Today’s Up-and-Coming Travel Brands Are Giving People Real Experiences, Not Just Vacations

Meet the companies that are changing the industry

Brands are catering to people who want to come back from their vacations having experienced something incredible and new. Getty Images
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Today’s travelers are hard to pin down. One day they’re traveling for business, then they’re crossing the Atlantic for an adventure, and then it’s off to another state for a low-key leisure vacation. Travelers also want more out of their trips. They want to come home with stories of new experiences (and Instagram photos) to share with friends.

Increasingly, new brands are coming onto the scene to challenge legacy hotel chains, airlines and others in the industry to give customers experiences when they travel. Airbnb sparked change when it burst onto the scene, but now brands like onefinestay and Afar are creating services and opportunities for people with wanderlust who also want to come back from their vacations having experienced something incredible and new.

It’s all part of a growing trend among travelers who want to do more than just relax when they’re on vacation—they want to learn and grow. Travel news and research company Skift’s 2018 experiential travel survey showed that most avid travelers (those who took at least one leisure trip, booked one round-trip flight and stayed in a hotel at least one night in the past year) say improving their well-being is important when they travel. Additionally, 27 percent strongly agreed and 57 percent agreed that they value the opportunity to learn something new when they’re on vacation.

Quality and service

Onefinestay came along in 2009, not long after Airbnb launched. And while Airbnb quickly owned home sharing, onefinestay took things to a new level and a new audience, travelers with more money to spend and slightly higher-end tastes.

Onefinestay offers luxury homes and apartments that travelers can have all to themselves, but it also offers some hotel-like amenities including airport transfers, housekeeping, childcare and grocery services.

“What is especially unique in this proposition is we basically guarantee the quality of the end-to-end experience for our guests, from the curation of the rooms that we are offering … to the quality of our guest services and also the quality of the services when they stay in our homes,” said Laurent Janneau, chief brand and marketing officer at onefinestay.

The company was acquired by AccorHotels earlier this year for $168 million and combined with two other alternative accommodations companies: Travel Keys and Squarebreak. Skift hospitality editor Deanna Ting noted that it will be “interesting to see if the company can keep up the high levels of quality and service that it’s known for as it scales up so dramatically.”

That’s especially true given that competition in the category and new challenger brands are never far off.

“Earlier this year, Airbnb bought Luxury Retreats, which focuses on traditional villa [and] luxury rentals, and Hyatt invested in Oasis, a company that offers a similar formula for a hybrid hotel-home stay experience, albeit not quite at the same level of luxury as a onefinestay,” Ting said, cautioning that while onefinestay is “a great brand that’s fairly well known” and that AccorHotels’ acquisition of the company is a positive, “we also know from financial documents that the company hasn’t been financially successful just yet.”

The travel experience

Afar, which started as a print magazine and digital publication targeting people who wanted to do more and experience more on their trips, is now a platform that helps people find and save destinations, restaurants and experiences that fit their travel desires.

“When Afar first came out, it really capitalized on something that was just beginning to take off in the travel industry and has since dominated it for the past decade. … That focus on experiential travel really set Afar apart, and I think it made the brand a lot more accessible to travelers overall,” Ting said.

Co-founders Greg Sullivan and Joseph Diaz launched Afar after they took a trip together to India.

“We realized there was a hole in the media space around the conversation of the way that we were traveling and the way we saw more people wanting to travel,” Diaz, the company’s chief product officer, said. “We wanted to have the ability to talk about travel in a deeper, more discerning way.”

@ktjrichards Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.