The Drive Toward Authenticity

I’m shown here with John McMahon, EVP and group publisher of Luxury Travel Advisor, at the recently held HSMAI Adrian Awards Gala. Questex, our parent company, sponsored HSMAI’s Top 25: Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing, Revenue Optimization program.
I’m shown here with John McMahon, EVP and group publisher of Luxury Travel Advisor, at the recently held HSMAI Adrian Awards Gala. Questex, our parent company, sponsored HSMAI’s Top 25: Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing, Revenue Optimization program.

When I recently hosted a roundtable of Europe tourism officials in New York we addressed the topic of providing authentic experiences for travelers. During the discussion, Alex Herrmann of Switzerland Tourism pointed out that it’s important to assess what the client perceives to be authentic. A large group might be satisfied with a yodeling demonstration on a mountainside, while to another that might feel quite touristy. I always go back to my own experience of being in a small group of sophisticated world travelers who walked away from a crowded glassblowing demonstration in Germany because their travels had provided many glassblowing demonstrations over the years; they were quite put out that their hosts thought something so basic would interest them.

At the roundtable, we also discussed what is not authentic. For example, if a DMC finds an excellent cheese maker in Italy and then brings groups around to meet with him on a regular basis, is watching this cheese maker do his thing still authentic or is it staged?

Authenticity that’s too edgy can be a bad thing. I often lament that in New York City we’ve become so nice that no one has the gumption to tell the slow walkers clogging up pedestrian traffic by texting on their phones to get out of the way. If we as a culture had retained just an iota of what others perceived as rudeness (we prefer to call it “speaking our minds”), we could yell at the guy who stops short in front of you to type an e-mail. Something like, “Hey, buddy, wake up, you’re in the way!” comes to mind.

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My yearning for this old New York way of doing things abruptly dissipated the other night when a businessman in Penn Station shoved me and cursed me out, incorrectly claiming I was on my phone and that I was in his way. That was too real and too edgy and would certainly have ruined a visitor’s impression of New York for the rest of their lives, had it happened to them.

The “too real” dynamic could occur with a tour guide, new to his job, who responds impatiently to clients asking naïve questions. At the Europe roundtable, Wanda Radetti of Visit Croatia noted that she coaches the tour leaders she uses to adapt a mindset to respond to guests in a gentle, caring way, rather than off the cuff. No one wants to be made to feel stupid when they’re on vacation.

My takeaway from this dynamic discussion was that the “authentic” or “experiential” memories from a trip are forged when you enjoy moments of surprise or reflection. That reflection could transpire when you’re quietly walking by yourself through a market as the locals shop. The surprise could manifest when a driver you’ve secured for just two hours overhears that you love chocolate and detours off the grid to a tiny candy shop that you would never have found on your own.

As a travel advisor, you have many opportunities to delight your clients because you know so many small details about them. If you consistently sprinkle in opportunities for them to enjoy their passions while traveling, your role in their lives will become much more meaningful. Consider their hobbies and interests, and this includes the children, too. Work with good people on the ground who can execute these lovely, authentic inclusions. Is a 12-year-old interested in dance? Does his 10-year-old sister want to be a veterinarian? A good DMC will be able to craft simple, local moments for them that they’ll remember vividly for years to come.

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