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Posted February 1, 2017

experiential travel

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Take one look down a person’s bucket list and you’re bound to see travel mentioned somewhere. A bucket list is a collection of experiences—and doesn’t traveling provide the epitome of experience, from the awe-inspiring to the truly visceral?

But can bucket lists drive business? The answer is “yes,” as long as suppliers use what they know about their customers’ bucket lists to shape their service offerings. And they need to read between the lines and understand that it’s the experience travelers are after. An experience is intangible and difficult to package, but far from elusive.

Experiential Travel Through the Generations

Bucket list trips, which certainly fall under the category of experiential travel, can be considered “the ultimate”. AARP’s 2017 Travel Trends revealed that consumers in all age groups take bucket list trips, bucket lists are the most popular motivation for baby boomers’ international trips, often the most extensive and expensive.

BDRC’s Holiday Trends 2016 sheds light on the other side of the Atlantic in their annual report on the state of the UK holiday market. They found that while the average Briton takes a bucket list holiday once every 3 years, 18-34 year olds do so more than once every couple of years. This might surprise those who think boomers have the market cornered on bucket lists.

Read 3 Ways to Delight Boomer Travelers in 2017 for more on generational trends.

Whether a traveler wants to experience the world—or a corner of the world—starting at age 17 or 67, here are some common trips listed on their bucket lists:

  • Traversing Their Home Country. Many travelers in the US dream of road tripping across Route 66, or flying from San Francisco to New York City to Anchorage to Miami and all points in between. Italians might want to spend time in their own country—it’s one of the most visited international holiday destinations, after all—exploring the Amalfi Coast or the ancient wonders of Rome. Chinese domestic travel is booming and travelers within China may want to visit cities like Wuhan and Hangzhou and their surrounding countrysides.
  • Seeing the World’s Wonders. Many bucket list travelers look farther afield, visiting the Grand Canyon or Amazon Jungle, diving into the Great Barrier Reef or heading to Norway to see the Northern lights. While exotic locations are surely a treat to visit independently, it is likely bucket list travelers have companions in tow. (Learn about related considerations in It’s a Family Affair: Multigenerational Travel.)

Bucket List Insights for Suppliers

Here are some ideas for industry suppliers who want to attract experience-hungry bucket list travelers:

Think “Unique”

BDRC’s findings correlate younger travelers’ bucket list travel behaviors with the rise in experientialism. They suggest that travel destinations communicate what’s “must-see and must-do” to meet consumers’ desire for unique experiences. One way to ensure they have unique, authentic experiences is to promote opportunities for cultural immersion. Skift and Peak Adventure Travel Group’s report quotes Terry Dale, president/CEO of the United States Tour Operator Association (USTOA), who states, “travelers want to forge deeper connections to the people, traditions and customs of the places they are visiting, and these experiences add a meaningful and memorable component to a vacation.”

For ideas on unique destinations, see Making a Difference on a Volunteer Vacation.

Offer One-Size-Doesn’t-Fit-All Booking

Whether they’re working with a traditional travel agency or OTA, they’re taking a more personalized approach. Skift and Peak Adventure Travel Group uncovered an interesting trend among US and UK consumers who have traveled internationally in the last year for vacations. When it comes to planning travel, they prefer to:

  • Travel with friends/family and book local—US (71%), UK (60.6%)
  • Travel independently only using local firms—US (22.6%), UK (23.4%)
  • Travel in group tours from large US/UK firms—US (6.4%), UK (16%)

This trend toward booking local is proof positive that consumers are increasingly shying away from cookie-cutter trips. Suppliers, especially those who offer group services, would be wise to make room for personalized options that make the traveler feel like they’re experiencing something different—especially when they’re in an experiential state of mind.

Explore related insights in 3 Opportunities for Today’s Traditional Travel Agency and Win Customers by Offering the Best Booking Experience

Employ Social Marketing

Many bucket list travelers, especially younger travelers who are who “are all about the experience” and enjoy using digital and social planning tools, are looking for inspiration online. That means they’re likely to pay attention to travel bloggers who report on their own exciting experiences and provide ideas and guidance. Lots of photographs and multimedia content can also quench the appetite for “almost there” research. (Find ideas in Open Your Mind to Virtual Reality in the Travel Industry.) And suppliers should encourage current customers to share their travel “wins” by posting reviews and helping would-be bucket list trip planners to make the most of their holidays with recommendations.

More information about the connection between the travel experience and social media can be found in 3 Ways Travel Suppliers Can Use Travel Reviews.

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Karen Galles

Karen Galles recognizes that each client has unique needs. Tapping into her travel industry experience, Karen is someone who loves to investigate, collaborate and find creative solutions to achieve success. Karen previously worked for companies including roomlia, Expedia and Certified Vacations. She graduated from Niagara University and holds a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Tourism and French.


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