DMAI recently introduced DestinationNEXT, a bold new initiative to help DMOs deliver more tourism benefits and legacies specific to the dynamics of their respective communities. Through research and collaboration, DestinationNEXT will allow DMOs to determine their most successful path into the future, as well as demonstrate the growing role of DMOs in making an economic and social difference to the communities they serve.
The implications of this initiative spread beyond the DMO industry and collaboration with industry partners will be crucial to its success. Over the next 3 months we will be talking with stakeholders from various industries and areas of expertise to get their takeaways from the Phase 1 report and its implications for DMOs and travel and tourism at large.
We recently sat down with Jared Alster, Director of Marketing for Intrepid Travel. Despite growing into a global business with over 800 different trips across every continent, Intrepid has remained devoted to the same grassroots values and responsible travel philosophies that formed the company at the very beginning.
Jared Alster on Visitor Experience
As we look at the evolving travel industry, one of the trends we hear about frequently is travelers seeking “authentic experiences”. What do you think it means when today’s travelers say they seek authenticity?
Although many countries are becoming ‘Westernized’ at a fast clip, I certainly believe that travelers can still experience unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences while traveling. At Intrepid, we call these moments ‘real life experiences.’ It’s all about having an open mind and positioning yourself to take advantage of these opportunities. For example, don’t be afraid to ask for a sample at the local market. You might just find yourself invited to a local’s house for your next meal or introduced to a new ingredient you never knew existed. Today’s savvy travelers, especially Millennials, are looking for truly unique experiences – moments that they can brag about post travel. They don’t want to be led blindly around a city from one landmark to the other. They would rather slow down and have time to explore, meeting and engaging with locals along the way.
Two of the major trends identified in DMAI’s DestinationNEXT report were customers "seeking a personalized travel experience" and "increasingly looking to experience a local’s way of life". Intrepid Travel’s business model is primarily focused on providing just that. How do you go about giving your customers this localized experience, and how do you maintain personalization with an itinerary that is repeated regularly?
Although we’ve been operating for over 25 years, we constantly refine and expand our product range to continue to be able to offer these types of experiences. For example, we have various trip ‘themes’ such as Wildlife, Sailing, Family, and Food. This enables our clients to select an itinerary that caters to their specific interest and lifestyle. In terms of a local experience, it all starts with access. To get access to the best a destination has to offer, you need to be nimble, so we keep our groups small – around 10 on average in most countries. We also gain access through our network of local leaders. It’s like traveling with a knowledgeable friend to point you in the right direction and uncover hidden gems, like finding the best bowl of Pho in Ho Chi Minh, for example. We’re also big on using all forms of transportation, including a country’s network of public buses and trains. Once while on Intrepid’s South Morocco trip, I made friends with a local businessman who was sitting in my train cabin. He ended up giving my wife and I a ride to our hotel and we still keep in touch to this day!
Regarding personalization, with our regular small-group adventure product, it again comes down to group size. With only 10-12 passengers, we ensure everyone is well looked after by our ground staff, which includes having time to interact with their local leader. Flexibility is also paramount to a personalized experience. While the majority of our itineraries are structured, we encourage our clients to explore on their own at their own pace during free time. Of course, their local leader is always available for inspiration and to cater to individual interests.
What lessons can destination marketing organizations large and small learn from Intrepid about creating personalized, authentic experiences?
Working together is key here. DMO’s and tour operators each offer a high level of expertise on destinations. It’s important for both parties to work together to create authentic experiences in the first instance, versus DMO’s trying to create them in isolation and then market them to operators and agents.
How important do you see a destination brand being when your consumers are selecting a destination, and what are the more important aspects that create the destination brand in their minds?
As I see it in terms of our outbound US clients, I’m not sure that a destination brand in the traditional sense really plays a pivotal role during the purchase process. Not to say that there aren’t certain factors that might influence the brand positioning of a destination, such as political uprisings, media (positive or negative) around a destination. But I think more rational purchase drivers such as weather, distance, and safety play a larger role in the purchase process. Of course, this is from an outbound perspective, but I believe the same can be said for domestic US travel.
How does Intrepid Travel connect its trips with the quality of life of the residents in the communities you visit? Do you have any perspective on how a DMO can make these connections on a larger scale?
Intrepid was founded on the pillars of responsible travel, which includes giving back to the local communities we visit as well as educating our clients on how to respectfully immerse themselves into local culture. This not only fosters sustainable economic development in our destination countries but also opens up new opportunities for our travelers to experience local life. We’ve established a non-profit, The Intrepid Foundation, for our clients and staff to donate to local projects all over the world.
For DMO’s, I would recommend highlighting local tourism industry professionals in destination marketing campaign, such as inns, restaurants, etc. Tell their story - dig deeper with business proprietors to gather unique perspectives and include this storytelling in marketing communications. DMO’s can help make the connection between tourist dollars and the success of these businesses plus their part in creating a sense of community.
I also think it’s important for DMO’s and operators alike to show a destination’s true colors, which may mean highlighting local challenges, whether they be societal or economic. DMO’s and operators can work together to bring attention to these areas and then leverage inbound tourism as a means for improvement, through awareness and donations to local NGO’s or non-profits.
The Intrepid Foundation
Established in 2002 by the founders of Intrepid Travel, The Intrepid Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation that allows travellers to give back to the communities they visit. Find out more at www.theintrepidfoundation.org.