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Meaningful Experiences, Flexibility, Personalization Are Key Travel Trends, Surveys Find

Louise BangTwo recent surveys of travel planners and event organizations find travelers increasingly seeking meaningful experiences, more flexibility, and culture immersion in group travel experiences.

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More Attendees Savor Local Immersion
Seeking Out Authentic Experiences Off the Beaten Path
"Travelers are seeking more meaningful group travel experiences that focus on personalization, flexibility, and cultural immersion," says Louise Bang, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Marriott International CALA (Caribbean and Latin America.)  "Whether planning leisure or business travel, the new generation of travelers wants to get out and actively explore destinations. Group travel is expected to remain strong in the coming year, according to the study published in Insider Travel Report
A recent survey by Northstar/Cvent finds that “incentive travel is a priority again, but the details look a bit different than pre-pandemic programs. Optimism for this market segment is high, and business continues to be booked at a brisk pace...At the same time, programs are dogged by rising hotel costs and lack of availability.”
According to the Marriott survey, “the top factors influencing venue selection for 2024 will be alignment of concessions to evolving program goals (49%), adaptability to changing needs (47%), and rapid response times to inquiries and requests (46%). Only 34% of respondents indicated that their selection of a hotel or destination was influenced by prior experiences, suggesting that most event planners are willing to embrace new venues that meet current priorities and requirements. Also, 33% will choose based on destination or hotel popularity, showing reputation matters less than the ability to meet event desires and needs.”

More Attendees Savor Local Immersion Mexico

As for desired activities, “Attendees expect engaging activities and cultural immersion that support local communities. The survey revealed that the top three would be food and beverage (44%), transportation (37%), and cultural/local immersion (32%). Respondents also emphasized that corporate social responsibility experiences (26%), which give back to local communities, were important.”
The survey found that half of respondents “see pre-planned plated meals as outdated and prefer flexible dining. Another 49% of the respondents shared a continued need for solely outdoor and on-site gatherings, showing openness to off-site and indoor spaces.” Otherwise, “large blocked-off, in-room workspaces (45%) and social distancing standards (38%) are event formats declining in interest. Planners now seek customized experiences rather than turnkey events. Personalization and flexible spaces signal a new chapter ahead for group travel.”
The report also finds that “wellness will remain a significant focus in 2024, with travelers craving more experiences beyond the typical spa. The survey found that 65% of respondents expressed interest in active wellness like jiu-jitsu or kickboxing classes, while 58% want more mindful activities such as yoga and meditation. As wellness becomes more of a sensory journey, travelers will seek immersive experiences property-wide, such as creative fitness classes, informative workshops, nutritious dining and more.”

Seeking Out Authentic Experiences Off the Beaten Path

The report finds that “travelers are increasingly seeking authentic experiences from a local perspective and looking to discover hidden gems off the beaten path. The survey uncovered that 60% of respondents want to explore local beverages and fully immerse themselves in the regional flavors, with 57% looking to find local cuisine and food specialties during their travels. Language immersion is also gaining traction, with 58% expressing a strong interest in picking up local languages.”
Sustainability is still paramount, the survey finds, “with 77% of respondents wanting to visit environmentally friendly destinations that align with their values and volunteer opportunities. According to data, there is particular interest in supporting communities still rebuilding from natural disasters. Others are looking to reduce travel with high carbon emissions (60%) and want choices that positively impact destinations visited.”
The study finds that the most favored regional destinations for both leisure and business travel are Mexico (37%), Jamaica (37%) and Aruba (35%) took the top three spots. The Dominican Republic and the Bahamas also fared well at 34% and 31%, respectively.
According to the Northstar/Cvent study, “The US, Caribbean, Europe, Mexico, and Canada are the most popular destinations for current and future programs. Availability of accommodations and hotel costs remain the two biggest concerns impacting planning today. Since the last cycle (November 2022), fewer programs are cutting back on nonessentials. Programs are building in more flexible agendas to meet participants' varied preferences.”
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