Travel used to be a fairly straightforward concept. To most people, the word conjures up images of airports, cars, hotel rooms, tour buses, amusement parks, beaches, and foreign countries. The basic definition of travel as a journey from one place to another still holds true, except in recent years, the travel industry has been segmented into a plethora of trendy new subcategories. There’s wellness tourism, medical tourism, geotourism, voluntourism, ecotourism, and even virtual travel. The purpose of each of these is pretty self-explanatory. Then there’s experiential travel which, while not new, is on the rise and coming into its own as a unique mode of tourism.
A lot of magazine articles are labeling experiential travel as the next big trend in travel, but I’d like to think it has been around for as long as humans have been nomadic, albeit under a different name, and is here to stay. I have always considered myself an adventurer, and when it comes to traveling, my adventurous spirit is one thing I never forget to pack. In that sense, I suppose I could identify as an experiential traveler, but I’ve carried that mindset in traveling well before experiential travel became the next big thing.
There is a noticeable shift in the travel industry away from sedentary vacations to experiential ones. Many travelers would rather swim with sharks or take cooking classes than lounge on the beach all day. Experiential travel is about connecting with the people, history, and culture of a particular place. According to Forbes, “The common term for this trend is ‘experiential travel’ but many in the business call it ‘making memories.’” The ability to make memories has always existed. I cherish the memories I’ve made on family vacations engaging in stimulating physical and cultural activities such as swamp tours, paddle boarding, rock climbing, hiking, and history walks.
If you’re an adventurous traveler who values meaningful, authentic experiences more than superficial activities such as shopping and hitting up all the tourist traps, then you may already be an experiential traveler, but it is worth noting that more and more people are starting to embrace this style of travel, and the travel industry is rising up to meet the challenge. For instance, some luxury hotels previously known for their spa treatments and opulent pools are now expanding their offerings to accommodate the experiential traveler. The Four Seasons in Florence, one of the city’s top luxury hotels, upped the ante by offering a one-of-a-kind rooftop private dining experience atop the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in order to remain competitive in the marketplace. Several beach resorts, such as Nicaragua’s Makul, have partnered with the surfing academy, Tropicsurf, to offer classes as a hotel accommodation. We once stayed in a tree house in Belize and it was the perfect combination of luxury and ruggedness; being so close to nature allowed us to engage in activities like kayaking and hiking through caves.
The Peninsula hotel chain was a pioneer of the experiential travel movement with its Peninsula Academy offering travelers a range of interactive learning activities such as cooking and art classes. Likewise, tour operators and travel agents are meeting expectations by leaving gaps in itineraries to allow time for independent adventures.
Travel statistics and new offerings in the hospitality industry may indicate a rise in experiential travel, but I think it’s important not to classify this type of travel as a “trend.” The ability to travel for the experience of it and come away feeling richer has always existed- it seems that more people are finally starting to realize its appeal.