Hotel Guests Want Culturally Enriching Vacations
Remember when we were 10 years old and our parents sent us to summer camp in the mountains. At first we may have objected to the notion of spending two weeks away from home. Once we arrived and saw the sparkling lake and got involved in camp activities, we had a great time. That youthful exuberance for experiencing new things does not always disappear as we age. Many adults still have that spirit of adventure and want to pursue culturally rewarding activities when they travel or go on vacation.
Recently, hotels have been paying closer attention to the growing number of guests who want to participate in creative tourism. The term “creative tourism” was coined back in 2000 by Crispin Raymond. Raymond defined the term as “Tourism which offers visitors the opportunity to develop their creative potential through active participation in courses and learning experiences which are characteristic of the holiday destination where they are undertaken.”
Crispin Raymond’s daughter was the inspiration for his book entitled “Creative Tourism.” While his daughter was traveling through Southeast Asia and Australia, she related stories of her experiences back to her parents. Among the activities she participated in was a week of learning and experiencing massage techniques in Thailand, a day spent learning vegetarian cooking in Bali, Indonesia, and taking a course in the Australian Outback that taught her how to become a “Jillaroo” (Cowgirl).
Around the world there are countless ways to take part in a creative tourism trip. Hoteliers regularly partner with local companies and skilled tradesmen to create unique and culturally enriching experiences for their guests. For example:
• In the French village of Biot, tourists can take a 5-day course in glass-making from a master craftsman. Each student learns the techniques and gets to make their own creation.
• In Guatemala tourists are offered weaving classes and learn how to dye fabrics in the vibrant colors favored by the native population.
• Hotel guests can take dance lessons in Brazil and then Samba the night away at a club in Rio.
Closely related to creative tourism is the implementation of destination experiences. Tourists are looking for more unique experiences than just dining at a fine restaurant or visiting an amusement park. They want to feel like they are part of a new culture by getting involved in local activities. Whether it is taking sailing lessons in San Diego or spending a day riding a mule along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, active participation adds to the travel experience. A three hour ride on a mule in the Grand Canyon is an unforgettable experience.
Rewards Points Can Buy Memorable Cultural and Destination Experiences
Earning miles and rewards points through loyalty programs has been possible for decades, but only recently have the rewards focused on creating truly memorable travel experiences. Originally, airlines rewarded loyal customers with travel miles that could be converted to upgraded seating or complimentary plane tickets. Hotels exchanged free rooms and other perks for their customers who participated in their loyalty programs. Eventually, companies of all types started loyalty programs of their own (from the CVS card to your local grocery store, casinos and the NFL) and offered all types of merchandise. For many frequent travelers with large point balances, getting a new TV or set of golf clubs is no longer what they want. Loyal customers are looking for one-of-a-kind experiences for their loyalty points. Some colorful examples include:
• Diners Club points were used to send a 13 year old boy to a 5-day NASA space camp for his birthday.
• 500,000 Diners Club points were used by one couple to go on a 180 mile professionally-guided dogsled trek through the Alaskan wilderness.
• American Express allows its members to exchange points for cooking school in Tuscany and for backstage passes to concerts.
• Hilton Hotels offers a yoga retreat in Bali and helicopter tours over London.
• Marriott Rewards feature a hot-air balloon ride over wine country in the Napa Valley or a guided kayak tour down the Russian River in Northern California.
Culturally Diverse Neighborhoods
One does not have to travel overseas to get one’s share of exciting cultural experiences here in the United States. Almost every major city in America has ethnic sections or neighborhoods where it is possible to absorb different cultures and traditions. For instance, in San Francisco, it is easy to walk around Chinatown, shop, eat, and interact with someone who was born in Shanghai. In New York, a melting pot of dozens of nationalities, one can go from Little Italy to Chinatown in Manhattan and over to Brooklyn to interact with Russian immigrants and the Hasidic Jewish community. Head south to Miami and there is a vibrant little Haiti neighborhood that sells Jerk chicken. Along SW 8th Street in Little Havana, order a cup of Cuban coffee and ask the old-timers in Domino Park to demonstrate the finer points of this dot-matching tile game.
Dedicating Resources to Give Hotel Guests the Best Possible Experience
The hotel industry is proceeding along the same path as the most successful leaders in the cruise ship industry. Most cruise lines offer interesting daily excursions in the ports of call where they dock for a day or two. For instance, Holland Lines offers a cruise of the Western Caribbean, making stops in the Cayman Islands, Mexico and Guatemala. Passengers can schedule a combination bus and river tour through a banana plantation and watch the native population fish, canoe, and wash clothes along the river banks. The excursion also includes a beautiful fruit-filled luncheon under a thatched roof restaurant. Cruise lines charge extra and share in the profits of these local excursions. For hotels, facilitating cultural and destination excursions can help improve narrow profit margins.
While smaller hotels may not have the resources to hire a full-time employee to coordinate the various activities, they can still develop relationships within their local community by simply reaching out and making contact. When tourists have a memorable experience while staying at your hotel, they will tell their friends and probably come back for a future visit.