ADVENTURE, culture, heritage, wellness and cruise will vie for attention at the upcoming edition of Arabian Travel Market (ATM) taking place from April 24 to 27 this year, as experiential travel is the central theme of this year’s show.
No term has perhaps been borrowed by travel organisations around the world as heavily as ‘experiential travel’. As it becomes a segment we ourselves can no longer ignore in our region due to the great rise in interest, ATM partnered with TTN to conduct a roundtable discussion at Wyndham Dubai Marina with a select group of hand-picked industry experts and gain more insight into the trend.
The insights were astonishing.
Ninety per cent of our respondents agreed that family travellers or multi-generational travellers are one of the largest markets going forward
All our panel experts agreed that experiential travel will be the most important travel trend in the coming years. There was again, 100 per cent agreement that the potential of the Middle East, in terms of experiential travel products and itineraries remains underutilised.
Some other insights gathered were that experiential travel means
• Going outside the comfort zone
• Being creative with itineraries
• All age groups and income brackets can be addressed
• Emerging destinations are everywhere – far flung or right around the corner
• One-size fits all is dead
One of our experts, Naseer Khan, regional manager, Kanoo Travel, sees a rising demand for adventure travel seekers in the region. “I’m noting more people going for skydiving and cruise is also an upcoming segment. A tailor-made package that takes people to Africa and India, or on safari in the Sahara or something like this, it would definitely work.”
Spa & wellness
Our wellness expert, Paul Hawco, director of Talise Spa operations for Jumeirah Group, says, “More than spa, people are being more active and health conscious and more aware of wellbeing. You see it in nutrition, fitness activities and also the spa. We see that with the growth of wellness tourism in Dubai, it’s definitely more than a trend – it’s a shift, especially from a hotel perspective. There is a trend for more accessible, fun, hip, cool, shorter treatments. Guests used to have two to three hour journeys or rituals but now it’s more along the lines of ‘enjoy it but get it done and move forward’.”
Annique Labuschagne, spokesperson for Sovena hotels and resorts, adds, “Soneva always takes that step forward to give guests something different. They let the guests lead the way so there is a two-way conversation. Luxury has become something that is quite set so there are boxes that are ticked, such as having champagne on arrival and the spa treatment menus etc. So, it’s very much around what customers are after. The family unit is very important so the experiences are led around families wanting to spend time together. In terms of that nature space, it’s very important so they have a couple of things they have developed around that such as tree pod dining and cooking school for kids and they have a whole den that’s based around families coming in and enjoying the space together. So experience for them is created around the customer and it’s all about creating a lifetime
Back to basics
Srilatha Reddy, general manager of corporate travel for Orient Travel, explains, “Different segments of the market are trying experiential travel – even schools are looking to give this to their students. They do ski trips and scuba diving trips – and I think the buzzword is to ‘be closer to nature’. Everyone is trying to be closer to nature. I had a couple of people asking to go somewhere to experience the farm life. It’s interesting as it’s quite a basic request. I come from a farming background so I didn't know it is a novelty. But it is very important for the child to know where the egg has come from as we are raising children. So it’s about what clients spiritually
“I look after the corporate segment but when you do personal travel, clients focus more on the things that bring value to their families. We do have spas and cruises that are very nice and that everyone would like to have but they are going back to basics despite the speed of technology or possibly because of it. How many of them are successfully doing this is a different aspect but there is a lot of curiosity toward that, which is rather interesting.”
Our cruise expert Lakshmi Durai, CEO, Travel Matrix, Middle East representative for Celebrity Cruises, says, “Cruising is still an infant product in this market but, in my experience, before we saw that people didn't have a clue what cruising was about and if you offered a Barcelona-to-Barcelona cruise then everyone was happy. Now we see that trend changing and that people are choosing their destinations. They are very keen on where they go and where they get their experience – they are adventurous travellers and want to go to unique destinations.”
Dayana Persan, general manager, Atlantis Holidays, says, “Experiential travel is very much related to how much money you want to spend. So, if you want to close a spa for a whole day and have 10 people in the spa and the whole team working for you then it is available – it’s just about how much you want to spend. The trend from the GCC nationals, which is 95 per cent of the people we serve, is that they want to see something that they miss. So, if I want to serve the GCC traveller, I will offer them something in the same luxury environment to what they have – same hotels and infrastructure, cars etcetera that they can use in their own country – but with some unique experience that they don't have.
"We understand that going back to basics has become a trend, such as having breakfast on top of the mountain when the people look like them so they feel very friendly. They want three very basic things; to be comfortable, feel like they are at home because of the people themselves and they don't want to downgrade their lifestyle. So it’s more about basics but within a luxury set up.”
So, why do you need travel agents and tour operators to book your next experiential travel break?
Durai of Travel Matrix says "You need that personal touch. It’s easy to book a flight online but when it comes to holidays and when looking for experiential travel it's not so easy to reach the right people."
Reddy of Oriental Travels says, "You need someone who is going to be responsible for the package. That's why they would use a travel agent. You need local knowledge."
• Watch this space for a detailed report on experiential travel in the upcoming April issue.
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