One lasting effect of living through the global pandemic has been that people are more carefully considering how they spend their time, both at work and at play. It is no surprise, then, that the trend towards meaningful travel is gaining even more momentum. Travel Market Report took a deeper look at just what meaningful travel is and why travel advisors should be booking it now.
What is meaningful travel?
This type of travel goes beyond wanderlust. It is about satisfying a longing for enrichment, for unforgettable journeys … those moments that take one’s breath away, or bring a joy that comes with experiencing new things, sharing moments with loved ones, and making new friends. These are the kinds of adventures that people reflect on days, weeks, and even decades after the trips are over.
“Meaningful travel offers a personal connection deeply rooted in the experience the traveler is seeking. [That includes] connecting with something on a trip that resonates with a personal passion,” said Ralph Iantosca, CTA, LS, DS, expedition and safari specialist, owner of Iantosca Travel LLC, and named among Condé Nast’s Top Travel Specialists in 2020-2022.
For instance, Iantosca described a multigenerational trip to New York that he arranged for a client. The grandmother wanted to keep her granddaughter interested in the travel experience. The granddaughter was in high school drama and singing, so the grandmother loved the idea he proposed of setting up a private voice lesson with a Broadway voice coach for her granddaughter. As it turns out, the granddaughter will be moving to New York this summer to study with a drama coach and a voice coach, and has a talent agent helping her. Needless to say, this trip was a hit all around.
Another example Iantosca gave: “I had a client interested in their family heritage so they went to Norway. The supplier I worked with found a fjord that had the same name, learning later that the family came from that area of Norway. Tracing their family roots in Norway allowed the family to learn about their grandparents, great-grandparents, the family’s immigration to the United States, and they were able to share that with the younger generations who traveled along with them.”
Roberta deGrandis, CIS, MCC, CTA, Let's Go Travel, LLC, also referenced heritage travel in the discussion about meaningful travel: “I think some of the most impactful trips I have helped clients plan are when they are going to visit the places their ancestors came from. Especially when they know the small town or village where their grandparents or great-grandparents came from, and we incorporate a visit to that exact place. I say it's a return to the ‘dirt’ they came from, and it's meaningful when they can walk in the same places they have heard stories about growing up.”
Any destination that touches the emotions of the traveler can serve as the backdrop for a milestone trip. Here are some ideas travel advisors can share with clients to help inspire them to get back out there and travel on an immersive and meaningful journey, either in the U.S. or internationally:
- Standing with the family in awe at the rim of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World – the Grand Canyon – after a journey by historic train through the breathtaking landscape across the U.S.
- Celebrating a milestone anniversary on the deck of a small, yacht-style cruise as the Greek Isles melt into the Aegean Sea
- Sipping on a Bordeaux poured straight from the barrel after a bike ride through the French countryside with friends new and old
- Gathering for a family reunion around a spring-fed pool at a true American oasis in the middle of Death Valley National Park
- Celebrating a birthday exploring the incredible diversity of wildlife in the Galapagos aboard a small excursion ship led by a naturalist
- Seeing elephants, rhinos and giraffes up close during a once-in-a-lifetime African safari, and then returning to luxuriously rustic treehouse accommodations to talk about the day’s adventures with friends
Why is meaningful travel surging now?
Research has shown that after the abrupt halt to normal life that came with the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are now hungrier than ever to experience the world through a new lens and to travel to places that will rejuvenate, inspire, and provide memories that last a lifetime.
“During the pandemic, everyone had the opportunity to think about their future, what matters, and now they want that when they travel,” said Iantosca.
Along those same lines, Kathi Russ, franchise owner and travel advisor, Epic Travel LLC commented: “With the lifting of travel restrictions around the world, pent up wanderlust is being released. It appears that returning to the joy of travel finds many looking to go big and beyond the ordinary with their travel plans.”
As an example, she said: “I have clients who joined me on a European river cruise in May 2022. This trip was planned in the depths of the isolation of the pandemic, after I did a Zoom call highlighting the virtues and value of river cruise travel. This trip was a stake in the ground for this couple to look forward to, while they were going through serious life challenges with aging parents. When the trip finally arrived, the joy and wonder that I witnessed in them was heartwarming. This was their first trip to Europe, and they embraced every step, every disjointed conversation with someone who didn't speak English, every vista and view along the way and the cultural history of the land and its people through the years. This trip was more than just travel – it was a time to open their hearts and minds to the world again.”
The value travel advisors add
These are exactly the types of trips where travel advisors add tremendous value to the travel equation.
“We have the contacts with incredible destination management companies in the countries where the clients wish to visit. Having the ability to collaborate and design a one-of-a-kind itinerary is something that travelers really want,” said Iantosca.
He recalled a group trip to Rwanda. The Park Warden gave them a permit to see the very same family of gorillas that he saw back in 2004 on his first trip there. That is the kind of magic a travel advisor can work, because of long-standing relationships in destination.
And with it, “You build a reputation and become known for doing these things, so the referrals grow into this type of business that really becomes profitable,” added Iantosca.
Russ also reflected on why travel advisors are important when booking meaningful travel: “As a professional with access to resources around the world, a travel advisor helps clients not only to go, but to go with gusto, to experience a place and its people in an immersive, authentic way. By understanding what a client enjoys, an advisor can match experiences so the vacation is memorable and meaningful. Think, ‘Do I want to drive by a sheep farm in a bus or do I want to learn how to shear a sheep?!’ Advisors have connections with fourth-generation truffle farmers in the south of France, as well as local guides in Iceland who know just where the most magnificent and remote waterfall is located.
“Meaningful, bucket-list travel for me means that I am doing far more than booking reservations. It means I am helping my clients to have world-class experiences and memories, that will result in them being my lifetime travel clients.”
Travel advisors can also help in the financial planning for a big trip. “Milestones can be expensive, however the reason to celebrate and share a memory that will last forever is priceless,” explained Iantosca. “Start planning early and add 15-20% on top of the budget you think you have set aside. Making plans two years in advance is something that could save a lot of money. I’ve negotiated rates that far in advance, asking if we pay ahead will they honor the rate this year for two-plus years ahead – it’s always a good idea to ask. Many suppliers are wanting bookings that far in advance.”
Another option, says Angela Armutcu, owner of Jetset Travel, is to have family members and friends contribute financially to a milestone trip instead of having a party, such as to commemorate a 50th wedding anniversary or a multigenerational journey celebrating an important birthday.
And Armutcu offered this parting thought: “I feel that all trips have meaning for customers. It could be the grandparents flying to see a new grandbaby or someone going to an unfortunate funeral. All travel has some special meaning to each customer. We all want the big-ticket trips. In the end, we are here to help all of our customers fulfill the smallest to the biggest trip … It is a big responsibility when people have expectations. It is also rewarding to fulfill their dreams.”
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