From Grand Tour to Wanting More: The Evolution of Experiential Travel

Travel, gensler, sleep


By Nicola Law, Associate Senior Interior Designer at Gensler.... 

Since the days of the Grand Tour to Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) in the 1970s and the gap years of the 1990s, there have been a variety of reasons why experiential travel has evolved and taken hold. Recently, an emerging ‘tribe’ of travellers have begun reshaping the experiential travel market. Along with the rise of the Instagram society, which now boasts more than 300 million monthly active users and enables us all to explore the world through the lenses of others, these new travellers will continue to change how we think about travel. By 2020, millennials - part of this tribe’s demographic - will account for 50% of global travel spending; who already spend an estimated $180 billion in tourism-related revenue. They have the power and numbers to influence every lifestyle experience they engage in, including the future of experiential travel.

As these travellers have become a consequential market force, there has also been a broader shift in consumer attitudes. A study by Harris and Eventbrite highlighted a growing demand for enriching life through special experiences and learning; over 78% of respondents said they would rather spend money on gaining experiences than buying things. As mobile socialisers, freedom and independence are all-important to this group of non-conformists. They want more control over what they get out of their trips, they have no fixed dogma, and their global and pluralistic values are reflected in their travel choices.

Experiential travel has taken these changing social norms into consideration and shifted its focus towards providing enriching, localised experiences. Feeling socially connected to a city or neighbourhood is more than just walking its streets; it’s about embracing its essence, if only briefly. Concentrating on the local allows travellers to forge deeper connections with the people, traditions and customs of the places they visit. These are some of the traits explored at Sleep, where Gensler will be designing a hotel ‘set’ for a ‘Digital Avant-Garde’. This new approach to travel means that the role of the travel agent is changing. It’s no longer enough for a travel agents to have a strong handle on logistics. Today’s agents must act like travel designers, selling a story based experience as opposed to an itinerary. Instead, what’s created is an exciting and intriguing series of moments, which in time becomes a cluster of gems that are experienced and shared.

Sleep, Gensler

The rise in demand for experiences such as these has led to a growing acceptance within the hotel industry that travellers are more interested in exploring what’s going on outside the hotel walls than lounging within them, and the changing social norms of today’s travellers will push designers to explore and expand the boundaries of what a hotel room might be for this guest.

In turn, hoteliers are evolving to offer differentiated experiences for every guest. This change in hospitality design is forcing hotels to start acting as portals to external communities rather than disconnected entities. Introducing each guest to the best local experiences is paramount to success in the new travel economy because lasting memories is what we as travellers want to associate with a country, a destination, an emotion, and the hotel itself. This need for uniqueness and the growing embrace of local cultures has prompted the rise of local, conceptual design and expression, and our involvement in this year’s Sleep Set will allow us to this even further.

Discover Gensler's final Digital Avant-Garde room set at this year's Sleep - register here.