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Stephanie White

Trend Outlook: Creative Tourism

Whether you're a foodie, an artist, a sport enthusiast, or just need to get away, today's travel opportunities are fulfilling dreams and bucket lists to the nth degree. The modern traveler is embracing creative tourism, which encapsulates authentic, local travel experiences and differs from conventional tourism norms.

Creative tourism provides a true cultural connection for travelers. Cultural workshops, classes from local experts or self-guided expeditions through the land unknown—all while traveling—are examples of this increasingly popular trend. Think of the evolution of fishing excursions, once a quick off-shore jaunt. Today, aspiring anglers are dropped by helicopter in remote villages where sourcing a meal is dependent on actively learning the art of fishing.

Though long unlabeled, creative tourism has been around for many years. People with affinity to the arts, sport, or scholastics have long been exposed to the experience through exchange programs or studies abroad. Host families lodge visitors, providing an everyday life experience, complete with authentic cuisine in the way of good old-fashioned home cooking.

Building off of this history, today's creative tourists—namely Millennials—want to do and feel, not just see. Where the conventional tourist perhaps takes a picture overlooking a peak, the creative tourist posts a selfie on top of that peak. A study, conducted this year by Marriot Rewards Premier Credit Card, revealed that 78 percent of Millennial travelers—the true influencers of creative tourism—are searching for thrilling, adventurous vacations, as opposed to the 32 percent interested in lazy trips.

The economic windfall for creative tourism is widespread. As popular destinations feed hungry adventurers with bold new itineraries, a lonely body of water off the beaten path becomes a paddle boarding delight. The doors open for lesser known places that can identify a unique selling point and transform. The experience doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg and locals have new confidence interacting with visitors who show genuine interest in their culture.

The trend of locals and tour operators working together to become more than a dot on a map has morphed into a travel experience labeled "conspicuous leisure." Creative tourists feed the model by hitting destinations unknown and, by way of social media and online reviews, create awareness of novel getaways.

But it's not just the younger generation: Baby Boomers, perhaps motivated by their children's cutting-edge travel, are getting in on the action. With control of over 80% of all travel spending and a “bucket list" mentality, they dabble in creative tourism, too: hotel alternatives, spicing up vacations by bartering at local markets, cooking meals in a home away from home.

As an activity or tour operator, how can your business cater to the creative tourist who seeks authentic, local, and creative experiences? These ideas will help you expand or build on your current offering to fully embrace creative tourism and attract the thrill-seeking traveler.

1. Research

There are two ways that your business can delve into information and better cater to the creative tourist: first, by further examining your competitors' offerings and evaluating how they do or do not provide authentic experiences; and secondly, by fully understanding the needs and desires of your target audience. Surly you are aware of your local competitors and how your services differ. Now, try creating a second draft of your SWOT analysis, solely from a “creative tourism" perspective. Ask questions of your competitors and your own business such as, How does the business incorporate the local culture? Do cobranding opportunities exist? Would cobranding with a local restaurant, boutique hotel or landmark operation uniquely position the offering? Are there any components of the tour that could be "done" instead of simply explained or discussed?

Better appealing to the creative tourist also calls for an understanding of their interests, and how travelers go about booking experiences and trips. One way tour and activity providers can get a pulse on traveler interests is by searching their respective city on Meetup. See what interest groups frequent the town and determine how your offering could meet an existing need or generate demand. Furthermore, regular check-ups on traveler review sites and social media platforms like Twitter are imperative. Travelers are increasingly social and quick to provide reviews. About 40% of Millennials are likely to share a travel experience on social media during their trip and 80% have indicated that social reviews have impacted their travel decisions. Diligently scouring this information will provide a plethora of competitive intelligence on the creative tourist.

2. Customer service and engagement

Customer service must ALWAYS go above and beyond. Understanding that Millennial travelers are largely influencing the concept of creative tourism—and knowing that they are constantly plugged in, social and mobile—presents opportunity for activity and tour operators to excel at customer service. As discussed, Millennials are quick to share and rely on social reviews—plus are uniquely identified as loving their phones, being very social, and passionate about values. Harness this information to create unmatched customer experiences. For example, allocate an employee as responsible for personally responding to every social review your business receives—good and bad. Turn poor experiences into great experiences by confronting issues and offering the creative tourist complimentary experiences or invitations to solicit further feedback to help you improve the business. Leverage great experiences as a channel for gathering referral or new business. Ask the happy creative tourist to submit photo or video testimonial from their excursion with your business, and post this evidence to your website or social media platforms. Complement these testimonials with promotions, group rates and booking incentives to lure new travelers via an online booking software that allows you to design promotions and optimize pricing for peak seasons and dates.

3. Use the tech tools available

Just as the tech industry booms with innovation or reinvents the wheel, so has the travel industry begun to ride the wave. With this has come a number of technology solutions that tour and activity operators can adopt to further promote the business, while keeping organized. Knowing that the creative tourist can be found online, using social tools like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and travel review sites to engage with past and future adventurers is an excellent marketing advantage. Use existing social media research studies to help you evaluate which social tools will be most effective for your business, helping you to prioritize marketing efforts. Once you've attracted the business, staying organized is key. Equipment rentals and bookings delivered in an efficient manner will elevate your brand and facilitate a wonderful experience for both the consumer and for your business. Online booking platforms designed specifically for activity and tour operators, such as ZOZI Advance, will help you manage reservations, accept bookings 24/7 and offer additional products at checkout, marking opportunity for up-sell and further revenue generation.