During the surreal lost summer of 2020, in the heart of COVID-19, I would frequently ask friends what they would do differently after the pandemic. The most typical response went something like this: “I sincerely miss seeing people smile. I want to take more time to meet people and get to know them. Even strangers who I would normally pass on the street with a perfunctory ‘hey’ or ‘howya doing?’, I now want to say ‘hello’ with energy and gusto.” Likewise, when I talk to people about travel, I hear them talk less about seeing things and more about meeting people. In the travel industry, this is known as experiential travel. Historically, this has taken a backseat to traditional sightseeing tours where people climb on a bus to visit a famous landmark and a gorgeous cathedral and a well-heeled museum in rapid succession. At the end of the trip, travelers come home and can rattle off the amazing sites they saw. Landmark – check. Cathedral – check. Museum – check. What these travelers missed were intentional, authentic interactions with the locals – opportunities to learn about cultures and customs directly from the people who live them.
The trade publication Travel Weekly ran an article this past week about “checklist tourism” – traveling simply to add a list of sites to a collection the way I used to collect baseball cards as a kid. Every week I would use my allowance money to buy packs of cards and check off new ones on a master list. #30 Rico Petrocelli, Boston Red Sox — check. #408 Jim Northrup, Detroit Tigers — check. #548 Frank Reberger, San Francisco Giants. I have no idea who that is, but check. I loved it, but the cards were so very . . . two-dimensional.
As vaccine rates rise and the pandemic wanes in the United States, travelers are starting to reassess how they want to experience the world, and the travel industry must be prepared to shift along with it. Sure travelers to India still will visit the Taj Mahal and travelers to China will visit the Great Wall. But there need to be new elements built into travel programs to add that rich third dimension. How about learning to make cheese with a local family in Morocco’s agricultural region, or helping a beekeeper tend to her hives in Slovenia, or assisting a local ranger while he shepherds baby turtles from the beach to the sea in Costa Rica? Each of these opportunities encourage deeper dives into cultures and will leave you with the fondest memories and best stories when you return home.
Personally and professionally, this is a welcome trend. My colleagues and I have been fortunate enough to have included experiential travel in most of our itineraries over the past two decades. Our travel partners around the globe work creatively with us to unearth new and authentic options to meet the needs and interests of our clients. While it is premature to declare the demise of checklist tourism, I am certainly happy to see it on the decline. Oh, and if anyone needs a 1972 Frank Reberger baseball card, please let me know.