CONTRIBUTOR: Tammy Marshall


How does your most recent travel experience compare to your first?

How does your most recent travel experience compare to your first? I remember bragging to my friends about a Hong Kong shopping trip as an impressionable teenager. Then last year I saw elephants stampede on safari in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Within hours my story was shared on Facebook with friends. Rather than spending my time just sightseeing, I was able to be a part of a truly immersive experience.

Things were different when I entered the travel industry 25 years ago. Back then, the industry was controlled by suppliers looking to minimise production costs by pushing packaged holidays and group travel to the public. It’s quite the understatement to say things are different today. As we move further from Lonely Planet’s static recommendations to the thousands of choices on websites like TripAdvisor, it’s become possible for everyone to create and enjoy their own unique holiday experience. This is largely a result of technology and shifting mindsets propelling a revolution that’s transformed the focus of travel from taking standard holidays to engaging in meaningful experiences.

In 2012, we hit 1 billion annual global travellers, and Australia punched way above its weight with 6.1 million visitors. Just like my hosts in the Okavango Delta, Australia’s continuing success is built on its acute ability to create immersive experiences – and in the travel industry, experience is the new black. Travellers around the world are finally catching up to what Walt Disney was espousing half a century ago; that nothing will beat an engaging experience. It’s all about getting out of your comfort zone with travel that requires you to actively engage and learn from a culture, rather than spending your time passively observing or relaxing. It’s the move from taking a picture to being the subject of it, from watching the tango to dancing it. You can see it in the shift in Tourism Australia’s brand position over the last ten years – from the ocker stylings of ‘So where the bloody hell are you?’ to using drones and virtual reality technology to produce 360 degree immersive videos, showing off the best experiences from across the country.

So why are people all about experiences now? For one, the Internet has made people more adventurous in their approach to travel. They can use it as a test run to go off the beaten track before they even leave the house. There are really no limits to what you can find – and with everything now discoverable, anyone can become an explorer. The remote and pristine Iceland, which has been somewhat of a hidden gem in the past, has become a major destination as awareness of some of its more unique experiences skyrockets. Iceland is nature on permanent hyper display, so it’s no surprise its most compelling experiences are all outdoor activities, with the midsummer midnight sun allowing for long days of whale watching, glacier hikes and dips in geothermal lagoons.

For those in the industry, designing effective experiences is all about identifying what people want before they even realise they want it, ensuring you exceed their expectations at every turn. But it’s also about getting the basics right, which is especially important with the rise of review and ranking websites like TripAdvisor. In the past, you could easily get away with promising one thing and delivering another due to the disconnect between marketing and operations and the weaker voice of the consumer. Now, people have the ability to pass judgement and rate everything for all of their friends to see; hotels, restaurants and activities live and breathe on these reviews. Think about how you would approach your own travel – you don’t pick the first hotel you see. If your brand is not easily discoverable, or doesn’t really feature share-worthy experiences, you’re going to struggle.

In the 25 years I’ve worked in tourism, I’m confident there’s never been a better time than now to be a part of the industry. As travel increasingly gains the ability to transform people through immersive experiences, demand for tourism is only going to grow. But with this positive market outlook comes plenty of disruption and volatility. I can guarantee you will be left behind if you don’t make the effort to learn and innovate. There is plenty of change ahead – embrace the revolution!

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