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Curated experiences are the next big travel trend

Online travel brands are evolving from booking engines to experience platforms

Museo Camera is a private museum in New Delhi showcasing 1,500 cameras. Photo: Airbnb India
Museo Camera is a private museum in New Delhi showcasing 1,500 cameras. Photo: Airbnb India

From bucket-list destinations to bucket-list experiences, there has been a noticeable and rather rapid shift in the way we now travel. It’s not merely about going to see the Colosseum in Rome but about booking a night tour, which gives exclusive underground access (and a chance to feel like Russell Crowe in Gladiator). Travellers no longer want to just pick up a pretty piece of pottery from Jaipur, they want to actually get their hands dirty and make their own.

TripAdvisor’s recently released worldwide travel trend report corroborates this shift. While iconic sites like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and Sagrada Família in Barcelona remained wildly popular with travellers in 2017, experiential categories such as skip-the-line historical experiences, food tours, and cooking classes skyrocketed, with year-on-year growth figures ranging from 50-125%. This trend of experience-driven travel is set to continue, and online travel aggregators (OTAs) are gearing up to offer unique tours and activities.

Immersive travel

One of India’s leading OTAs,, recently announced the launch of Yatra Journeys, a set of themed experiences that will be led by experts in the field. This includes a week-long journey down the Ganga with historian, author and Padma Shri awardee Pushpesh Pant. The journey will be punctuated by heritage walks, yoga sessions and dance performances, with Pant weaving together history, mythology and folklore. “Today travelling has become synonymous with meditation for quality-conscious travellers. The experience that travellers take away from their vacations, what they have learnt, and how much fun they have had, matters the most," says Sharat Dhall, chief operating officer (business-to-consumer),

Other Journeys include a photography tour in Rajasthan led by photojournalist Dheeraj Paul, and a Konkan cuisine trail with home chef and cookbook author Smita Deo. International offerings include “Magic Of The Silk Route", an eight-day journey through Uzbekistan led by local writer Boris Anatolievich Golender; and a six-day trip in May through Belgium and France tracing the path of Indian soldiers in World War I, led by Dominiek Dendooven, an historian, author and expert on the non-European presence on the western front during the war. “International journeys are curated keeping India’s connections with the destination at the heart of the itinerary. The idea is to introduce customized itineraries, with elements carefully woven into the journey to gently lead one to self-discovery, and get newer insights into cultures," explains Dhall.

Pottery workshops are among the experiences offered by Cleartrip Local. Photo: Cleartrip

Local touch

Home-sharing firm Airbnb also ventured into curated experiences last year by launching Trips in March 2017. These are typically led by locals and include unique experiences like understanding the journey of a couture ensemble with celebrity designer duo Shantanu and Nikhil at their Delhi workshop, or learning Arabic calligraphy from Abdur Rehman, one of the few remaining authentic calligraphers in Old Delhi.

“Airbnb Trips is a people-powered platform, bringing together a community of local experts to share insights about a place, which helps travellers feel like they belong. It allows local people to participate and benefit from tourism by sharing their interests and passions, while enabling them to make a little extra money. On the other hand, for cities, it helps to diversify tourism away from the busy centres, putting unique cultural nuances, traditions and activities in the limelight," says Parin Mehta, director, Asia-Pacific, Airbnb Trips.

Airbnb offers 4,500 experiences in 55 cities around the world. In India, it offers 36 experiences in Delhi, but will cover more cities in the next couple of years. “Airbnb Trips in New Delhi has witnessed a 400% growth in weekly seats booked since November 2017," says Mehta. Some of the popular experiences include a doodling class, and a visit to an organic farm to taste local food and artisanal cheeses.

Short breaks

Similarly, Cleartrip, one of India’s largest OTAs, offers Local Experiences that are typically short-duration activities ranging from a couple of hours to half a day. “Cleartrip curates over 15,000 hyper-local activities across a wide spectrum of options like events, car and bike rentals, adventure sports, indoor games, excursions, boating and cruising, wildlife, etc.", says Anand Kandadai, executive vice-president, Cleartrip.

The activities are divided into categories such as adventure (scuba diving, trekking), tours (photography, food), outdoors (biking, horse-riding), indoor (mystery games, pottery workshop,), and wellness (spa treatments). According to Cleartrip, outdoor and adventure activities have been the most popular with customers. Over 70% of the bookings have come in during weekends.

The profile of customers booking such experiences is another key differentiator. “The average age of a customer making a travel booking on the platform is 35. However, users of Local are far younger at just 25, which means we are able to get the mind share of those who are to become travellers later," explains Kandadai. Local currently covers 35 destinations in India and Cleartrip plans to ramp that up to 200 destinations by December.

Whether you’re looking for a short activity or a longer, more immersive experience on your next trip, your favourite booking aggregator will likely have a range of options that will make your travel more exciting.

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