an understanding of not just what experiential travel is — and how it is poised to change the travel industry — but an understanding of your community’s unique assets and how best to market them.

Stop selling products. Start selling experiences.

While some might argue that travel is inherently “experiential” in nature, the hottest buzzword in destination marketing has an entirely different definition — and weight. According to a 2016 report by Skift, a company that analyzes trends in the global travel sector, experiential travel could is best defined as travel that is “immersive, local, authentic, adventurous and/or active.”

It’s no longer enough for travellers to be shuttled through a gauntlet of pre-packaged attractions — they want to shed the label of “tourist” and access unique experiences that often focus on personal interests, such as outdoor adventures or culinary excursions. Today’s travellers want to have experiences that resonate on an emotional and personal level.  

For destinations, catering to these consumers has proven to be a marketing strategy that generates results. According to a 2013 Adventure Tourism Market Study, the adventure travel market has grown 65 per cent yearly since 2009.  Meanwhile millennials—one of the fastest growing segments in the travel industry, representing 4.6 million potential travellers in Canada alone — are increasingly seeking out experiences. A whopping 78 per cent indicate that they “want to learn something new” while travelling.

However, with this shift has also come a change in how consumers are planning and booking their holidays—and how destinations should approach their marketing. In 2015, only 10 per cent of millennials used travel agents to book their trips. Instead, they relied on the growing number of digital applications that make researching, planning and booking a travel experience fast, easy and customizable. Video, eCommerce, buying buttons, integrated booking tools and mobile-friendly platforms are all part of the positive user experiences tourism businesses can offer their customers.

Social media is paramount to the trend, as tourists are driven to capture and share Instagrammable moments. The accessibility of these first-hand experiences also translates to consumers depending more and more on reviews published online, which are accessible anytime and anywhere. Regardless of the age or demographic of traveller, websites such as TripAdvisor have become the first stop to research potential travel destinations and activities. Tourism organizations are catching on to the review and ratings trend quickly, by engaging their customers before, during and after a trip to get their feedback.

Create your brand and market to real people.

It’s clear that having a strong online brand and presence is increasingly important to destinations and tourism providers. And for destinations and tourism providers who are ready to capitalize on the experiential travel trend, the payoff can be huge.

One example is Tourism Australia’s Restaurant Australia campaign, which launched in 2013. By tapping into the global obsession with cooking reality shows, Tourism Australia was able to target the growing sector of travellers looking for culinary experiences. The result was an additional $1.2 billion spent by visitors, and a global ranking as second in the world for food and wine experiences, trailing only behind Italy.

In 2016, Icelandair followed suit with its Stopover Buddy program. Its move to pair tourists with “local buddies” so they could experience the “real” Iceland paid off with a 30 per cent increase in website bookings.

More recently, Airbnb launched Airbnb Experience. Building upon their already successful format in which guests stay in a local home, hosts can now show tourists their favourite local sights or activities. With the tagline “Host an Experience, Share Your World,” the program encourages hosts to share local culture and unique activities with their guests.

While destinations like Australia and companies like Icelandair and Airbnb may have the budgets, resources and global reach to match their aspirations, this same rebranding to focus on experiential travel can still be applied to smaller tourism markets.

When Tourism Vernon approached eSolutions in 2015, the north Okanagan town was struggling to compete with the lure of international travel and cheap all-inclusive vacations. The solution? A complete relaunch of their website, with a focus on catering to the area’s key types of visitors and the experiences they’re seeking.

Rather than just selling products, Tourism Vernon’s new website incorporates all the elements that make booking travel easier—from integrated flight and hotel widgets, to themed vacation ideas such as romantic getaways and food trips. After taking the “What’s your travel type?” quiz, visitors can sign-up for an e-newsletter, which will suggest tailored experiences and exclusive offers. Finally, recognizing the importance of the growing adventure travel sector, Tourism Vernon also now focuses on sports tourism and outdoor adventures in the area, including ice climbing, rock climbing and heli-skiing.

In Canada, the importance of tourism as a strong economic driver for communities like Vernon cannot be understated. In 2015, Destination Canada (DC) found that with a growth rate of 7.5 per cent, Canada’s visitor growth exceeded international growth by 80 per cent and overall tourism export revenue in Canada reached close to $17 billion.

Not only does experiential travel allow tourism organizations and municipalities to support their local economy, it also allows local businesses to work in partnership—rather than in competition—towards a common goal.

How do I get started?

Executing a successful experiential tourism campaign depends on effective storytelling and targeted marketing themes. However, not all experiential travellers are looking for the same types of experiences. This is why you will also need to have a thorough understanding of the types of travellers that are likely to visit your community.

Developed by DC and based on extensive research, the Explorer Quotient takes a unique approach categorizing these target audiences. It analyzes the nine different travel personas and what their values are—from personal history explorers (those who travel to gain a greater understanding of ancestry) to cultural explorers (those who travel to immerse themselves in local culture). DC also offers an online quiz to help travellers determine their own type.

Knowing your target audience will play a key role as you develop the branding and marketing tools that are expected by today’s experiential travellers. Catering to their wants and needs will also require impactful website design and content. If you have any questions, need help getting started or want to discuss the possibilities for marketing your destination online, the experts at eSolutionsGroup are always happy to help.


About the author:

Jessica Wynne Lockhart is the contributing editor of Verge Magazine, a publication devoted to “travel with purpose” and the marketing manager for the Go Global Expo. At 35 countries and counting, her freelance travel writing has appeared in the Toronto Star, Chatelaine and AWAY.

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