Hint: a chef’s table dinner with a pleasant but no-name hotel chef is not an experience. A chef’s table dinner with a James Beard award winner is. So is a dinner with a lesser known chef who is creatively pushing the boundaries of local sourcing with salads composed of what many would throw out as “weeds,” a protein of a trash fish, and a dessert composed of “ugly” fruit.

    True experiences go far beyond the lines of the normal, the conventional, the expected.

    You see this, for instance, with the wild popularity of treehouses on Airbnb. Those guests are eschewing the conventional hotel room and opting for something extraordinary – but also something with great comfort and often high-end touches. That these treehouses are ideal for social media brags makes them all the more on the mark as a contemporary experience because one of the points of holiday experiences is to serve as fodder for Facebook and Instagram brags.

    Also popular – especially in Africa but watch this take off in the American West (Arizona in particular, I’d bet) and maybe New England (Vermont in summer) – are tented experiences. Of course guests want a tent that is every bit as comfortable and well-equipped as a resort room and they are getting it. But just picture how cool an Instagram post of a tent is – compared to yet another hotel room shot.

    Comparative rarity makes an experience an experience.

    But so many resorts just get all this very wrong.

    I’m reading a squib about a hotel that says its guests will enjoy an “experience” of listening to gamelan music in Bali. But…so will just about anybody who walks around Ubud. Please – arrange a small session with a gamelan music master who tells the guests how he makes such an ethereal sound. That is an experience. It will be educational. And memorable.

    Another resort says it will enthrall its guests with an experience of a sunrise yoga class on a beach. So? A tidal wave of web pages are filled with listings for sunrise yoga activities (vide the Sun Salutation) and the guests who are interested have already discovered them. They probably have plans to go off property for a class with a local teacher anyway. Go way beyond this. Bring in the town’s best yoga teacher to lead an intimate class that ties yoga in with the local culture.

    For an experience to count in 2018 it needs to go deeper. Offer people something they can’t find in a 45-second Google search.

    Don’t take guests to an art gallery. Take a very small group – under a dozen – to a local artist’s studio for a private presentation on the artist’s work and perhaps a glass or two of wine. Make it intimate, make it personal, that’s key to any experience that matters.

    Make it local too – tightly enmeshed with the location of the property. Wouldn’t you want an experience with a Native American healer on the Big Rez in northern Arizona and New Mexico? That’s something to talk about, post about, brag about on social media.

    For instance: when a Manhattan hotel wants to offer a private shopping experience, forget Barneys and head to tiny boutiques in the Village or Brooklyn. Have you been to Cloak Dagger? Or SlapBack in Brooklyn? Of course not and exactly that is the point.

    Word of advice: when something is overrun with tourists it definitionally does not qualify as an experience.

    The best experiences are off the beaten path. Think Laos and Cambodia, not Vietnam. Think Chengdu, not Shanghai. Jersey City, not the Upper East Side.

    Celebrity also helps (but is not essential) in crafting a guest experience. If a name healer, or Tai Chi master, is available, that’s good. If not, work hard to make the actual experience still one-of- a-kind.

    People don’t want cookie-cutter experiences. They want something special.

    Never forget that when selling experiences to guests. If it’s common, an experience it isn’t.

    Bottomline: think special, unique, intimate, and – especially – deeply local. Build your experiences around those building blocks and you are on the way to crafting experiences guests will demand and that will brag about on social media.

    Everybody wants to hop on the experience train in 2018. But many just don’t get it.

    But do this right and it’s win – win. A win for the property – but, crucially, a win for the guest who will indeed get those special moments we all lust for on our 2018 travels.

    Babs Harrison
    Babs Harrison + Partners
    Phone: 602.334.5350
    Send Email

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