With the change in market dynamics, customer experience is the next big thing. Well, it has been for past three years and is growing. Experiential holidays is the new agenda for travel and tourism industry. I am a travel buff and stick to semi-luxury whenever possible. I prefer to holiday, not on a budget.
Of course, there are a whole lot of you who are interested in backpacking. Yes, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. For those who love to see places and not look for a comfortable stay, there are tons of options. However, some of the most exclusive areas are in the hands of 5-star chains. Which, in a way, is sad, but exclusivity sometimes comes at a price.
That is not to say that I do book 5-star hotels – far from it. I prefer decent, clean rooms because there are times when I would rather sit inside the room than be outside. To relax, to just lie down in a place that is not your own, and the environment is different – a beach, a hill or a river by the side. It all boils down to preference, of the traveler.
What are Experiential Holidays?
Due to changing holiday patterns (especially among the youth), many start-up resorts and hotels have come up that offer experiential holidays. The domestic market is growing thanks to the growing middle-class population. Experiential holidays are typically off-beat, unique and #bragworthy, focused on creating a fulfilling experience! In other words, creating a product out of a set of services. More than just the basic hygienic rooms, great food with local flavors or the natural environment.
To say it in a layman’s words, having a summer camp experience in three days. The focus on long weekends is now catching on like a wildfire, especially with an influx of 5-day a week working culture in many of the metros.
Pleasure or Social Pressure / #bragworthy
Holidaying in this digital world has made people go online and share their experience! The subconscious mind is always looking for places to travel that sound exciting and exotic, for sharing it on the social networks.
Everyone sees it as a challenge to manage their online presences. Pressurizing themselves to show-off their latest adventure to become brag-worthy among their network (not everyone). The phones are replacing expensive camera equipment to take brilliant photos, and there also is the self-immersive selfie culture. The breed of work-hard-party-harder needs to look for something unique, and that is where experiential holidays come to rescue.
As the world markets are looking for more customers, they need to follow the crowd. And the crowd is at the bottom end of the pyramid. Which means, the hotel and resort chains need to start producing experiences for the budget traveler.
Why is experience in focus now?
Well said, or asked, if I may. India is ranked 5th among the most vacation-deprived countries in the world. We are closer to the top of the list, no thanks to the hardcore-workaholic culture and nature of Indian Youth. And the vacation customs of India, focusing on festivals more than individuals.
Mixing experience with pleasure in this industry is an age-old phenomenon but largely restricted to 5-star hotel chains. If you ask anyone who has booked rooms in Taj or Palaces run by Oberoi’s, they will speak to you about their enriching experience.
Industries in various segments are going after experience in the past three to five years. Experiential holidays have been the mainstay of big brand hotels and resorts, limited to a few wealthy. With a growing middle-class section, these experiences are still not affordable (upwards to Rs. 12,000 per room night).
Filling the void that did not exist
In today’s world, things move fast. While the start-up resorts placed themselves firmly in the experiential holiday’s agenda, the absence of mainstay hotel chains would not be in for a long time either. In keeping with the times, time and money are of an essence. New travelers are focusing on getting multiple short getaways in a single trip, or an experience in a long weekend.
Family holidays are still the largest group. However, a new set of travelers are creating groups based on interests thanks to social media and networks – School reunions, WhatsApp groups and what not!
The hotel chains and resorts had to come back to this new competition and forced to innovate. There are two avenues here that I may try and help explain.
Experienced in managing hotel and resorts
The grassroots hotels and resorts that are mushrooming across the country lack experience in customer service. Their reliance is majorly on the experience that may not be in their true control – like a nature trail or a trek. In most cases, they cannot provide for curated experiences.
Such hotels or resorts focus heavily on the cost, and would assume “it na paise main itna-ich mile ga” (you will only get what you paid for). The lack of experience would push them off on other crucial areas of creating a wholesome experience.
Might of hotel and resort chains
An established hotel chain will know what needs to be done, and how! Managed by experienced leaders, they hold an advantage of the knowledge of service much more than grassroots (not necessarily all of them) can ever provide. They are aware of their customers and are now increasingly focusing on creating more than just a wholesome experience.
In comes immersive holidays. The word will sound familiar to you, though we are not talking about the Television Channel. Discovery experience adds a bit of surprise element.
What is this Immersive Holiday?
It is precisely an experiential holiday, however with a surprise built-in. If you had ever been to a Pizza-Hut outlet 4-5 years ago (I have not seen them doing it off-late), you have already experienced it, perhaps as an outing. Here is how I can try differentiating “discovery from experience” for anyone with the help of Pizza-Hut example.
After every customer has a happy time at Pizza-Hut, they ring the customary bell at the exit door to show their happiness. “Thank you!” immediately sounds off from almost all of the Pizza-Hut employees in the store. It helps the customer feel good, while the staff knows they did a good job as well. This is an experience!
However, while you are still eating your delicious pizza, out of nowhere, the waiters join together to perform a dance. Like a flash mob. You are surprised, and the chances are that you will enjoy it. This is the discovery!
Many hotels and chains are now focusing on creating individual discovery experiences for their customers, and one of them I came close to know is Sterling. Now a Thomas-Cook company, Sterling is focusing on creating this discovery and experiential holidays for their would-be customers. I happened to attend their recent conference and brand relaunch on the invitation of IndiBlogger. You can read more about Sterling and how they are revamping themselves.