Experiential travel may be the hottest media trend, but being active and going on traditional sightseeing tours remain the most popular tourism activities for U.S. travelers.
In a survey of 500 traveling Americans, Arival, an event company for the tour and activities industry, found that 40 percent of respondents are most likely to take part in activities like hiking and ziplining, while 39 percent said they would take tours that visit prominent places of interest during their summer vacation.
About one out of three said they would visit places like museums and zoos, and 31 percent said they would visit an amusement/water park.
According to Arival, 33 percent of travelers will be participating in a “unique tour or experience with a local” this summer.
While the popular travel media have been hyper-focused on experiential and immersive travel experiences the last few years, Douglas Quinby, Arival co-founder & CEO, said he wasn’t surprised by the survey results.
“To me, it all makes sense. I think that there is a whole range of different travelers who want all sorts of things. And there are travelers who want both, in the same trip,” he said. “People want to go to the Empire State Building and take a Brooklyn foodie tour. Travel agents and tour operators need to serve both types of travelers, and the same traveler with both things.”
When Arival broke these activities down deeper, they found that 49 percent of U.S. travelers were interested in traditional sightseeing tours, while 31 percent are looking for art/cultural tours. When it came to living like a local, 24 percent said they wanted to “go off the beaten path” to immerse themselves in more home-grown experiences.
Walking and culinary tours are most popular
Half of these experiences will be walking tours, Arival reported in its survey. I was struck by the popularity of walking tours. Far and away, the most popular.
“People want to be connected to their destination,” Quinby said.
The survey also showed that 28 percent are looking for beer/wine tours and 23 percent are foodies, wanting culinary experiences.
Experiential tours appear to be more popular with younger travelers. When Arival broke down its data by age groups, it found that 43 percent of those 18-24 years of age wanted to explore beer/wine venues or local cuisine. Close behind that group, about 37-38 percent of those ages 25-34 were looking for culinary/beer/wine tours.
Those percentages dropped off dramatically as travelers get older. Only 13 percent of travelers 45-54, and 15 percent of travelers 55-64 are seeking culinary tours.
While younger people are more interested right now in these types of experiences, Quinby believes over time, interest will “trickle up” to older travelers.
“We’re seeing demand across all age groups, so agents should explore the opportunity to introduce these experiences to all travelers,” he said.
Agents 'perfectly positioned' to serve clients in market
About 47 percent of travelers surveyed said they will book all or most of these activities in advance, while 35 percent said they will book all or most of their activities when they arrive in their destination.
Quinby believes that helping travelers book local experiences while they are in a destination increasingly will become a bigger opportunity for travel agents. He recounted his own experience several years ago, when he took a business trip with his wife to Dublin.
“She wanted to kiss the Blarney Stone," he said. "When I looked online, there must have been 50 different tours. Half-day, full-day. There’s the train, or bus, and three different types of buses. Do you want to go in the morning or afternoon, include lunch or dinner? Having a knowledge specialist to help me make a decision would have come in handy.
“Agents are perfectly positioned to be able to continue to support that traveler in destination, and offer yourself as a resource, because there are things travelers may not want to plan until they get there.”
Finally, Arival found that pro sporting events figured into the plans of 29 percent of those respondents ages 18-24. The second largest group interested in pro sporting events were 25-34-year-olds (21 percent), and 45-54-year-olds (20 percent).