Experiences, not things. That’s been the mantra of younger generations of travelers for years now. And you know what, they’re onto something. We had more than enough time to be at home and shop online for a couple of years. As one traveler told Virtuoso chairman and CEO Matthew D. Upchurch, “At the end of the day there’s only so much wine and so much furniture I can buy.”
People want to get far away, to those destinations they were cut off from, and really dive into them. As Upchurch said, “Nothing motivates human behavior like having something taken away that you took for granted.” As the Mastercard Economics Institute found, experiential spending is up 34% over 2019 levels, when experiential travel hit its previous high.
As many travelers discovered during the pandemic when there were a lot of restrictions and capacity was limited in the world’s most popular attractions, going behind the scenes provides a much more enriching experience. With a dedicated and licensed guide showing you their favorite places, doors open to you both literally and figuratively. You come away with a much deeper understanding of the history of a site and why it is so important to the destination. Rather than simply seeing an old building, you get to know it as a place where real people with real dreams and desires concentrated their life’s work, pouring their energy into it.
When your guide takes you to some favorite contemporary haunts, you get a real sense of daily life now for the people who call your destination home. What makes the place tick now? What are the hopes and desires of the people who maintain and build the culture there? You may be just passing through, a temporary visitor, but you have a richer experience and better know a place when you immerse yourself. And when you return, you might just have some old friends to greet you.
It’s one thing to marvel at the stark beauty of Antarctica from the deck of your expedition ship. It’s quite another to kayak among those giant icebergs as they tower above you. It’s one thing to gaze up at the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel as you try not to bump into someone. It’s quite another to visit after hours with a small group and the room softly lit, evoking centuries of devotion. It’s one thing to grab a bite to eat at a restaurant near the biggest attractions. It’s quite another to head to a vibrant neighborhood and share a drink, a meal and some stories with the locals who spend their lives in the land you’re visiting. Those memories you bring home will be worth much more than any souvenir.