So what are we really after when we travel? I believe that deep down inside we’re searching for a story we can tell for the rest of our lives.
Traditionally, most travelers going abroad booked trips through large companies and experienced destinations on carefully scripted and planned group trips. But at the Pow Wow International trade show in Miami recently, every large wholesale and receptive travel company I spoke with said travelers are increasingly traveling independently instead of in groups. The proliferation of online travel websites, allowing bookings directly at destinations, has revolutionized the way people approach travel.
A new generation of travelers has been raised on a steady diet of social media and networking sites that has led them to embrace a culture of “six degrees of separation.” Their Facebook and Twitter experiences have taught them to cherish the random and serendipitous nature of a less scripted itinerary. Using sites such as Yelp and Trip Advisor, they view travel as an opportunity to connect with random people in a way rarely experienced in a group.
The most successful destinations will focus on this trend and create what I call “Social Tours” – tours that provide an opportunity for guests to meet and bond with fellow travelers.
As a 31 year-old who visited 19 countries and 48 states before entering the travel industry, I visited countless attractions, but brought back just a few memories – and they had nothing to do with what I saw. Instead, they had to do with the people I met. Whether it was a bicycle tour through the beer gardens of Munich, or a magical twilight walk in Seville (with a guide sharing the historical and architectural secrets of the city while we stopped at wine bars along the way), I remember these experiences because they combined the magic of the destination with a powerful social experience.
In this new age of independent travel, destinations must realize it is not enough to expect people to flock to them only because they are there. Whether you are a major attraction or only a small tour company with nothing but a city and natural beauty at your disposal, success will more readily come to those who provide a story by creating magical social settings.