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‘Themed’ trips: finally a new way to sell travel or just marketing hype?

‘Themed’ trips: finally a new way to sell travel or just marketing hype?

Unpacking the Rise of Themed Tours in Travel: Insights from B2B Experts


Speakers at last year’s Phocuswright Conference in Miami declared that we are now in “the age of awe” – a growing trend where people are seeking out unique and life-changing trips through ‘experiential travel’.


This trend has been evolving since the pandemic, but is now taking a new direction: the ‘themed tour’.  We are already witnessing how Taylor Swift’s ‘The Eras Tour’ is changing travel.  As consumers flock to buy tickets, hotels in cities visited by the tour are breaking occupancy records and airlines are adding extra routes to their networks around Swift’s shows – making this arguably the biggest cultural event around which people are planning travel right now. 


Music, food and sport – not least in the form of the Olympics in Paris – are just some of the ‘themes’ shaping travel in 2024. This week the eclipse that cut a big swathe across Mexico and the United States was a HUGE travel phenomenon!  So how can all players in the travel industry benefit going forward? We spoke to a range of B2B travel experts to find out more.


“The typical traveler’s bucket list used to consist of places to go, countries to check off, passport stamps to collect,” said Douglas Quinby, Co-founder and CEO of Arival.  “But, in 2024 and beyond, it’ll be more about the who, what and why, than the where and when.  Experiences are no longer just ‘things to do,’ but the reason to go in the first place. They are increasingly driving the destination decision. Travel brands the world over, from destinations and hotels to OTAs, travel agencies and tour operators need to start putting experiences first to inspire that traveler and capture their demand.”


Tik Tok and Instagram videos shouldn’t be overlooked as distribution channels according to Andrew Lockhead, CEO of Stay22, the travel tech company that offers affiliate revenue generation opportunities for travel bloggers and media.


“Perhaps the single biggest factor driving desire for theme-based trips is social media and within that the influencers who inspire people with the perfect travel experiences – perhaps much more than any marketing campaign by an OTA or retail travel agency. But other than simply offering packages similar to what the influencers are sharing, how do you tap into this trend? One way is to partner with influencers via affiliate marketing campaigns, meaning that they place links to your website in their content and you pay them a commission for each sale.”


Having the right technology and sourcing in place to sell the accommodation part of the package is key highlights Ayşe Yaşar from B2B accommodation booking platform Bedsopia – which is powered by global distributor PrimeTravel.


“If they’re going with a specific activity in mind they know the neighborhood they want to stay in and you’ve got to have those local properties available and at the right price too  – someone going to a Taylor Swift tour or the Olympics are researching and comparing prices clearly.”


When it comes to sales & marketing of such trips one of the differentiating factors is being able to not only package the flight and hotel but also sell the in-destination activity they’re coming for – such as a concert or sports match – says Craig Everett, Founder and CEO from Holibob, the experiences tech provider to airlines and OTAs.


“Having the experience itself embedded into the package available for instant booking is both appealing and risk-free for travellers wanting to make that special themed trip. But you need to have not only access to those experiences, but also the right technology for a seamless booking experience and automated post-sale customer service.”


Nonetheless Civitatis, a B2B2C marketplace for guided tours and excursions in Spanish across 160 countries, warns companies to think carefully about trying to promote a themed activity or tour. 


“The Taylor Swift tour – and other major events – has really opened the floodgates for the experiences industry, and travel at large.  Even cruise ships are tapping into this – we recently heard of the Taylor Swift themed cruise ship specifically for “Swifties”, for example.  But tour companies shouldn’t just jump onto any bandwagon, their themed experiences should remain consistent with their brand, and should offer high-quality content and substance.  Otherwise, they may risk alienating some of their customers, leaving others (for example, fans) disillusioned, or just simply finding that the theme has gone out of fashion before they even get going.”


As with any kind of marketing-led campaign it is also important to make sure you are able to handle such demand from a back-office perspective and payments shouldn’t be underestimated as a potential pain point, particularly when dealing within international travel. “With the boom in experiential travel expected to continue in 2024, and with experiences becoming increasingly varied and niche, it’s important to have robust payment solutions in place,” said Maria Sellar at global B2B travel payments company Terrapay. 


“It’ll be no good offering a once-in-a-lifetime experience to consumers if making onward cross-border B2B payments to service providers on the ground is going create unforeseen costs or cash-flow dilemmas.”


When music tours or sports events come to a destination, tours & experiences operators in those locations face a double-edged sword, warns Juana Muro COO of TourReview, a platform for tours & activities providers to manage their online reviews.


“Destinations and travel service providers in general need to think about what experience their clients might have during such busy periods and what kind of reviews – i.e. potentially negative – they might subsequently post online. That’s because customers who see overcrowding or are forced to pay higher than normal prices are likely to leave a critical review or lower satisfaction scores on online review pages like Tripadvisor and so on. What can be done? Prepare in advance, train your staff on how to deal with negative reviews. Nevertheless, having a positive online reputation will help you sell your tours even through a high priced season and a great experience on your tours could still give you the chance of a positive review.” With respect to managing negative reviews, TourReview recently published a blog that provides tour operators with guidance on how to respond.


As a final thought, Sami Doyle from TMU Management, a data-driven insurance intermediary specializing in travel, highlights that there is a level of risk for those branching into themed experiences. 


Themed travel – at the scale it’s becoming now – is a totally new revenue stream for a lot of travel companies and that’s great news.  But if that’s not your normal operating model you could be exposing yourself to unknown risks and you might want to make absolutely certain that you are properly protected by your trade insurer before venturing into this area. If you only find out after an incident that you’ve in fact voided your cover then that could be catastrophic for your finances and damaging to your brand too.”