As materialism falls out of favour, Easol helps companies sell experiences online. Co-founder and chief creative officer, Lisa Simpson, discusses the ‘coming of age of experience travel’.

The pandemic brought everyone’s world to a standstill. Overnight we went from being able to experience different cultures and adventures whenever we wanted, to being locked in our homes and confined to online video calls to connect with the world.

For many, this sudden change brought with it a profound mental health challenge as a freedom fundamental to many of us had been removed. Sean Hoess, co-founder and CEO ofWanderlust observed that “the very few live events we did manage to put on last year in Italy and Portugal, people were hugging, crying – it was a massively emotional experience. These events sold out so quickly because people were desperate to commune in some way.”

As we emerge from the pandemic, it is clear that many people spent time in lockdown thinking about what the ability to travel and make memories truly means to us, and questioning where our priorities lie. This pent-up demand for travel is now being realised more than ever before, with 93% of leisure travellers from the UK planning to travel abroad by air in the next 12 months and 86% of consumers saying they expect to spend either more or the same amount on travel this year compared to a typical year before the pandemic.

Overall, the travel industry is poised for a strong comeback in 2022, with 63% of travellers reporting they would rather spend money on a holiday this year than on material items. This trend is set to continue as governments steadily roll-out vaccination programmes across the globe and remove travel restrictions globally.

Shifting travel priorities

On top of this revival in demand, we’re also seeing a shift in the way people want to travel. Our community is seeing an upsurge in demand as people are prioritising unique, sustainable, authentic experiences which broaden their horizons, enrich their understanding of the world, and deepen their connection with others. They want carefully curated trips, tailored to their specific likes and interests when they are finally able to get away again.

As Jake Haupert, chairman and CEO of the Transformational Travel Council observes: “As well as greater demand, people are also being more intentional about how they approach travel. Travellers are becoming actively engaged and understand they have a role to play, it is not just about entertainment. Likewise, experience providers are realising the role they can play in guiding people towards their desired outcomes”.

Travellers are still understandably cautiously reengaging with travel though, taking their time to focus on priority experiences rather than the pre-pandemic norm of many smaller short stay trips. Lee Thompson, co-founder of Flash Pack, says: “People are now booking one trip a year, but they are spending significantly more. We have seen our average transaction rise quite significantly vs pre-pandemic.

“This means that they are booking once in a lifetime bucket-list trips like glamping on converted Land Rovers in Tanzania for the ultimate safari experience. Our customers regularly comment that they are making up for lost time during the pandemic.”

Priority locations are also constantly shifting as favourite destinations open up again. Thompson has seen that “with countries like Thailand and Vietnam opening up, there has been a shift from mostly Europe based trips to South-East Asia. Vietnam and Thailand are our top visited trip pages and top-selling adventures right now”.

A new type of travel provision

This desire for a life-changing trip is being matched by an incredible community of experience creators designing new ways for people to experience the world based on our passions. Whether it’s rock climbing a volcano in Sicily, a therapeutic surf retreat in Morocco or attending a yoga and music festival in Costa Rica – this fast-growing global community of experience entrepreneurs is set to determine the future of how we travel and experience the world.

One of the things holding this community of experience creators back in the past has been having the right technology in place to be able to offer all the aspects of activity, transport and hospitality that these experiences require and that creators want to offer.

Historically, creators have had to knit together different platforms and solutions that have meant restrictions on service, increased costs for the consumer and a booking experience that is often fragmented and poorly designed. For the first time, we have developed a fully integrated platform which is the first touchpoint on the experience for travellers and they can now book the experience as its creator intended.

The pandemic has also taught us that flexible booking, deposit options, free date changes and cancellations are no longer a nice-to-have, but are now essential. Flexibility to amend trips seamlessly is key to restoring the confidence to travel and must be easy for creators to offer.

For example, our research shows that 89% of travellers are happy to put down a deposit if offered a free change of dates. And over 90% of the creators in our community started to offer a free change of dates outside of their standard terms and conditions in 2020. This is another area where booking a trip on a fully integrated platform makes a huge difference as all changes can be instantly executed and feed through the entire booking effectively.

‘Experience first’ travel

There are exciting times ahead for the post-pandemic era of experience travel. The far-reaching effects of the pandemic have changed the priorities for many people and we are seeing many more travellers looking for something more from their trips as they are keen to connect with new ideas from around the world.

Thomas Gilovich from Cornell University puts it well when he observes that “we derive happiness from experiences, not things.. after buying material goods, we are happy for only a short period of time. Experiences, however, 
can stay with us forever.”