Commentary

Icons or 'Authentic' Travel Experiences? How To Deliver Both

“Authentic,” “local,” experiential”:  Those are the familiar buzzwords in travel for the last few years. And yes, it does seem to be the case that travelers want to get a “real” feel for a destination, connect with residents and gain an understanding of what it’s like to live there.

On the other hand, and especially for less frequent travelers, nobody wants to miss the must-sees: the Eiffel Tower, the pyramids, the Colosseum.

That dichotomy was brought home in a research project undertaken by InterContinental Hotels, “InterContinental Icons.”

Highlights of the survey included: 

-- The most-Instagrammed sites in cities around the world, according to social media content analysis: Central Park, Buckingham Palace, the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower and more. No surprises here.

-- “Like A Local” is more aspiration than reality: More than half of global travelers surveyed (59%) feel that visitors miss out on the best of what their cities have to offer. 

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-- 77% of global luxury travelers feel they’re supposed to see the most popular sites in a destination they visit. 

-- 75% of global luxury travelers, including 80% of those surveyed in New York City, wished they could experience each city they visited like a well-informed local. 

-- Four in ten luxury travelers globally believe that social media posts from people who visit their home city do not accurately reflect the depth and culture that exists there. 

In light of the above insights, InterContinental asked luxury travelers in these global markets to select the sights, sounds, tastes, touches and scents from a selection that provide the best experience for a traveler visiting their city, in the hopes of connecting travelers to the true depth and culture of each place they visit. 

-- New York: fresh bagels from a West Village shop; summer rays while sunbathing in Central Park on a Sunday.

-- London: The sight of London landmarks lit up as you cross the Thames at night; the warmth from a roaring fire in an old London pub on a cold day.

-- Dubai: Water whooshing at the Dubai Fountains; sound of water lapping an Abra (traditional boat) along Dubai Creek.

-- Paris:The smell of oven-fresh bread from the boulangeries of the Oberkampf neighborhood; the view of the city at sunset from the heights of the Butte Montmartre. 

-- Mexico City: Mariachi music in Garibaldi Plaza; Castillo de Chapultepec (the only real castle in America).

-- Sydney: The cold breeze on your face on the Manly to Circular Quay ferry; picking up fresh fish and chips from a heritage seafood café in Watson’s Bay

-- Shanghai: The intersection of Suzhou Creek and Huangpu River at Waibaidu Bridge; the warm aroma of Xiaolongbaos (steamed bun)

The insights gained from the research will be fed into marketing programs, significantly the company's loyalty program, said Ginger Taggart, vice president of luxury brands for IHG, which operates InterContinental. Other uses will be in providing guidance to concierges and creating events on how to enrich travel experiences. 

The research will also enable InterContinental to develop collaborations with other iconic brands.  “In the end,” said Taggart, “it’s a less an issue of marketing than of personalized engagement."

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