Major industries are freaking out; people, and not just millennials, are spending less on cars and houses and more on experiences like concerts, classes, and of course, travel. Naturally, this has lead to nearly every major hospitality brand screaming into the void that they are not a product, but an experience. Such efforts have made the term a generic concept, now more often associated with tech bros ruining Burning Man in search of an experience not yet devoured by the masses rather than anything truly unique.
While experiential travel may have problematic connotations, the term and ideas it represents are here to stay. The purchasing power of Generation X and Millennials grows by the second, and they demand authentic and engaging travel experiences “on demand.”
How can independent hospitality and travel businesses develop their offerings to address this evolution in thought?
It’s been shown that social media has a powerful effect on consumer behavior. Yet while Instagram may be responsible for the rampant wanderlust in our society, more often than not these outlets actually dampen the opportunity for a truly authentic travel experience. This is because reviews, comments, and pictures from others are a less powerful tool than one-to-one conversations, either through live chat, messaging, or in-person. Social media and reviews constricts opportunities, while live chat and conversations broadens possibilities.
You plan your trip with TripAdvisor, and make an itinerary using reviews from Yelp. You visit all of the highly reviewed spots, but you don’t find what you seek. The bar with 5 star reviews? Not the dive bar with local spirit you were hoping for. The restaurant with delicious crab? They must have bought their reviews, as anyone with taste buds can tell this was not fresh, but frozen crab! And the lookout point, picked as the best spot for stargazing? No room for you and your picnic blanket. And all your time was strictly spent attending to the itinerary, to the list of artificial demands which left no room for the adventure you craved and paid money for.
But this was avoidable. Instead, you speak with the hostel staff over live chat before check-in, and they point you to a breakfast spot not on your list, with steamy egg burritos bursting with salsa. There, you meet some fellow travelers who had just spent the previous day on a luscious isle that gives the perfect view of the nighttime sky. Never TripAdvisored about; apparently, only the local fisherman go there. 20 minutes later, you find yourself getting off a bus, boarding a fishing dinghy from a previous century towards the adventure you had dreamed of last night. And when night comes, you stare in awe at the glorious stars while palm trees dance in the tepid winds.
This is the power of one-to-one. And as consumers continue to recognize that social media and review sites are not delivering their desired experiential travels, they will use tools like chat and messaging apps to dig for the real adventures. Independent hospitality and travel businesses are in the perfect position to use these platforms with success. They are not depending on the subjective whims of those who choose to review, but are filled with people who know where to turn for that wonderful adventure people want.