In recent years the travel industry has been falling over itself to offer “memorable experiences” – something special that elevates a regular trip to transformational travel. Sometimes this is little more than a rebranding exercise – selling an existing product as an “experience” – or else shoehorning one into an itinerary. So what makes for a memorable tourism experience and how do we go about having one?
Chances are it’s down to one of three things: novelty, involvement or social interaction, according to a recent study in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, which asked residents of three cities in China to recall their most memorable trips.
Nick Gollner, head of marketing at travel company WildChina, says that while the novelty factor is a vital part of travel, as it inspires us to explore, what makes travel compelling is the human story to be found behind these new experiences.
“We avoid the tourist traps that characterise some of the most novel destinations and attractions in favour of opportunities for travellers to interact with local people and communities, to support local crafts, and gain a personal understanding of the traditions that define a place and its people,” Gollner says.
Gollner sees interaction with local communities as an indispensable part of creating memorable travel.
“African safaris are one of the more popular adventure trips among Chinese travellers today and although tracking lions and giraffes in their natural habitat is a life-changing experience, a visit to a local school to share school supplies and meet local children is always one of the most memorable parts of our guests’ journeys in Africa,” Gollner says.
“The chance to share a smile or play a game with local children creates a human connection and adds a level of depth that touring simply cannot provide.”
The journal report suggests that Chinese travellers spend a lot of time taking photos for social media and thus aren’t able to gain deep insights into the places they visit.
However, Andrea Oschetti, founder of Hong Kong travel company Blueflower, thinks that the two are not mutually exclusive and says he enjoys posting to Instagram when he is on holiday.
Travel is an opportunity to enrich your life, he adds.
“You can use it to empower yourself, and go back home inspired to lead the life you want to live. You can decide where to go based not on what Lonely Planet says is the cool trip of the year, but based on the virtues you wish to cultivate,” he says.
For example, he explains, you might spend time in a Himalayan monastery if you want to cultivate patience. Or you could seek out a simple landscape if you are in search of spiritual healing, such as a desert or a tropical paradise like Indonesia’s Bawah Island.
“Bawah is all water, sky and trees, blues and greens, a simple landscape. The physical geography of a place affects our mood,” Oschetti says.
What is more important for Oschetti than novelty is diversity, something that is becoming harder to find as destinations become more homogeneous.
“The risk is that you go to Rome and all you experience are restaurants and shops that you can have at home as well. Diversity has the power to enrich you,” Oschetti says.
He has built up a network of photographers, journalists, chefs and artists around the world who he arranges to meet his clients on their travels for a drink and a chat. He especially likes to arrange for clients to meet local artisans.
If they like fashion, rather than arranging visits to big brands, he has them spend an afternoon in an atelier talking about Italian fashion.
“Travel is a great opportunity to reignite our passions. The good traveller chooses the experiences based on his personal needs and the things he wants to do in his life,” Oschetti says.
Gollner says mainland Chinese travellers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and as the number of outbound Chinese tourists grow, so does the demand for alternative destinations and off-the-beaten-path experiences.
“Chinese travellers, particularly millennial ones, are becoming increasingly adventurous in their travel choices,” he says. “We expect this trend to continue as international travel becomes more popular [among them] in the coming years.”
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.
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