The Arabian Travel Market (ATM) will have experiential travel at its core as adventure, culture, heritage, wellness and cruise will get everyone’s imagination working overtime.
As experiential travel rapidly gains ground, both in public demand and in marketing agendas, ATM partnered with TTN to conduct a roundtable discussion with a group of industry experts. Experiential travel can mean different things for different people. In a way, every travel experience is experiential, but for the sake of this roundtable discussion, we defined experiential travel as any itinerary that includes adventure, culture and heritage, wellness or cruising.
“The trend of following others and going to the same destinations that everyone is going to, is changing now. People are looking for more exotic destinations and different itineraries,” said Laxmi Durai, CEO Travel Matrix, Middle East representatives for Celebrity Cruises. “Sure, a seven-night all-round Mediterranean cruise will always be popular because it’s beautiful but cruises in Vietnam and Cambodia and to Africa are fast gaining traction. Celebrity Cruises has a unique cruise to Galapagos Islands, there are some very high-luxury groups of people doing this itinerary.”
Annique Labuschagne, spokesperson for Sovena hotels and resorts, says, “The needs of our guests have evolved from luxury to meta-luxury. It is no longer about owning luxury items that indicate status - they seek discretion, special access and even surprise. They want meaning, authenticity and connection.
“It is very important that luxury brands avoid losing their individuality” - Annique Labuschagne
“Our guests are sophisticated, successful, independent, urban dwelling escapists with a strong social conscience. Our clients are the kind of people that use their wealth to establish what they stand for and for self-actualisation. Their closets and garages are full and they are looking for interesting, unique life moments.
“We have seen that luxury in general, and not just hospitality, has become very institutional. Most of the luxury brands have merged. Even the independent operators are growing through managing other people’s properties. Their latest offering is no different to their last or that of a competitor brand. The only difference between one and the other is the name on the door.
“It is very important that luxury brands avoid losing their individuality.
“The industry is yearning for authentic experiences. With climate change and its affects so apparent, the world is striving for real experiences. Living in the moment is everything."
Paul Hawco, director of Talise Spa operations, Jumeirah Group, agrees on the authenticity count. “I think the value regarding the interaction with and relationship with the person is important as well…. When you go to New York, you want to meet someone who is from New York. When you go to Thailand, you want to meet people from that region as well. Our therapists are mostly from Asia but in the hammam, you want to have a Middle Eastern therapist. We do our best by bringing in Moroccan, Tunisian, African, Turkish but UAE-based there aren’t a lot of colleagues to pull from.”
Dayana Persan, general manager, Atlantis Holidays, Middle East representative for Azerbaijan, says, that the success of Azerbaijan as an outbound destination to GCC travellers can be attributed to its nature, authentic cuisine and experiential travel itineraries. “When we put a promotional plan together for Azerbaijan, we see who we are serving and build our experiential product around them. So, if I want to serve GCC travellers, who form about 95 per cent of our customer base, I will offer them the same luxury environment as they are accustomed to, but peppered with some unique experiences that they don't encounter in their everyday lives.
“As a destination, I want to see a customer repeated. So, I need to develop a range of services and products to justify and satisfy repeat visits. We understand that going back to basics has become a trend, such as having breakfast on top of the mountain, but for GCC customers it’s going back to the basics within their luxury setup, their comfort zones.
“I don’t think people in the GCC are looking for the backpacking experience. It’s more about the luxury for them and also for luxury to become more affordable,” says Persan.
All our panel experts – including Srilatha Reddy, GM corporate travel, Orient Travel and Naseer Khan, regional manager, Kanoo Travel – agree that a travel agent is imperative to create such authentic and seamless experiences.
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