Travelling is naturally related to having experiences, especially those that take us away from our daily routine. But, far beyond visiting tourist spots, travellers from all over the world have been looking for activities that bring new learnings through experiences that are unique to each destination. The demand for this type of activity has grown so much that today it is treated by a specific term: Experiential Tourism or Creative Tourism.
This type of tourism prioritizes immersive activities in several areas such as ecotourism, gastronomy, rural tourism, historical-cultural and self-knowledge experiences. These are experiences that generate greater interaction between travellers and the local identity, that is local culture and territory.
The most interesting thing about Experiential Tourism is that in addition to being a differentiation opportunity for destinations, if well implemented, it becomes a great partner for the development of responsible tourism.
Types of Experiential Tourism
We can say that Experiential Tourism encompasses several other niches, such as adventure tourism, rural tourism, community-based tourism, food tourism, volunteering, etc.
Adventure tourism aims to conduct the practice of extreme sports in nature such as abseiling, zip-lining, mountaineering, mountain biking, among other practices, always with specialized instructors and equipment for a complete and risk-free experience.
Food tourism, which is also called gastronomy or culinary tourism, promotes experiences of traditional cuisine, teaching not only the preparation of each dish but involving the traveller in a socio-cultural immersion. Activities range from culinary workshops to wine tourism (enotourism) or agritourism experiences.
Community-based tourism is about getting to know the way of life of local communities. In general, this type of tourism is governed through collective management, where the protagonist of the tourist activity is the community itself.
The tourist experience of volunteering translates to bring the visitor closer to the realities that are more distant from their own, usually linked to social causes. A reference in this type of tourism is the Workaway platform, which we already used for volunteering in Southeast Asia.
Experiential Tourism in Practice
Major companies in the sector are betting on this segment, such as Airbnb, which increasingly invests in Airbnb Experiences, a platform where it is possible to find experiences offered by residents themselves from anywhere in the world.
In addition, many tourism agencies and DMOs around the world have been developing products and positioning their regions as destinations to be experienced. For example:
In the world
In Italy, grandmas come together to offer practical classes on how to prepare authentic Italian-style pasta, everything with lots of music, wine and good stories to tell.
In Mexico City, on the other hand, there are intimate experiences that bring families and local people together to prepare typical meals during traditional celebrations.
The state of Minas Gerais is a great storehouse of rural experiences, whether in the cultural experience of the potters, native women who make and teach the modelling of clay pots in the Jequitinhonha Valley or in the development of handicrafts in leather, ceramics, embroidery, weaving, drawing, music, wood carvings, basketry and painting.
Already in Porto Seguro, Bahia, natives from the Pataxó da Jaqueira Indigenous Reserve offer a tour around the reserves, women make handicrafts for sale and the shaman presents his stall of natural medicines. The fish caught by the village men is roasted on the banana leaf while visitors participate in this process. At the end of the tour, there is a community dance where everyone gets together and receives facial paintings.
How Experiential Tourism can benefit destinations and tourists
With experiential tourism on the rise, small and medium-sized municipalities, many with a rural vocation, will be able to emerge and achieve considerable growth, based on their own local traditions.
As a transformation tool, experiential tourism fosters the visitor’s experience, in order to enhance the sustainable development of an entire production chain, generating employment, income and regional growth.
A clear example of how experiential tourism can mutually benefit local communities and travellers is the agency Backstreet Academy, whose mission is to alleviate poverty, preserve local heritage and create a good travel memory in the minds of travellers.
In Brazil, Vivejar is a social impact operator which believes that trips can be triggers for positive changes, so it carries out exclusive itineraries in traditional communities in the country.
Challenges and Points of Attention
As this type of tourism is directly linked to the local culture, it is essential to consider some points:
- The community’s desire vs. its tourist vocation – the starting point is to understand the real inclination of the local population and businesses to share their routines with external people;
- Loss of cultural essence – focusing on the development of experiences only considering the will of the tourist can make local traditions become commercial products only;
- What is really authentic (and responsible) and what is marketing? – With the growth in demand for creative tourism, many agencies could tend to promote Experiential Travel only as a message to justify higher prices on their offers, thus harming the tourist experience;
- Massive Tourism – in theory, experiential tourism contributes to mitigating massive tourism, but without due care, the negative impacts of both can be similar;
- Public-private partnership – for destinations that want to position their relevance in experiential tourism, it is important to work with public-private partnership programs, from the creation of financing funds, the implementation of governance organizations, to the professional training of the community.
These points are essential for the implementation of experiential tourism in any destination.