Where does your travel organization stand today? Do you care about being part of an enriching travel experience? Or is your company content with selling rooms and London-Paris-Milan or Delhi-Jaipur-Agra?
Do you pick up the phone and love to talk to the travellers? Or is your workflow all about letting low cost, low knowledge team sell mainstream volume driven travel products at the cheapest possible prices, prefrably over the internet to anonymous buyers?
Are you a market specialist or a mainstream generalist? If you are a market specialist or wish to know about how to become one than read on.
The travel jargon of this decade is ‘Experiential Travel’
Travel industry like any other industry is fond of phrases that change every 10 years. In the 80s Special Interest Group and Specialty Travel were a popular way to describe what in the 70s was called as niche tourism. In the 1990’s ecotourism was in vogue, only to be replaced by Responsible Travel in the mid 2000’s briefly interspersed briefly with geotourism and sustainable tourism.
In the history of tourism few jargons has caught the imagination as much as ‘experiential travel’, the magical buzz word of the 2nd decade of 21st century.
Action – “And travellers who seek real experiences inspired by real stories, opt for ‘experiential travel’ and willing to pay well for it are called “the experiential traveller”.
Come, join the party
Experiential Travel is the open to interpretation and may be an amalgamation of ‘Adventure Travel’ also known as ‘Active Holidays’ intermingled with Responsible Travel, Special Interest Travel, and Events and MICE.
And in a classic case of déjà vu every travel company whether old or new is marketing itself as an experiential travel company versus a product driven mainstream travel company based on rising demand from travellers for more real, more authentic, more engaging and more enriching travel experiences.
Action – “If you too want to join the bandwagon, here is a list of few things that we have compiled to contribute my two bits in your quest to become a better experiential travel company.”
A. SO WHO IS THIS NEW GENERATION EXPERIENTIAL TRAVELLER?
Read my article on the new generation experiential traveller, the 7 types of experiential traveler and why do they travel experiential by clicking here
And now that we understand the experiential traveller and what they seek in a holiday, lets talk about how to transform your travel company in to an experiential travel company
B. SO HOW DO WE TRANSFORM INTO AN EXPERIENTIAL TRAVEL ORGANIZATION?
Travel lodges, agents and tour operators are desperately trying to understand what makes these travellers tick and increasingly they are getting savvier in exploiting increasingly sophisticated technology to market their services. They are becoming good at using channel managers, integrated with tripadvisor online email campaign tools, content rich interactive websites that offers 2 way communications etc. to achieve their marketing goals.
Travel brands that keep their eyes and ears open are beginning to respond to these requirement by developing services that are more experiential, more adventurous, more personalized, more attuned to local culture, and more inspiring to consumers who look upon travel as a journey of personal self discovery and not just a new stimulus and getaway from it all.
Here is a short list of 6 things that you can explore to transform into a genuine experiential travel organisation!
1. The age of hyper specialization – going wide and going deep!
Today a conventional hotel incorrectly assumes that travellers are just buying a room or transfer from a hotel or a travel agency and that’s where their role begins and end. A tour operator mistakenly assumes that its enough to offer a “wide range of experience” without bothering to go deeper. The GM of a hotel is trained in F&B and Hotel Management and has no clue about experiences management or mistakenly assumes that it is not his problem.
In a knowledge based economy, it’s the age of hyper specialization. It is becoming increasingly impossible for a single company to reasonably master all domains of travel sector. A large well established travel company has two choice to go deep – Either employee an in-house team of market specialists that is going to very high on cost and yet might not result in a great depth of knowledge. Or collaborate with smaller, innovative and passionate experiential travel companies and specialty travel experts with smaller band width but deep knowledge of a single destination or domain to create a on demand, low cost model that is win win for the large operator, market specialist and the traveller
“ Action – If your customer wants to go deep and wide, have you assembled the best in class market specialist to let them go wider and deeper should the traveller want to go wider and deeper at the drop of a hat?”
2. Why do they search for specialist tour operator or bundle their trips themselves?
The key driver today in specialist travel agency searches is the desire discerning travellers have to work with “best-in-class specialists.” Because they are are beginning to realise that larger mainstream company cant possibly be good at everything. Of course that doesn’t stop big travel brands from continuing to claim “full spectrum service” offerings, as if they’re experts in everything from leisure travel to business travel, from adventure tourism to MICE and learning programs. But the experiential traveller is wise enough to quickly realise if you really have the depth of product knowledge to be able to fulfill their requirements.
