The future of experiences

Emerging from the pandemic, tours and activities are becoming more intimate and digitalised, and featuring sharper storytelling, finds Anne Somanas

The shift in guest touchpoints for experiences post-Covid is not just about safety; it’s about new forms of delivery, more deliberate choices by travellers and the rise of virtual and hybrid experiences that can enhance experiences even further.

Heavier doses of social distancing and sanitisation, more intimate experiences in smaller groups, a proclivity for less congested spaces and new forms of delivery and new ways of immersion will shape the future of travel experiences, said tours and activities specialists throughout Asia.

Shifts in guest touchpoints
Safety, sanitation and health measures are impacting the entire continuum of travel experiences from start to finish, leading many operators to implement advanced bookings, e-maps and cashless payments. In many cases, operators are leveraging technology and digitalisation to create what can be deemed “contactless touchpoints” for equally memorable experiences.

“Aside from making processes safer, digitalisation also allows us to enhance the overall visitor experience,” said Patrick Lee, sales and business development director at Singapore’s One Faber Group, drawing an example of its Singapore Cable Car attraction which now has a “geo-location commentary system” that functions as a personal tour guide in every cabin.

At the Siam Piwat Group’s ICONSIAM shopping mall in Bangkok, whose basement contains an indoor floating market of eats from around Thailand, changing their touchpoints has meant engaging shoppers right in their homes. “Our Luxury Chat and Shop is a first-ever service that no other shopping malls have operated before, and it has become a benchmark service and case study that draws attention from many world brands,” shared a spokesperson for ICONSIAM.

Ethical travel operator Local Alike has pointed out that the biggest operational change is in how they transport guests, having solved the issue of limited van capacity due to social distancing by encouraging guests to drive to the destination themselves.

“It’s not only safer for them; it reduces the costs of the tour so guests are happier with the price,” said Chitpol Watcharapan, senior director, international programmes at Local Alike.

To cater to FITs growing demand for self-exploration, Klook in May 2020 launched a dedicated private car rental page.

Rise of virtual and hybrid experiences
People’s hesitance to step out the door has led to a rise in virtual and hybrid experiences and forced operators to get creative with their delivery, creating many new business opportunities for leisure and business events.

Airbnb in particular seized on the market space for virtual experiences early on. Having temporarily paused its Airbnb Experiences offering globally from mid-March to May to support social distancing efforts, the company launched Airbnb Online Experiences in April 2020.

“We had 50,000 seats booked within the first two months since launch,” shared Parin Mehta, director, Asia-Pacific, Airbnb Experiences. “The online experiences are now our fastest growing product (for leisure and teambuilding purposes).”

Singapore’s Sentosa is also playing with what they term “phy-gital” formats.

“On the consumer front, we collaborated with our Island Partners (tenants) to roll out several free online offerings, such as the virtual Sentosa on Animal Crossing: New Horizons and other leisure experiences like video conferencing backgrounds and Yoga by the Beach,” shared Lynette Ang, chief marketing officer of Sentosa Development Corporation.

Prioritising safety and social distancing has also meant a predictable downsizing of groups.

“Where I see the permanent tectonic shift is that before we comfortably had groups of over 40 people on a tour. I think those will taper off a bit,” opined Jason Loe, founder of Tribe Tours.

“The other change has to come from operators and activities themselves…in terms of the delivery means,” he added.

To this end, Singapore’s Tribe Tours, which has previously gained a name for its cutting-edge experiences such as its Good Morning Singapore and Mr Lee Kuan Yew guided tours, has launched a new product: livestream hybrid experiences which allow large groups of people to participate in the safety of their homes.

The most popular ones so far feature a livestream behind the scenes of famous traditional food factories paired with an ingredient box – delivered to participants’ homes during the livestream – allowing guests to cook along under the guidance of factory chefs on screen.

It debuted to an immensely positive reception. “Since our launch in mid-September, the tour has been fully booked out every weekend,” said Loe, who also saw corporate interest in the tours for teambuilding.

Another very popular livestream addition is Tribe’s escape room-style tour in Singapore’s Chinatown where participants can direct and solve a murder mystery and learn the history of Chinatown through the eyes of characters in the outdoor puzzle adventure.

All livestreams are limited to 30 minutes “to keep it entertaining (and punchy because our attention span online is not as focused”, said Loe.

Intimate, secluded experiences are hot
Klook described travellers post-pandemic as being “more measured and deliberate,” and points to travellers gravitating toward “smaller-group trips that are more intimate and personalised” – a growing opportunity for activity aggregators like Klook, whose predominant focus has been on serving the FIT segment.

Klook has witnessed a stronger demand for outdoor adventurous offerings, especially in Taiwan which resumed domestic travel early. “Our traffic data in Taiwan for outdoor and island-hopping activities surged 10 times in June this year,” said CS Soong, vice president, corporate development.

Local Alike’s Chitpol stated that the desire for seclusion and the outdoors paves the way for the rise of community-based tourism (CBT). “The capacity of local communities is in itself too small for mainstream tourism, which automatically reduces risk. In the past, we may have looked at large mass markets as desirable; now it turns out that the smaller capacity of CBT helps it to shine because it means less health risk,” he told TTG Show Daily.

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