Earlier in January, a bunch of curious women learnt the intricacies of the Chettiar Kitchen in Chidambara Vilas, Karaikudi, Tamil Nadu. “An open kitchen concept gives a glimpse of locally sourced ingredients, traditional techniques and a chance to savour the unique dishes that a region has to offer,” says travel curator Muthamma Nanjappa of Globetrippers.
Athangudi tile-making and Chettinad sari-weaving are also a part of her offers in this region. “However, in Uttarakhand, we curate an experience of foraging ingredients for a typical Kumaoni and Van Gujjar home-cooked meal. Village walks and interaction with artists doing Panchachuli, basketry, copper crafts, Aipan floor paintings are also on the list.”
More than just ticking off a checklist of sights to see, travellers seem more interested in knowing the place and interacting with its people at a deeper level. The tourism industry is responding by offering experiences where locals open their homes and workshops are offered. These could be food, art or culture oriented. Sometimes it’s just for a heart-warming conservation. Arun Ashok, Regional Head, India and the Middle East of Luxury Escapes, corroborates, “As per various industry reports, the overall travel market in India is projected to be worth $125 billion by 2027, close to 10 per cent of which is expected to comprise travel experiences. This is a sector that is expected to grow at a CAGR of about 7.5-10 per cent and presents a valuable opportunity.”
Luxury Escapes started offering add-on experiences that our members can purchase in addition to our accommodation packages in an effort to tap this segment. “We partner with reputed service providers and aggregators and have even gone the acquisition route, having purchased Travelshoot, a photoshoot services company. These are very popular currently, with one in every three-five buyers choosing to augment their travel experience with an add-on experience,” shares Ashok.
Premium photoshoot services are popular in Rajasthan. Safari drives in wildlife reserves have been a recent point of interest since Covid struck. Most travellers prefer outdoor experiences such as e-bike rides, outdoor picnics, waterfall visits, etc rather than guided museum tours or tasting menus at restaurants, he says.
The pandemic has further driven this change where people spend on experiences than things. For instance, Ceylon Tea Trails, which is perched at an altitude of 1,250 metres in the Ceylon tea region of Hatton, Sri Lanka. This property comprises five restored tea planters’ bungalows offering guests the non-hotel, private house ambience, along with period furnishings, butler service, tea trails and gourmet cuisine. Guests also get a plantation tour, a tea factory visit and a tasting session with the hotel’s resident tea planter.
Experiential travel is also more fulfilling, leaving a positive impact on the traveller about the place. At Sujan Jawai, Rajasthan, a Relais & Châteaux member, guests have the option of exploring the stunning Jawai landscape on a horseback. This impressive Marwari and Kathiawari experience have aimed at re-wilding the soul in a post-lockdown world. Additionally, travellers also get to learn about biodiversity and culinary heritage as chefs raise awareness of the near-extinct foods. In this case, it is Kumatiya, a pod containing three shiny white seeds, used as food in Rajasthan. As Jaisal Singh, owner and VP of Relais & Châteaux, puts it, “This is an essential ingredient in one of Rajasthan’s most popular and most delicious dishes. Ker Kumatiya Sangri, a mélange of three indigenous dessert ingredients, is a delicacy which gives you a true flavour of the local terroir.”
There is a shift towards active travel and increasing interest in local cultural immersion. Ask mountaineer and outdoor professional Abhirup Paul of Eka Experiences who curates guided trips across destinations. His latest offering is the recently open-to-public Gurez Valley in Kashmir. “Gurez was part of ancient Dardistan. It fell along the old Silk Route. The local inhabitants are from the ethnic Dard-Shin tribe. Different from Kashmiri, they speak in Shina, a once-thriving language that is slowly vanishing. This unspoiled place that deserves world attention is keeping responsible travel in mind in a very sustainable fashion.”
Travel is increasingly being seen as a medium to get a new perspective on life. Anand Bhava is one such. It is the emotional healing programme offered by Ananda resort. Through alternative modalities such as hypnotherapy, regression and energy healing, guests here heal their physical, emotional and mental states. Mahesh Natarajan, Senior Vice President, Ananda, comments, “This timely and unique platform enhances the holistic and integrated approach of our wellness programmes. Several guests have had transformational changes.”
Another such initiative is ‘Airbnb Adventures,’ where travellers ditch the usual touristy routes for off-beat adventures that offer them something different to post on social media.
It seems clear that the trend is here to stay and for exciting reasons.