Some of these brands have even followed the Merger and Acquisition route to take over specialist travel company but more often than not, the cultural differences resulted in the merger failing – the specialist culture of a specialist company is forced to adapt to the systems and protocols of the acquiring behemoth or the independent small operator is allowed to operate independently without being able to leverage the resources of the larger enterprise.
For instance Cox & Kings took over Holidaybreaks Plc only to sell the venture a bit later with the statement that India wasn’t yet ready for camping!? In reality camping companies in India today most likely has higher ROI and EBIDTA than leisure hotels in popular tourism centres. All it requires is a different cultural approach towards building and marketing your travel services.
Action – “The experiential traveller is willing to buy his bespoke holiday from a mainstream travel brand, only and only if they feel that the brand have quality in-house expertise. Or at the very least a content partnership with a quality outsourced travel partner to deliver content rich experiential holiday the way they like it”
3. Budget is never a problem
The story and the emotions and the dream come first. Everything else including budget and destinations comes later. Experiential travel is undoubtedly considerably more expensive than bare bones room+food+transfer based typical holiday package.
Action – “If your story is inspiring the guest is willing to pay more, for seeing and doing more. Budget is never the problem. It’s as simple as that really.”
4. Dog loyalty is dead. Cat loyalty is thriving.
Just because the traveller has been traveling with you for the past 3 years, and you delivered a great holiday, doesn’t mean that you can assume that he is choosing you for the 4th year. While doing his research or inspired by a social story, he might find another company’s services or stories more interesting than yours and say ‘Hey, this sounds nice, lets try this company for a change’.
Just like that – you just lost a client in a jiffy. For no fault of yours excepting perhaps that your stories turned less interesting than your competing travel company. Dog loyalty is dead. The idea that happy customers are more likely to remain loyal, try new products and services, and spread good news about their experiences has started to catch on.
And loyal customers are not only repeat purchasers, and are more likely to buy other products and services, but they become advocates and fans of the company. Its the apple fan boys that make the apple products all the more appealing and convert more windows users in to apple fan boys with their almost fanatic dedication to the brand. We all know that it’s far cheaper to retain an existing customer than acquire a new one.
Hence you have to make the people feel special on these special days called holidays that they plan for months, pay a fortune for and look forward to with great excitement.
Action – “A happy client is better than the so called loyal client. So work towards making them happy and feel special. Dog loyalty is dead and Cat loyalty is the way forward. And we all know that you dont keep cats as pets. Its the cat who keeps you as their parents. She only purrs when she is happy and she gets what she wants when she wants it.
5. Content is King
While its good to know this quest for experiential travel, it’s perhaps more important to understand the dynamics behind it. The hyper specialisation of the market while apparently fragmenting the marketplace and eliminating the middlemen i.e. travel agents and tour operators can become a blessing in disguise and an opportunity for the intermediate tour operator.
So when online and brick & mortar travel agencies insist on continuing to play the role of “mainstream travel organisation” they demote themselves in the eyes of the traveller and fall down on the list of trusted travel advisers; behind mice specialists, and behind specialist travel operators and the rest of the focused experiential travel firms but maybe just a wee bit ahead of the Online Travel Operator.
A compelling experiential holiday experience that will create customer delight spring from both ‘deep’ and wide’ areas of expertise in bundling a ‘special place to stay’ with plenty of ‘unique experiences’ selected based on guest preferences.
To me the new generation travel industry is a knowledge based industry akin to what we might want to call as a Knowledge Processes Outsourcing (KPO). All you have to do is stay focused on what today’s traveller buying travel services will continue to need in greater abundance – specialized knowledge and expertise. And acquire competencies in sourcing and bundling various travel component to build a bespoke travel itinerary for the discerning traveller.
Action – “Content is King is as valid for travel industry as it is for the film industry. Do you have the content that counts?”
6. Do you have a social cause that you are passionate about
And last but not the least, while “increasing profitability” is definitely not a social purpose, getting people to experience nature and adventures, or conserving the great wilderness while being a responsible travel operator is one.
Today’s experiential traveler, while they might not pay a premium for a greener hotel or a conservation oriented travel operator will opt for one, if all things remain equal.
“ Action – Do you have a social cause that you or your travel organization supports and is it making a difference? Are you a trader or are you a changemaker?”