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On Experiential Travel

❖ joe veneto

It’s All About the Experience THE GROUP TOUR marketplace continues to undergo a remarkable transformation that began in the 1990s. This is due to shifts in both the demographics and psychographics of group travelers as well as the emergence of the Internet. Today’s group travelers, whether adults or students, are experience junkies and do not want a vanilla vacation of show and tell. Rather, they want to be engaged and immersed in their travel experiences. These customers are healthier, more active, better educated and more sophisticated in their travel tastes. They possess an innate curiosity about the world, want to learn, explore new horizons and are connected to the worldwide web of information and ideas. The best way to meet the ever-changing desires of this new and emerging group tour customer is to engineer unforgettable experiences in which they are active participants. By doing this, destinations and their travel supplier partners will create competitive advantage and marketplace visibility. While many destinations and travel suppliers recognize and acknowledge the ever-changing group travel landscape, far fewer have engineered new experiences to address these trends. Four U.S. destinations that have recognized the trends and market shifts include Philadelphia, Pa; Columbus, Ohio; Dutchess County, N.Y.; and Virginia Beach, Va. In each case, the DMOs, all very involved in the group market, developed new experiences for group travelers. Each destination participated in the Experiential Development Process. The DMOs selected a group of partners that were interested in engineering innovative 12 December 2011

experiences. Then, current products were assessed, evaluated and re-engineered. In addition, new exclusive group experiences were designed, scripted, staged and launched. In each case, tour operators, motorcoach companies and receptives now have a host of unique new experiences to wrap into their travel products. In Philadelphia, a city of murals, groups can participate in painting a mural with a local artist. Joe Poone, one of the city’s ambassadors, will engage visitors on a “Walk ’n’ Wok” tour of Chinatown, escorting them through the neighborhood and bringing them to his

makes history come alive at a variety of historic homes. As a participant on the “Servants to Stewards” tour at the Vanderbilt Mansion, everyone is assigned a character role and chores. A trip to Mount Gulian features the homestead of original Dutch settlers, the Verplancks, where a white-glove tour allows a glimpse into the archives and artifacts. The Millbrook Winery provides wonderful settings to learn about wine making. In Virginia Beach, “Live the Life Adventures” offer a variety of themed experiences. For a trip down memory lane, groups at the Military Aviation

Destinations that offer special experiences have a competitive edge restaurant for a wok lunch. The Academy of Natural Sciences offers “Behind the Scenes” tours. Groups can meet a paleontologist and see the dinosaur bones collection or discuss entomology while viewing the original specimens from the Lewis & Clark expedition. Columbus, Ohio has over 40 engaging experiences for groups. “A Stop at the Kelton House” includes meeting Sophia Kelton, whose family hides runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. At the Columbus Art Museum, visitors can learn George Bellows’ twominute drawing technique using the collections in the galleries for inspiration. Ballet Met, the city’s ballet company, provides an “Open House Experience” where participants learn about the company and engage in a “Dance, Move, Stretch” class. Along the Hudson, Dutchess County

Museum meet Rosie the Riveter and see the largest collection of flying WWII aircraft. Edgar Cryce’s A.R.E. (Association for Research and Enlightenment) provides a host of experiences, from holistic health to understanding dreams. In each destination tour groups have the option to be engaged in a host of new experiences. Tour groups want unforgettable experiences that will provide bragging rights, and savvy operators that wrap their tours with these products will reap rewards. It’s all about the experience and to be successful, tour planners must get on the bus. Joe Veneto, a.k.a. The Opportunity Guy, collaborates with destination marketing organizations and travel suppliers to engineer unforgettable experiences. He is creator of the Experiential Development Process. Joe can be reached at www.opportunityguy.com; email: joe@opportunityguy.com or (617) 786-9096.

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On Experiential Travel