Experiential Travel is a Subtle Union of Opulence, Personalisation & Creativity

Travellers are no longer looking for a place to stay. Basis the nature of the visit it could be a combination of functionality, timing, efficiency, warmth, local flavours and more than a traveller seeks. Simply put it is an experience.

THE IDEA of creating an exceptional guest experience has come a long way and graduated from just staying in a nice room to a more holistic experience that becomes a lifelong memory. Hotel brands are expected to do more in every area with customers looking for something beyond the obvious. They want to learn, see, taste and do something new at every step of their stay.

With a host of different experiences, ranging from the grand palaces in Rajasthan or Hyderabad, which arrange for personalised services that give guests a taste of royal rituals and finesse to experiences in the midst of some of India’s most coveted destinations, The Indian Hotels Company Limited, branded as Taj Hotels, focus on curating new experiences to offer the best to its guests.

Take for instance a royal welcome to celebrate the first entry of the guest into Rambagh Palace, Jaipur, complete with a parade of decorated elephants, rose water sprinkled and a shower of rose petals along the path, to personal butler service, the experience is designed to provide each guest with the feeling that they’re at home amid the grandeur of India’s iconic royal past.

Keys’ brand promise of ‘Happy Stays’. “It is a right mix of standard operating procedures and culture that enables the delivery seamlessly and with grand scale,” says Anshu Sarin, CEO, Keys Hotels.

Experiential Journeys are in vogue

The demands of travellers are changing as they look for an immersive experience that helps them at an emotional and personal level and one that allows them to experience the local community. People prefer opportunities that are unique to the property, rooms, the local food and beverages. Jean-Michel Cassé, Chief Operating Officer, India and South Asia, AccorHotels, believes, “Travellers want to forge deeper connections to the people, traditions, and customs of the places they are visiting for a more in-depth cultural experience.”

Some of the novel experiences this year include exploring the Arctic and Antarctic, Polar Bear Migration and Bush Plane Safaris. “The idea is to create a magnum opus,” says Vasim Shaikh, Founder & CEO, The Q Experiences who feel that today the consumer is increasingly on the lookout for something different and believe in investing in experiences that hold more value than spending on tangible objects. “The evolved travellers choose to indulge on vacations, thanks to enhanced exposure to different cultures and lifestyles. Travel is more about exploring new and uncommon destinations. They want to partake in unconventional activities like soaking in the hot-water springs of frozen highlands in Nordic Island of Iceland, exploring Botswana’s lush Okavango Delta or taking in the surreal landscape of Patagonia in South America on horseback, a journey into the beautiful coastal desert of Namibia in Africa,” he says.

Innovation is the key

Besides enabling guests to enjoy the local surroundings, hotels today need to incorporate experiential into the property. Making every guest ‘Feel Welcome’ in every hotel, Jean-Michel Cassé adds, “The newly opened Mercure Chennai Sriperumbudur and Novotel Kochi Infopark offer personalised excursions for smaller groups along with customised options that highlight local attractions and events and allow guests to truly create a connection with the city.”

With new-age travel themes emerging such as pilgrim travel, heritage cities, unexplored destinations and so on, Sarin, feels that the travellers today set out in search of emotional journeys as they want to engage with different cultures, backgrounds, etc. “At Keys, every hotel offers something unique, reflecting the cultural traditions and way of life of the city or town it is located in. At the Shirdi hotel, for instance, the ambience inside the hotel is suffused with the tranquil, spiritual atmosphere reflective of the temple town. The restaurant also specialises in satvik cuisine,” she tells.

Before curating a trip, Shaikh first embarks on an experiential journey himself, hence, for 2018, the events are as varied as camping on the Arctic; a close encounter with Polar Bear; bush plane safaris or biking tour in Portugal.

Digital Change

With guests looking to their social media circle and digital platforms to research, book, stay in and communicate with hotels, digital integration has become a buzzword for hoteliers worldwide. The Taj Group has enhanced its focus on building and expanding its own robust digital infrastructure. Through Taj. Live, the new social media command centre, identification of opportunities to organically engage with a wider audience through omnichannel trend tracking and analysis is possible.

Sarin says, “Deep-rooted cultural transformation is an on-going process. It is heartening to hear ‘wow’ stories where every member takes it upon themselves to #ownyourguest and offer an experience. We are learning, evolving, tweaking our SOPs if need be.”

What sells well?

According to Sarin, there is no standard formula that fits all. “The Evershine Keys Prima Resort in Mahabaleshwar creates candlelight dinner experience along with interesting nature trail walks. A millennial today would have more appreciation for a truly authentic experience that is delivered genuinely. Happy guests make repeat guests.”

Jean-Michel Cassé considers local experiences to be one of the most important elements of the travel experience. “There is a growing demand for unique, cultural, immersive and memorable journeys,” he feels.

Understanding individual passions and interests to reimagine luxury attached to personalisation that sells today, Shaikh says, “Incredibly original travel stories work well with guests as they don’t want a timetable handed over to them.”

A shift from a pure product play to a tailored level of service

It is no more about a mere hotel stay and the services provided. The overall experience is what stands out on the whole. “With access to the global references and social media platforms, guests today are well informed and very well researched. They look for stays that are new and unique and can provide niche offerings. Therefore, it has become even more important to develop exceptional experiences to satisfy the guest and their specific needs. For example, our millennial centric brands like 25 hours and Mama Shelter take a liberated, flexible and rebellious approach. Moreover, to ensure that we can meet guests’ expectations and enable a seamless journey, we have gone beyond providing traditional hotel offerings. We provide end-to-end service across the entire traveller experience by adding value to our customer’s journey,” says Cassé. Hence, travel is now referred to an investment and many have the willingness to spend as long as they are assured of an extraordinary experience.

The future of experiential journey is luxurious

The demand for luxury is increasing across the sector. “Experiential travel is highly personal and distinctive. We see luxury as being redefined and translating to uniqueness, therefore, we see a lot of potential for experiential travel to grow,” feels Sarin. On the other hand, the travel experience for Jean-Michel Cassé is no longer just about the rooms and the stay. “Consumers are expecting engagement from their travel providers long before and after a trip. Building this relationship with the consumer ensures a sense of connection to the destination,” he says.

Most of the conventional destinations have already been exhausted which has created a need to discover new corners of the world. “Experiential travel is phenomenally different as it entails a subtle amalgamation of opulence, personalization and creativity which greatly appeals to our guests who are looking for exclusivity and very high standards of quality and service,” claims Shaikh.

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