Brendan Miles, Director at The List, talks experiential travel and the importance of helping people find the experience they're searching for.
As the UK’s leading publisher of live events, The List is well aware of the value that people place on experiences. Brendan Miles, Director of Data and Content at The List, talks about the importance of experiential travel in a post-Covid-19 world.
Experiential tourism is nothing new, of course. The term has been around since 1985 and is now generally understood to encompass the way in which people actively look to explore a destination's history and people through its culture, food and environment. The numbers are huge and global – since 1987, the portion of US consumer spending devoted to experiences has risen by some 70% (Eventbrite), while in 2017 a study showed that 65% of travellers preferred experiencing something new over feeling rested and recharged (Skift). The millennial generation is no different, with 78% preferring to spend money on an experience rather than purchasing a physical product; of those, 72% also wished to increase their spending on experiences (Eventbrite).
All of those facts were, of course, from before March 2020. How then has Covid-19 changed people’s attitudes to live events? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is that for some it hasn’t changed at all. For others, however, it has changed massively, and it will be a considerable amount of time before they have the confidence to travel to a venue and sit alongside others again.
Ticketmaster recently conducted research into the desire of fans to come back to live events and ended up dividing audiences into three separate groups – early, middle and late returners, which were split 36%, 34% and 30% respectively. Unsurprisingly, younger demographics expressed the strongest desire for early returns to live events. For the most part, they simply wished to return to the way things were. Social distancing and masks are, in fact, a turn-off to this group, and they are happy to return to venues of any size, inside or out. Conversely, late returners wish to have absolute confidence in their venues, citing safety policies, clearly worded information and explicit rules as being the bare minimum to come back. Interestingly though, even within this cautious group, some 83% were missing live events a great deal (a figure which was north of 90% for the early returners) so whilst demand for live events will be reduced in the short term, it is certainly not going away. Ticketmaster’s advice was to remember that you are talking to different groups of people and you will need to have different marketing messages accordingly.
If we take a step back, it’s worth understanding the reasons that experiential tourism was growing so quickly pre-Covid-19 and to see what still holds now. There were psychological, social and generational influences which were previously overlapping to drive cultural and experiential tourism to new heights.
What makes us happy are experiences
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will undoubtedly have come across the driving narrative to ‘be the best version of yourself’. While hundreds of thousands of articles will disagree with each other as to whether that involves getting up at 5am or working late into the night according to your own specific biorhythms; becoming a vegan or cutting out all wheat; removing your fears or embracing them – there is one thing that they all agree on. Material goods don’t make us happy – what makes us happy are experiences. There is a huge volume of scientific research to prove that this is true, but it essentially all boils down to a triple-hit to the brain. Firstly, we anticipate an experience as soon as it’s booked as something to look forward to. Secondly, during the event, we have a shared experience, whether with a friend, partner, family member or even the rest of the audience. Thirdly, assuming that it’s a positive experience, we also then cherish the memories that it makes for us.
Combine this with the fact that we are now a sharing society and thus it follows that people will love to share their experiences. You’re far more likely to happily listen to someone tell you about an amazing gig they saw than listen to them wax lyrical about what a new app on their phone does. Food tourism, in particular, has seen an explosion through Instagram and all the incredible, mouth-watering images of tasty treats that the platform now hosts.
Throughout lockdown, people have been looking forward to when they can go out and be with the people that they love again. You only have to think about how many virtual quizzes started up to understand what social creatures we actually are.
Counter to this, however, are people’s levels of confidence in whether or not they’ll be safe in such an environment again. Though the behavioural drivers will not change, the speed with which people return to live venues will, and therefore we expect to see a growing mixture of the live and virtual hybrid events before there is anything like a return to full-scale audience numbers.
If anything, lockdown has made us value live, social experiences more than ever
Real, local cultural experiences
There is also a huge drive to seek out real, local cultural experiences. As residents of Edinburgh, we are well used to tourists visiting the castle (and sometimes completely missing the point) but these days tourists are just as likely to ask for the best pub to discover traditional Scots music (Sandy Bell's on a Tuesday is great if you’re interested). Tourists want to know the hidden gems that a city has to offer. They want to connect with local people and experience their culture alongside them. As a destination, it’s now your job to help people find these experiences.
Interestingly, most towns and cities have focused their marketing budgets not on the tourist but on the local community, aiming to drive people back into their own urban centres. There has been an understanding that the reason people actually travel is often for the local experience, which provides the history, character and heartbeat of our villages, towns and cities. Expect to see this focus on the local experience pushed out to a greater degree as people begin to travel further again, of which live events will be a crucial part.
Lastly, there is also another driver to experiential travel, although this time it comes from the workplace. Expedia's research brought an incredible fact to the fore – namely that, in 2017, more than 60% of business trips encompassed a leisure aspect. Even more unbelievably, this was a 40% rise from 2016, driven in part by Generation Z employees coming more fully into the workforce alongside the millennials.
This is the area most likely to be impacted by the Coronavirus. Business travel is unlikely to reach the pre-Covid-19 heights again for many years. The business world has continued to function well through Zoom calls and Hangouts in place of actual face-to-face meetings, and the savings on travel to businesses are such that we can’t see this coming back soon.
It’s clear that live events, whilst reduced in the short term, are not going away. If anything, many of the social and psychological factors that drive their attendance will be compounded by suffering months of lockdown and, once consumer confidence in safety is built, they will be key in driving people back to town centres that have been deserted as a result of Covid-19. Live events will also be vital in breaking newly formed habits such as increased online shopping.
Firstly, it’s important to source as much information as far ahead as possible. Putting up event listings early allows people to link to them through social media and blogs, which in turn helps your page rank and drives you more traffic.
Putting up event listings early also allows people to make more informed choices about the best dates to visit your town, city or country. Knowing that a jazz festival is on and that your partner loves jazz might mean the difference between visiting your destination or someone else’s. Additionally, being there for an event they love results in a great experience and, as we have seen, this experience will be shared with others, leading to return visits and hopefully new tourists drawn from those they have shared that experience with.
Secondly, aim for as much information as you can provide. The List did a test across every single event in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (more than 4,000) one year and split them into two groups. The first group left their listings in a basic format and the second took time to add additional media such as an improved image, an extended editorial description, social media links, video or audience content, etc. The results were convincing: on average, those that took the time to add to their content received twice as many views as those that did not.
Thirdly, accuracy is very important. Live events can change at the drop of a hat and it’s important to try to set up direct imports of data (through ticketing feeds, for example) which automatically update. We have seen this already in government enforced lockdowns of Aberdeen, Manchester and Leicester where suddenly all events may be cancelled for a fixed period.
Having great live event listings can help ensure visitors come at the best time for them, enjoy everything your destination has to offer, and entice them to return again and again, along with the people they know. Make them a core part of your marketing strategy today.