Today’s battleground to meet travelers expectations is more challenging than ever: the booking process gains complexity and trends are not strictly tourism-related anymore.
As 2018 is coming to an end, all professionals are starting to wonder to what extent the major tourism and travel trends will impact their strategy and operations in 2019.
We had the great opportunity to talk about it with Roberta Leverone, Technical Director & Sales Manager at FindYourItaly. 2018 has been a very exciting year for FindYourItaly: big events such as WTM, a consolidated position in the responsible tourism segment, new solid international partnerships but most importantly, Roberta has witnessed new exciting trends that will shape the upcoming year as well.
Hi Roberta. Thanks for taking the time to join us today and share your professional experience with us.
I guess we all have a big question mark about what will happen next in 2019! But, first, let’s dive into what made 2018 so significant for travel agents and tour operators.
Do you feel there’s been any specific major change in the travel industry this year?
Yes, there has been a substantial change in the customer approach to travel. People don’t want to be “tourists” anymore, they want to feel like “insiders”, and this attitude goes beyond the idea of living a destination “like a local”. Our partner travel agents, as well as many professionals at WTM keynote speeches, confirmed that this is becoming increasingly clear. Genuine and local experiences have always been at the core of FindYourItaly offer and that’s why our main partners are those who have decided to meet this trend and included exponentially “experiential” offers in their listing.
Recent surveys on UK & US markets have confirmed that consumers are prioritising experiences, and a deeper connection to destinations and local people.
On one hand, this means that people don’t want to just observe the city alleys or a beautiful landscape while traveling: they want to interact with local people, eat at restaurants where locals go, be part of the scene. Travelers want to dive into and be the protagonist of a 360° local experience.
On the other hand, 2018 saw the biggest industry players slowly take a step towards innovation and adapt their offer to meet this new trend. There are new brands dedicated to experiential tourism; tour operators and travel agents listings include a wider range of experiences as well as unconventional destinations; we can now find the most visited sites next to off the beaten track proposals, the so-called “hidden gems”.
We know that FindYourItaly has gained a deep knowledge of both B2C and B2B tourism markets.
Is there a segment that made the experiential travel trend specifically clear?
Food and wine tourism has been the leading activity category for both markets. It has been very successful especially within the American, Canadian and Australian leisure markets. Now the appeal of wine and food experiences is expanding to MICE groups, where traditional gala dinners are often replaced by local experiences such as a visit to the village winery to meet the local wine producer.
Adventure travel has been another important segment especially in the MICE sector: we received a lot of requests for team building experiences that involved outdoor and adrenaline activities such as canyoning, trekking and kayaking. We also noticed a change in the locations chosen for the events, moving from more standard hotels to country villas and boutique relais. This probably confirms that also the MICE segment is redirecting to a more local and sustainable way of traveling.
What kind of experience has been particularly appreciated in FindYourItaly’s listing and why?
We registered a real boom in sales for experiences in Sicily, for both small and big groups as well as individual tours, especially from Australia. We believe this is due to the fact that Sicily IS an experience itself. It easily combines culture, notable landscapes such as Etna volcano and a wide range of food and wine experiences: special wines such as those from Etna’s vineyards; a visit to the local tuna fishery, chocolate producers in Modica, and the list goes on. On top of this, these experiences can be easily matched with visiting the baroque city centers, historical and archaeological sites as well as outdoor activities such as trekking on Etna or in the Cava d’Ispica canyon, very much appreciated by senior travelers as well.
What is the biggest challenge travel agents will need to face in 2019?
Being one step ahead of the client’s need. What I feel very challenging is to understand what direction the market will take; for both travel agents and tour operators is crucial to be always ready to anticipate our clients’ needs, both in B2B and B2C markets.
Some travel trends are already clear but there are many more that come from other industries: the tourism and travel industry gets constantly contaminated by other industries, such as fashion or pop culture. To be successful, travel agents and tour operators will always have to be on top of the latest trends.
This is also why this year FindYourItaly has been working with both international and local travel agents. What was the most inspiring experience for you as a tourism professional?
This year we established a partnership with two agencies that were of particular interest for us. Besides the local and genuine experiences that are always at the core of our tour programmes, we wanted to expand our offer including deeper and more involving activities, such as a trail running experience and mindfulness related experiences. In different ways they embody the travel trends of the future that is discovering a deeper connection with nature and your inner self, and exploring destinations in a respectful and sustainable way.
I found very stimulating to have the chance to work with someone who has an external overview of the trend, quite far from the traditional tourism market principles.
This has been particularly clear during WTM, where professionals shared their point of view and market experience in a very international context. There I have learned a lot from smaller companies and startups as well; lastly, as you know, FindYourItaly is deeply involved in responsible tourism and I found very inspiring to visit WTM’s section entirely dedicated to it.
What do you feel it was your team’s biggest achievement in 2018?
Our 2018 goal was to gain a bigger share in the B2B market and we worked hard to reach it. We are very excited to announce that we have consolidated our partnership with international travel agents and opened new markets as Australia and New Zealand that gave us a very encouraging feedback. Our customers very positive reviews gave us an extra boost and certainly are a sign we are on the right track.
What can we expect from FindYourItaly in 2019?
We are going to establish our position in the experiential sector in the MICE segment as well as groups and individual tours.
We are also looking at strengthening our presence in markets such as USA, Canada, and Northern Europe but we aim to expand further into the Australian and New Zealand markets as well, which have been very successful this year.
We will expand our offering to meet the request of long-haul customers by offering them more 15 days & 10 days tours providing a great mix of most iconic sites & off the beaten track destinations, so they can always find the most suitable experience within Italy’s hidden gems. Also transformative and responsible travel are for sure something we would like to develop more and more.