Regional Product Manager in the Americas, Simon Lindsay, shares his insight on the shifting demand from the traditional flop and drop to immersive, multi-day experiential travel within the North American market.

The world has changed. We hear this phrase more often due to several factors impacting our planet: the COVID pandemic, climate change, political instability and uprisings, the demand for a better world… However, one thing has remained constant: our desire to connect with people and our planet. People want to reconnect with friends and family, want to escape the stresses of daily life, learn new things, and have new experiences. 2020 gave us time to reflect on what is important; we became more aware of our personal wellbeing. These factors will be important considerations when travel returns.

The media reports on a substantial pent-up demand for travel as borders reopen and flights resume. Holidays, of course, are synonymous with good feelings, great memories, and the escape from the daily grind. But what type of vacation do people want to take, as they make up for ‘lost’ time?

Whilst flop-and-drop continues to be one of the main reasons for travel to the Caribbean/Americas, we are seeing an increasing demand for more experiential travel inclusions – a notable change from previous years.

The big focus on requests from our partners is centred around personal wellbeing and immersive culturally rich inclusions. Yoga, wellness, spa inclusions – these experiences giving people time for mindfulness and healing are proving popular in Tulum, Isla Holbox and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, as well as in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

Activities that ignite the senses and broaden cultural understanding are also proving popular inclusion requests for multi-day itineraries. These are hands-on experiences such as food and drinks tours, cooking classes, market visits, homestays, and other introductions to the local way of life. The focus here is on immersion as opposed to mere observation.

While there are still huge volumes of travellers booking traditional flop and drop all-inclusive resorts, we are seeing increasing demand for small, boutique-style properties. These individual accommodation options offer a completely different type of holiday away from mass-market tourism with a more local and less commercial feel. This could be a direct knock-on effect from the events of the last 18 months, where people feel more secure in less crowded places, or they could simply want their own space away from the hustle and bustle to relax and unwind.

Interest in Experiential Travel
There is interesting data on millennials who, according to Bloomberg, now make up the largest generation (31.5% of the world population). The data shows that 86% of millennials want to travel for experience and culture, immersing themselves into their destination, staying clear of tourist traps – 60% rank authentic culture as the essential part of their trip, 78% want their visit to be educational.

Our Guidepost multi-day itineraries encompassing these experiential and sensory activities have proven extremely popular, with bookings confirmed through 2021, 2022, and 2023 highlighting a growing demand in this area (significatively above pre-Covid numbers). Our In-Destination sales are also changing. Typical flop-and-drop type excursions such as catamarans, parks, ziplines, shopping, and sightseeing are still proving extremely popular. However, we are seeing a growing demand from customers for something different, something new, something unique – often emphasising wellness or experiential activities.

There is also a renewed focus on responsible travel activities, felt industry wide. The events of recent months have highlighted just how fragile our world is, which has ignited awareness of our impact on the planet. Therefore, hotels that stand out for their sustainability are becoming increasingly popular.

Similarly, interest in activities that directly help give back to the local community and increase ecological knowledge is also rising. For example, we have recently successfully launched two educational programmes in Costa Rica. These are designed for high school students to increase their awareness of environmental issues and offer local village interaction.

Educational travel Costa Rica
Our educational travel programmes in Costa Rica see students cooperate with the fantastic national parks of Liberia.
Personally, I think this is a thrilling time to be in travel. Having worked in the industry for the last 17 years, it always astounds me that so many people travel, sometimes thousands of miles, to another country, without really experiencing the destination. Instead, people tend to choose to spend time on the beach or within the confines of the hotel, except for the odd sightseeing tour or boat trip. Now I feel, more than ever, that this is changing. It is a change happening within the industry overall, and the events of recent years have driven that change.

As the world opens up again, we too, as travel leaders and businesses, need to open up to the new generation of travellers and focus on immersive travel opportunities. For Guidepost Tours, this style of travel has always been part of what we do; marrying originality with quality and value is second nature to us. So, in order to meet the oncoming demand, we’ve put immersive and experiential travel experiences at the core of our product development strategy. Our local in-destinations teams are hard at work creating itineraries that showcase not just a destination’s major sights but its people, its culture, and its life.