Symposium: consumers prefer experiences

Consumers are increasingly likely to spend money on experiences than material things – and they don’t see themselves as tourists when travelling.

That was the view of Caroline Bremner (pictured), head of travel at market research firm Euromonitor, who said many holidaymakers have an issue with the term ‘tourist’.

“They see themselves as an adventurer, explorer, experience seeker,” she told delegates at the Tourism Society’s Tourism Symposium in Greenwich (June 4-5).

This drive for more experiential travel is good news for the sector, she said, as tourism can offer “fantastic experiences”.

She gave the example of Airbnb, which is expanding beyond peer-to-peer accommodation, and now offers experiences as diverse as truffle hunting and burlesque dancing.

Outlining growth trends for the next 12 years, she said the rise in international arrivals will be driven by the Asian market, especially China.

Technology will continue to shape travel, with 48% of world now connected to the internet – and next year 50% of global travel sales will be made online.

Bremner said Chinese online travel agency Ctrip is expanding beyond China, and new ways to book will include messaging apps and voice searches.

There could be physical technology developments, such as a special suit which will help less mobile travellers explore further afield, and even microchips which can be swallowed.

Barrie Kelly, Visit Greenwich chief executive, cautioned against too much reliance on technology, telling delegates that “people buy people” – hence Greenwich still invests in a tourist information centre.

Matt Roberts, head of sales at Staycity, also spoke about the need to adapt to technology, but told delegates: “Make the guest feel like they are important. Too much focus on technology has potential to create robotic experiences – at the heart of the industry and hospitality, it’s about people and service.”

• Darren Henley, chief executive of Arts Council England, also highlighted how visitors will travel for special experiences, events and one-off exhibitions.

He pointed to the success of cultural events such as Hull’s year as the UK City of Culture and the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library – and how important literature is to destinations such as Stratford-upon-Avon and Hay-on-Wye.

“We need cultural jewels to help promote our country abroad – our great museums are among the best in the world, and our festivals are among the best,” he told delegates.

Henley also praised the investments by VisitBritain and VisitEngland which are developing cultural destinations and trails.