AFAR Conversations: Media Pros Talk Tourism

AFAR conversations panel From left to right: AFAR editor-in-chief Julia Cosgrove, Kenneth Villamil, director of product and brand development for Park Hyatt and Andaz, Jason Clampet, co-founder and head of content for Skift and Patrick Lafferty, CEO of Bartle Bogle Hegarty North America.

Younger generations of travelers want to have authentic travel experiences where they feel like locals, a trend called “experiential travel,” said panelists at AFAR Magazine‘s Conversations event last night.

“People want to feel like they’re seeing through they eyes of a native, versus the homogenized commercial travel of the past. Instead of just taking from the market, it’s about being part of it or giving back,” said Kenneth Villamil, director of brand development for Park Hyatt and Andaz Global Operations Center.

But we’re not talking about backpackers who sleep on the couch of a local family. Millennials and GenXers who have disposable income want to eat genuine local food, help build a well or haggle in the bazaar, but they still expect a comfortable place to stay at the end of the day.

“They still want a massage and a nice meal, but they want to participate in the local community or volunteer,” said Patrick Lafferty, CEO of advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty North American.

The third panelist, Jason Clampet, co-founder and head of content for Skift, noted that destinations are trying to market themselves as unique, but “I don’t think we’re past the days when destinations are excited they have a Cheesecake Factory like everyone else.”

Hotels are trying to tap into the social media aspect of experiential traveling by scouring TripAdvisor reviews and using analytics to process positive and negative feedback from Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. Even AFAR has gotten into the market with their own app, which allows travelers to upload and search unique “travel highlights,” a picture accompanied by a short, geo-tagged post that another visitor could replicate.

The San Francisco-based travel magazine its trying to build “the world’s most comprehensive travel guide for discerning travelers,” said Joe Diaz, AFAR‘s co-founder and chief product officer. Last night’s event at Andaz Wall Street gave travel pros the chance to discuss the constantly changing market for accommodations, which ranges from Couchsurfing and AirBnB to expensive boutique hotels.

Photo by Joshua Simpson