Tourism Alliance: Importance of the Experiential Traveller for the Tourism Industry Post the Covid-19 Pandemic

The latest session in the Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance’s hugely successful resilience webinar series focussed on “The Experience Economy – how to reset Sri Lanka sustainably and drive visitor spend for all sectors of the industry”. The panel of experts included Andrew Fairley, Former Deputy Chair, Tourism Australia; Oliver Martin, Partner, Twenty31 Consulting Inc. and Dilsiri Welikala, Co-Founder and Owner, Kitesurfing Lanka. With the industry set to reopen to travellers from 1 August 2020 the discussion around the key motivators of modern day leisure travellers and how tourism businesses and destinations can cater to their expectations couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

Sharing his insights, Oliver Martin highlighted the motivations of two types of travellers, based on their consumption behaviour. Travellers driven by material consumption are always looking to check off a bucket list, by visiting the Eiffel Tower, the Great Barrier Reef or the Sigiriya Rock, while travellers driven by emotional consumption, are looking for experiences and emotional connection. Based on research, these are also the types of travellers who will return to a destination in the post-COVID environment, far sooner than material consumption travellers. Experiential travellers are driven by the emotional need to travel. They return to a destination because they have built an emotional connection with the destination and its community.

They are not looking for sanitized, perfectly manicured experiences, but rather for authentic, interactive, insider experiences that allow them to immerse themselves in a destination and truly connect with the community and culture. In pretty simple terms, these travellers are less interested in a whitewashed Sri Lankan experience from the comfort of an air-conditioned tour bus, and more attracted to a hands-on experience that allows them to experience the culture and everyday life of the community.

Speaking of his experience with Tourism Australia, Andrew Fairley highlighted the importance of expanding the research focus by going to the market and asking consumers what they want and how they perceive a destination, sharing how Australia was able to climb up the global rankings becoming the number four most recognised in the world for food and wine by creating emotional connections with consumers and building experiences centered around this pillar post a research study which showed that Australia was perceived well for its food and wine offering, but ranked low in the global arena.

Sharing his views, Dilsiri Welikala asserts the importance of bringing visitors to a destination all year round, so that the business and the communities that depend on it are not limited to seasonal incomes. He also believes that a destination should not just be known for one thing, limiting the types of travellers it can attract. If a business can develop a number of products around the core assets of the destination, not only does it attract a larger spectrum of visitors, but it also ensures that there are guest arrivals throughout the year.

According to Oliver, experiential and intrepid travellers make up about one third of the travelling population. Furthermore, research shows that they are the segment that is willing to travel in the post-COVID environment. So, this is as good a time as any for Sri Lankan operators, as well as tourism authorities to truly focus on the experience market and grow the country’s travel experience economy.

During a crisis the overriding impulse is to lower prices. However as a long term strategy, Sri Lanka needs to be priced in manner reflecting the value provided, being mindful not to undervalue its product offering. The objective should be to attract the type of consumer willing to spend extra for authentic and meaningful experiences, Oliver asserts.

Coming out of the current crisis the industry will face severe competition from other regional destinations vying for the same pool of travellers. Therefore Sri Lanka needs to reaffirm the markets that are crucial for the industry and ensure that the products and the experiences really resonate with the early travellers looking for meaningful and authentic destinations & experiences.