I’ve been working in the travel industry for almost 15 years and have been able to contribute toward the evolution of individual travellers’ tastes and needs.
When I started working as a travel assistant, the big operators dictated the rules of organized travel and the offers you could find when entering a travel agency were very standardized: visit a country, see the main sites and monuments in big buses, eat international food, take pictures, go back home.
Then there was ‘the backpacker travel’, which represented another way of exploring the world more in association with the concepts of freedom, adventure and self-discovery. But there was nothing in between.
Since then huge changes have occurred – people are more conscious about what they want and therefore they expect travel agents and tour operators to adapt the offer to fulfill their tastes and expectations.
Everybody is looking for authentic experiences, everyone wants to interact with local cultures and people, and we all want to come back home feeling enriched by the trip. But how can we sell local and genuine experiences to customers that come to your travel agency?
Don’t call them tourists
The word ‘tourist’ has become obsolete and often has a negative connotation. In organized tourism, it has been replaced with the more contemporary term ‘traveller’.
As anthropologist Duccio Canestrini wrote in his book Andare a quel paese, ‘Vademecum del turista responsabile’ – the difference between these two terms seems to be obvious - the traveller is active, the tourist is passive; the traveller is curious, the tourist is bored.
He proposes instead the definition of Homo turisticus and what moves him is travelling – when people and cultures meet.
People are more interested in authentic and immersive experiences where they can interact with the local population. They want an experience that is intertwined with the concept of responsible and sustainable tourism, eco-friendly, and something that also benefits the people and local cultures.
This belief is the motivation for me to take on this challenge. So keep this in mind and try to understand the reasons that drive your customers to travel.
Customization and tailor-made
Most of the people prefer to be a Traveller rather than a Tourist and the approach when choosing a trip needs to be personalized.
Until a few years ago when a customer asked for a trip to Italy, we were used to giving them a pair of brochures and invited him to choose among pre-packaged trips – trips that we thought would go well for a wide and diverse audience. But this doesn’t work anymore.
Customers ask for something unique, created and adapted to their personal expectations and tastes. The trip is not only about the destination, but it’s about creating memorable moments and emotions.
“The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson
· Learn as much as possible about your customer, be flexible, ask for tips and advice from your local travel partners as they know better than any other about the territory.
· Bespoke trip creation means choosing the best accommodation for every type of traveller, maybe suggesting a secluded and intimate family-run “locanda” that serves a glass of homemade wine on their patio surrounded by vineyards to a romantic couple rather than a standard hotel; offering a snorkeling excursion in the northern of Sardinia for a family holiday rather than a simple beach vacation; or inviting them to join a urban walk along the most contemporary quarters of Milan to a fashion and design lover.
Come back to your customer with a bespoke offer that fits them perfectly and they will never leave you.
Off the beaten path
It’s no secret that the top destinations for a trip to Italy are still Rome, Florence and Venice. Most people still wish to visit these classical and touristic sites but there’s a chance to visit them in a more ‘local’ way.
According to a recent report done by McKinsey commissioned by Singapore Tourism Board, customers are becoming more well-travelled and willing to journey in search of what makes a city unique. People want to know what is the heart of the country; to go off the beaten track, so to speak; talk to the locals; or just find other things aside from the main popular attractions.
You cannot sell Lucca instead of Florence because people want to see Florence – and I cannot blame them, but why not offer them both?
Suggest a personalized excursion with a local guide who shows the hidden corners of his native town; a tour of the street food markets; a visit to some of the smallest, but not less interesting museums, or a day trip to the smallest towns in the area surrounding the most famous sites.
Include a more immersive experience that they do not get to experience normally in their own country or in other destinations.
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