The travel industry is worth over $1.2bn per year, but DMOs are yet to adapt to the changing needs of the experiential traveller.
Consumers were once defined by their possessions, but there’s been a fundamental shift towards being defined by our experiences.
We no longer crave holiday souvenirs, but instead want stories to remember and to share. Seeing something different isn’t enough. We want distinct and memorable experiences. This is more than just being where the locals are, but living as the locals do. We’ve become travellers, not tourists.
DMOs are aware of this. They can’t target everyone, and with limited marketing budgets, they are addressing those consumer segments with the most potential. The priority for DMOs is this co-called experiential traveller - motivated by authentic culture, excitement and adventure, who want to experience local rituals and traditions like fika, hygge or ‘the craic’.
As customer needs change, DMOs must adapt by creating deeper connections between customer and destination. Experience seeking behaviour goes beyond activities and day trips, a recent survey found that 'Friendly, hospitable people' was the most important factor in considering Ireland for a holiday.
The types of trips consumers are choosing to take is also changing. The adventurous experiential customers shy away from the traditional package holiday, and fueled by the need to connect, are looking to find something different. Travellers are opting for experience-led packages, such as hiking trips or cooking courses. These offer more in terms of unique, localised ‘shout-about-this-later’ moments whilst still providing consumer value and ease of booking.
Conversely, with 85% of travellers deciding on activities after arriving in their destination, holidaymakers no longer rely on well planned itineraries to dictate their program. They embrace locations in more spontaneous ways, and develop their experiences on-the-fly through connected devices.
The surge in accessible travel advice has a backlash effect on the mainstream travel experiences. Popularisation of social photo sharing, amplified through re-sharing and #TBT has created travel photo fatigue. Most major attractions have already been extensively pictured and shared. ‘Known attractions’ have become a limited way to experience any location. The customer of today wants to subvert their preconceived notions of a destination via the sensation of a unique experience.
DMOs that focus on traditional tourist hotspots may inadvertently eliminate themselves from experiential travellers shortlist. Promoting hero attractions alone, such as The Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty or Giant’s Causeway can never hope to provide the unique cultural experiences visitors are craving. Despite the fact that these landmarks have great historical and cultural significance, unless this is surfaced in a way that appeals to the experiential traveller, the meaning may be lost.
Some DMOs have tried to address customer needs by telling the story of local history, and marketing culturally relevant events. But this isn’t always successful. Often the communication of these items lack an element of true authenticity. A credible source goes a long way to support convincing promotions - who wouldn’t trust the opinion of the village pub landlord over a scripted tour guide?
In fact, travel bloggers and locally crafted social posts drive more online traffic and are more appealing to experiential travellers than the content generated by many DMOs. The influence of earned media from a passionate blogger far outweighs the predictable messaging from paid media outlets. In the consumer's mind there is a separation between marketing credibility and local legitimacy.
And legitimacy is key. The creation of forums and community boards cannot be relied upon to appeal to the shifting consumer landscape. A location for UGC is no guarantee of quality. To truly succeed we need to communicate the heart of the story informed by a clear content strategy. Now, the real question for DMOs becomes how to find and partner with these content creators who can connect in a meaningful way.
Our experience at Hugo & Cat tells us that experience travellers love to remember, share and talk about their travel experiences, especially when those stories generate buzz amongst friends and family. Whilst consumers already understand the personal nature of authentic travel, DMOs must abandon control and let external voices communicate for them. This is the only way they can captivate modern-day audiences by appealing to their cultural curiosity through authentic terminology.
Tom Good is a lead experience designer at Hugo & Cat.