Trends in Authentic Travel
Now, more than ever, when planning an upcoming trip, people are looking for honest and authentic experiences. Be it across their town or across the world.
Take the tiny village of Kidlington in Oxfordshire, England, for example. Not long ago, an unexpected flood of Chinese tourists descended on the unsuspecting town and could be seen roaming down residential streets, taking photos with locals and even roaming the gardens.
But why? Well, as it turns out, according to the BBC, these Asian tourists were searching for “the true sense” of the UK. Apparently, Chinese travel agencies, in response to consumer demand, have added towns such as Kidlington to their itineraries, in a concerted effort to give hungry travelers a taste of a traditional English village.
A Growing Demand
This demand for authentic travel has spread around the world. In the wake of COVID, as people slowly begin to travel, albeit as safety as possible, they are yearning for authenticity in a way that has never been seen before in the travel space.
In fact, the Chinese travel market, the biggest source of tourism in the world, has been leading the charge for satisfying their customers with authentic global travel experiences for years. And the rest of the world catching up. Travelers are no longer satisfied with superficial tourist activities – instead, they search for a deeper understanding of their chosen destination – its history, its culture, and its people.
Tour companies are promising a more personal experience to their consumers. People want a true taste of local lifestyles, customs and culture. Research has shown that people are increasingly driven by a desire to see what is “normal” in the places they travel to. And increasingly,people are taking matters into their own hands, by researching and booking their own travel, and relying less on travel agents to do this.
It’s all part of immersing oneself in the authentic experience.
In 2016, an Expedia study found that millennials globally prioritize authenticity in their travel experiences. Websites such as Skyscanner and Last Minute are empowering them to do this. Travelers have the means and the flexibility to design their own personalized itinerary, according to their unique interests. In addition, companies like Airbnb and Home Stay allow them to interact with locals.
But Just What Is “Authentic?”
It’s still a bit unclear just what makes an experience “authentic.” Essentially, it boils down to something that is genuine, real, or true, and it could very well mean different things for different people. For some, it could be a simple rural experience, like those offered by travel programs such as Workaway. Or, it could take on more of an adventurous or difficult slant, like dark tourism, which explores the more nefarious side of other cultures.
True authenticity is a complex idea. If someone sees their travel experience as authentic, it may not matter whether is was pre-planned or spontaneous. Rather, it seems that authenticity is created by their interaction with, and indeed interpretation of, their physical and social environment. This could even mean something as simple as exploring a city on foot, discovering people and places as you go. Sort of like those Chinese tourists in Kidlington.
What does authenticity mean to you? How would you create your own authentic holiday?