Hotels, tour operators get adventurous with experiential travel

Travelers are increasingly seeking to up the ante with their travel experiences, creating a segment -- and opportunity -- in adventure or experiential travel. From cultural immersion and nature excursions to suborbital flights, adventure and experiential travel packages are becoming more and more popular. Why stay in a room on a vacation or business trip when adventure is always waiting right outside the window? 

Last year showed a spike in leisure travel with 41% of Americans going to Europe, 20% to the Caribbean, and 11% to Asia and the Middle East. Domestically, 17% went to Florida, 11% to California, 5% to New York, 5% to Texas and 5% to Las Vegas. 

And millennials, specifically, typically make the most of their vacation days. AARP found 75% of millennials want adventure, to travel and to “live like a local” -- eating and sleeping where the locals do.

“Adventure and leisure travelers used to be just a niche segment of travel, and the big difference now is that it is becoming more mainstream and competitive,” says Robert Reitknecht, guest experience and customer loyalty expert with more than 30+ years of industry experience. “As this has grown, travelers expect more choices in activities and experiences, and the companies are responding to that.”

Adventurous travel options

More and more hotels and tour operators are keeping in mind people who have some wanderlust in their belly and adventure in their imagination.

On Valentine's Day, through the Lanesborough, Oetker Collection, in London, you could take a flight in a Spitfire airplane, soar above the Sussex coast at 300mph, and even have access to the plane’s controls.  A lavish option is provided by Naya Traveler, the creators of the Myanmar's Untouched Andaman Sea experience. Once you land, a private boat takes you to an island, where you can dive, sail, and get spoiled by a private chef. Mountain Lodges of Peru offers a Valentine’s Day experience for couples wanting to experience Machu Picchu. Couples have access to The Salkantay Trek and the new Black Diamond Trek, and will experience the traditional Pachamama ceremony, all while drinking champagne, and viewing the majestic Andes Mountains.

“Experiential travel relates to a combination of physical activity, local culture and activities, and nature," Reitknecht says.“In my opinion, it is deeper than traditional travel because the adventurer wants to feel like they live an important (though short) period of their life during their trip. It becomes something that they hope impact them personally at a level more profound than ‘visiting’ a new place."

Hotels are getting into the mix

For that reason hotels are moving beyond hospitality and offering new experiences to their guests. The Nobu Hotel Ibiza Bay has a presentation from National Geographic about the island’s Neptune grass. Whiteface Mountain at Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa offers Olympic skier, Andrew Weibrecht, as its instructor. For adventurers in the arts, there are songwriting classes at the 121 Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., taught by well-regarded country singers.

“Today's guests don't want to feel like ordinary tourists; they crave immersive, challenging and out-of-the-box adventures that speak to who they are and allow them to express their individuality. They want the brands they do business with to offer them something new, unconventional and original,” Reitknech says.

Green travel

Increasingly, eco-friendly options are available. Viking Expeditions is offering Arctic side trips on Zodiac boats instead of helicopters. Its “in-ship” area allows you to board Zodiacs from Antarctica ships without getting wet.

Travel advisors can help clients interested in sustainability with new carbon-positive travel experiences from Intrepid Travel Group and Lonely Planet. The partnership will offer 200 day tours and at least 130 multi-day adventures, all focused on sustainability, using local transportation and supporting locally owned businesses.

“We know that we can’t have the travel industry if we don’t have a healthy planet, so we’ve been looking at how to improve that,” says Leigh Barnes of Intrepid Travel. 

The future of adventure travel: Space and ocean 

Later this year, Virgin Galactic is starting astronaut training at Under Armour’s headquarters in Baltimore, Md. At $250,000 a ticket, Virgin Galactic will host travelers on the first suborbital flights out of the Earth’s atmosphere. Celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber have already signed up. Virgin Galactic says that these people “will be part of the most exclusive group of adventurers in the world.”

If not space, then there are the oceans covering 70% of the planet. Next year, Ocean Gate will lead six missions to the site of the Titanic wreck. It will cost $100,000 per person, departing out of Newfoundland in Canada. Travelers will go 2.5 miles below the waves in a Cyclops submersible, allowing them to observe the iconic ship on the seafloor. 

"Today's travelers have made it clear that 'different' is no longer good enough,” Reitknech says. “Generic amenities are falling by the wayside as more travelers seek elite escapes that transcend the norm."

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