Despite the eye-catching Instagram posts showing everything from homestays in the Amazon to anxiety-inducing trips to North Korea, it seems that most people are still relatively conservative when it comes to holidays.

BIO’s recent UK consumer survey shows that beach holidays and city breaks remain top of the list for the majority of people, whatever the age group. But travellers’ behaviour is gradually evolving and new travel trends (as well as wider shifts in spending habits) are now affecting their expectations, even for traditional breaks.

Experience is everything

In our fast-paced society, time well spent has become more and more valuable. Half of Brits feel ‘time poor’ and that they don’t have time for fun in their everyday lives. So perhaps it’s not surprising that in a world full of equalities, experiences are now prioritised over physical products as a way of boosting status. How does this shift affect travel, a sector whose primary role is based around creating meaningful experiences?

Over the past few years, new types of holiday to fulfil the travel expectations of experience-led customers, have emerged in the sector. Solo travellers and adventure seekers are more common than ever before, with a small but influential group seeking transformational travel that provide them with meaning and personal fulfilment.

A number of new travel brands focus solely on these niche markets, with brands like FlashPack gaining a big chunk of the market share due to the rise in customers that prefer to go solo. But the potential is there for big travel brands too. Expanding services to cater to these new trends might be a bit hit-and-miss without thorough customer research, but there is huge potential to take learnings from non-traditional travel and apply them to existing offerings to attract a new kind of audience.

What people expect and how people experience their destination is changing. There’s been a visible shift towards exploring (and seeking out) off-the-beaten-track destinations, with travellers increasingly craving local experiences and places far away from the well-known tourist traps.

Big brand opportunities

Many of today’s customers look for a healthy mix of the good old beach or city break and experience-led destination discovery. So how can travel brands use digital to help them get maximum enjoyment out of their destination? Developing ways to showcase adventure opportunities, support solos, help travellers discover local flavour, or turn a trip into an experience with deeper meaning could assist in building lasting relationships. Whether a customer opts in for a traditional package or not, they still look for tools that can make their holidays feel special.

Here are three ways brands can deliver best-in-class experiences for today’s travellers, balancing the need for traditional and experience-led adventures:

1. Catering to a new wave of travellers should be a key priority for travel brands

Most travellers may still opt in for a beach break rather than a yoga retreat, but they increasingly want more than all-inclusive drinks and a hotel pool. Providing extra services that unlock a new way of exploring the city or area will build loyalty and ensure positive brand experience. There are many potential opportunities, for instance: an experience platform connecting travellers with local guides, gamification technology to aid destination discovery, AI-enabled tech for personalised itineraries via voice tech or mobile chatbots, or a hotel app with an extra layer of safety for solo travellers.

2. Consider the full customer journey

Travel is a highly fragmented market, with customers likely to use a number of brands during a single trip. This is slowly starting to change, with the most forward-thinking companies now expanding their services to support travellers throughout their journey. Low-cost airline Ryanair has recently shown ambitions to become the ‘Amazon of travel’, with vast efforts directed towards extending their experience from airlines to car hire, transfers, airport parking, room booking, and even holiday packages. While such profound service diversification is a huge challenge for the business – and Ryanair might better focus on fixing their industrial relations and the basic customer experience before trying out new territories – travel brands should still take note. Tools supporting a new travel lifecycle, from booking to returning home are likely to become increasingly popular.

3. Mobile-first design

Customers now rely on their smartphone at every stage of the customer journey – from initial research to booking, discovery and booking management. This means that established travel brands' will need to employ smart use of technology and relentless focus on the omnichannel customer experience if they are to stay competitive in a growing, but increasingly saturated market. With travellers of almost all ages expecting an ever-increasing level of digital innovation, travel brands can’t afford to stand still with their mobile offering.

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