Best-selling author and trend forecaster James Wallman has spent years predicting the next big thing. His award-winning book Stuffocation: Living More With Less accurately predicted a move away from material possessions to the pursuit of pure experience.
You predicted experiential travel long before it became a trend. What’s next?
Luxury today isn’t about a watch — it’s about what I’ve done. It’s not what I have, but what I do. Doing the Spartan Race and telling people about it is the Fendi bag of the past.
The future is about what you do, not where you go. It’s not enough to rely on the design of a beautiful hotel to draw guests any more. People have greater access to good design these days and are furnishing their own homes to reflect the style of a boutique hotel. Let’s be frank, even travel lodges these days have Hypnos quality beds. It’s just not enough.
We all know that today’s guests are now looking for experiences — this is far and away the biggest and most important trend that hoteliers need to be aware of. Instead of just going somewhere to experience something, people are looking for a deeper, more meaningful, enriching experience. Right now the biggest movement I see is a desire for personalised transformative travel that takes you out of yourself. It’s really a mixture of wellbeing and travel — if I were starting a travel business right now I would combine the two.
What can hoteliers do to stay ahead of this trend?
If you think about it, there are three stages to a travel experience, the before, the during and the after. At the moment travel companies and hotels just do the during, but if you think a bit more holistically, they really need to think bigger. Personalised transformational travel is about knowing what happens before and afterwards. It’s a bit like an audit plus therapy and growth — it’s a much deeper level of connection with customer.
It’s about training staff to act in a certain way, to calm the minds of guests to help them grow into the person they want to be. And staying in touch with them afterwards to build deeper relationships. Create more meaningful relationships with your clients, find out more about them in the first place and help them to create purpose and enrichment in their lives.
Why is mastering this trend the key to success?
Because in today’s world of heavy social-media saturation this defines who we are. It’s not just about showing off filtered photos on Instagram — we are defining ourselves this way and our self-esteem comes from these stories. Just going to an amazing place doesn’t impress anyone any more. What did you do? We swam, lay in the sun, had great drinks. Not enough. Now you need a story. This is about how we see ourselves as much as anything else. It’s getting people out of their own minds.
The biggest problem is how distracted everyone is. Everything is clamouring for our attention and it’s virtually impossible to get anyone’s full attention. No matter what’s going on people are looking at their phones or answering emails on the side. We are desperate to switch off and be engaged in the moment — and we are looking for experiences in travel that will enable us to do that.
Can you give an example of someone who is getting it right?
The ones who are getting it right are doing things that setting up experiences that have never been done before exactly in that way and will never been done the same again. They really hit the eco-credentials and the rarity button with this one: no one can have it when you have it. It’s single use experience. I mean, someone could buy a painting after you own it, it’s not the same with things — experiences can be tailormade and just for you.
Or they take someone somewhere and leave them and they have to find their way out. This ensures that the person on the trip gets into FLOW. FLOW is key — this is a heightened state where you lose self-awareness and are right in the moment. This is what people are desperate for today.
You say in your earlier answer ‘everyone is so desperate to switch off’. If so, what’s the future for the influencer?
Yes, it’s true that social media is like the travel brochure of the past — but it’s a bit like the emperor’s new clothes. Studies continue to show that people are far more likely to book somewhere if someone they know recommends it. In his book Contagious, Wharton Professor Jonah Berger found that if you look at word of mouth, only at 7% of word of mouth is digital — the rest is all people talking to each other. It’s what people say about you that really matters.
For hoteliers, correctly harnessing the power in the future that influencers have lies in choosing the right influencer. The one who best represents the traveller you are looking for — the one who they will believe and trust.
How do you think hotels should be harnessing their social media?
My best advice is to play down the amount of social media and do less frequent posting. As crazy as that sounds, it makes sense. Think about it, you’re at a wedding and you find yourself sitting next to a guest who spends hours and hours talking about themselves and how great they are. And then picture yourself next to someone with whom you have a meaningful to-and-fro conversation which makes you want to listen and spend more time with them. Who would you feel better about?
And finally as a futurist, what would you say is the future of VR for hotels?
I did VR at Skift Global Forum in New York — and I loved it. I mean I really loved it. I was cheering out loud. I was looking at Hayman Island in the Whitsundays in Australia. But you know what, when I finished did it make me want to go to Hayman Island? NO. It made me want to do more VR.
Places like that, and other areas famous for being resorts where you lay around on the beach have got a real challenge right now — they need to do more than provide a beautiful place to be, they need to make something happen.