Marketing to Experiential Travelers
While I could feel my face heat from hiking for almost three hours in the sun, there was still something inherently gratifying to make it to the end. It could have been the sound of the waves crashing on the shore or the smell of the ocean or maybe just the breathtaking scenery at the end of all this – but I knew it was all worth it. I could finally check off a box on my travel list. I had made it to the tip of the globe, the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. This experience was one of the most memorable for me. Similar to myself – travelers of today are looking for experiences.
According to US 2019 Travel Report by Hitwise, the online travel industry is growing 6.4% YoY, led by cruises, rentals and holiday parks. In the US alone, the travel and tourism sector has contributed approximately $2.57 trillion USD to the economy. Although the industry is on a rise, travelers are still demanding more.
Travelers have shifted from using vacations and travel to relax and unwind to now seeking truly authentic and location- and culture-based experiences.
Experiential travelers are travelers actively seeking new experiences in the places they visit. These experiences can range from trying new food, meeting new people, experiencing culture and diving into the surrounding environment. Through new life experiences, travelers are seeking personal growth, a sense of belonging, and open-mindedness.
We are all aware of studies that prove the benefits of traveling on our health and mind. Experiential travel is no different – instead awareness on this topic has increased. Travelers are realizing that adding experiences to a travel plan increases overall satisfaction.
Technology has a huge role to play in these changing consumer behaviors. From scrolling Instagram photos to reading an inspiring local story on the internet have all contributed to consumers demanding more purpose in travel. As consumers turn to their devices for travel inspiration, travel brands need to invest in capturing those micro-moments.
Travelers are spending more time on their smartphones at every stage of their travel planning, especially after purchasing their tickets and booking their room. According to Think with Google, 40% of U.S. travel site visits come from a mobile device. In addition, Google switching to mobile-first indexing also highlights the importance of creating a website for mobile users. This means travel brands should be investing in the creation and management of an easy-to-navigate, user and mobile friendly website.
Hilton is a great example. The website uses an email markup that helps send alerts to travelers on their upcoming booking. They don’t stop there as the company has also improved the booking experience through its app. The app is highly customized to the traveler’s specific needs. Travelers can hand-pick rooms, skip check-in lines upon arrival, and even unlock their room door directly through the app. Along this same thread, travel brands should look to integrate more customizable experiences through mobile.
Travelers are looking to experience a new place through the lens of a local person living in that area. Therefore, brands should be creating ‘insider’ content that would make it easy for travelers to connect with local culture and people. Brands can do this by exploring partnership opportunities with locals like offering local tours in new cities and creating boutique content to share online.
Airbnb understands the importance of sharing local experiences – which is reinforced throughout its website. One example of a successful strategy was Airbnb’s partnership with Google Maps. In this, Airbnb leveraged its hosting community to provide audio tours to travelers in new locations. Brands that effectively use new technologies to create innovative ‘insider’ content will gain long term benefits.
Culinary travel and wellness marketing are emerging. In a report created by Expedia Group Media Solutions and produced by Skift, travelers are not only planning trips around culinary endeavors but also searching for experiential wellness programs.
Social media has a huge role to play in this which is why it’s no surprise that our Instagram stories and feeds are filled with delicious food and photos from exotic places. This directly contributes to our feelings and motivates us to visit those remote places. Brands cannot afford to underestimate the power of sharing on social media as there are unlimited opportunities to experiment with visual content, influencers and new ways to expand on experiential marketing. Brands that spend time exploring these ideas and take the time to get creative will come out on top.
To effectively market to experiential travelers, brands should focus on creating authentic and immersive experiences. Travel brands need to help create those experiences at every stage of the traveler’s journey. This can be achieved through a mobile-friendly website, the creation of ‘insider’ content through local partnerships and using social media to highlight edible and exotic experiences.
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Technology will continue to enhance experiential marketing in the travel industry. Brands that can successfully create experiences through different technologies will sustain themselves in this growing industry.