watching the world go by 1

Destination is important but when it comes to making travel plans, it’s what you can do when you get there that counts most.

Experience, after all, is everything.

Many travelers have always veered toward experiences over destinations. Not interested in the ‘If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium’ form of touring around the European continent, they have actively searched for tours that offer local experiences, especially those related to food, wine, and culture.

So it should come as no surprise that the 2011 United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) survey highlights experiential travel, or the ‘e’ factor, as potentially the biggest travel trends for tour operators in the future.

85% of the tour operators who took part in the survey rated experiential travel as highly important to their overall growth and sales.

These results are related, in the most part, to the fact that nearly 60% of tour operator customers are the time-rich and travel-hungry Baby Boomer generation.

It’s the same generation that popularized traveling on a shoestring through Europe, Asia, and South America in the 1960s and 1970s.

Now retired or nearing retirement, these baby boomers, despite all their aches and pains, continue to look for the ‘e’ factor in their travels.

As a result, they will have a profound affect in shaping the future of the travel industry.

So it’s really just a question of how effectively the travel industry responds to this growing travel market.

Logically, a thorough understanding of this customer base should be the first response. And there is probably no better resource for this than a study conducted by the Association of Travel Marketing Directors.

The resultant 13 Truths about baby boomer travel drafted by Kim Ross provides the perfect blueprint for travel companies planning on targeting this growing source market.

Chief among these truths is fact that boomers, who see themselves as ‘forever young’, are more active, desire unusual destinations and experiences, and demand immediate gratification.

They’ve got the money. They’ve got the time. And more importantly, they have clear travel expectations:

-       To have more authentic, hands on experiences.

-       To learn and do rather than just watch.

-       To converse rather than just listen.

In other words, they want to be active participants in authentic experiences that blend with the natural and social environment of a destination.

Small theme-based itineraries that relate to learning new skills – languages, cooking, wine tasting, painting, photography, etc – are high on their list, as are itineraries that take allow them to experience wildlife and nature tours in sustainable and eco-friendly ways.

More over, they have an increased interest in traveling to not only emerging destinations such as Vietnam, India, Ecuador, and China but also to damaged destinations such as Egypt, Japan, and New Zealand who, in the past few years, have been hard-hit by natural and man-made disasters.

Those in the travel industry who recognize and adopt to this will, in the end, have the competitive edge when creating ‘E’ rich itineraries for this growing target market.