Over the last 30 years the world of travel has experienced various trends related to sustainability and eco-travelling, respect of local communities and responsible tourism.

We have all noticed in recent years the evolution of destination marketing and the re-branding also within multinational tour operators resulted in a shift of attention from the destination to the motivation of travel. The main focus has become the importance of living “experiences”, such as meeting the locals and tasting traditional food, with an increase of more conscious and informed travellers seeking authenticity and off-the-tourist-path destinations. The last trend in travel industry coming from Overseas, is the evolution of the inflated “experiential” travel into the so-called “transformational” travel. I first came across this new concept in a training about adventure travel development held by the Adventure Travel and Trade Association (ATTA) in 2017, when the Tuscan Region has kicked off a 2-year project to launch the new brand Tuscany Adventure Times (read more about Tuscany Adventure). I had the chance to take part to first Tuscany Adventure Week in September 2017, when three groups of international buyers specialised in adventure travel came as pioneers to discover the adventures Tuscany has to offer. I was then involved for the whole 2018 in the development of adventure tourism products in Northern Tuscany and in the management of several famil trips and tours to launch the new company brand of the inbound tour operator That’s Tuscany in the occasion of the 2018 Adventure Travel World Summit in Montecatini. Working closely with ATTA on creating sustainable, responsible and transformational experiences, I could better understand what adventure and transformational travel is about. First of all, you don’t have to think about adventure travel as adrenaline-packed itineraries like bungee jumping or climbing. The concept of “adventure” relates to anything that is out of the ordinary and takes travellers out of their comfort zone including also “soft” adventures. Of course, outdoor activities play a big role, but also visiting indigenous villages, learn ancient traditions and crafts, experience traditional rural life are considered to be an adventure and at the same time potentially a life-changing experience. Transformational travel shifts indeed the attention from the journey to the moment you come back home as a different person from when you left.

The roots of Transformational Travel

Launched at the 2016 Adventure Travel World Summit in Alaska, the Transformational Travel Council(TTC) is “an organization dedicated to supporting both travellers and the travel industry in transforming lives and changing the world through more mindful and intentional travel experiences. They encourage mindful and take-to-action travelling, meaning the “travel is not over once you are back home”.

Vogue magazine had already identified Transformational travel as the travel trend for 2017. “Experiential travel” became the travel trend of 2016. Rather than just visiting far-flung locations, vacationers were looking for ways to tap into native cultures, meaningfully interact with locals, and feel like far more than a tourist. So where does a thoughtful traveller go from there? What’s next? Industry leaders are saying that “transformational travel” is the next evolution. It has similar elements of experiential travel, but taken a step further-it’s travel motivated and defined by a shift in perspective, self-reflection and development, and a deeper communion with nature and culture.

The research carried out in 2017 by East Carolina University, confirmed indeed that the first motivation for travelling was “transformation”! “In the past couple years, the term “transformation” has been used to describe what consumers seek from the goods and services they purchase. To delight today’s consumer, nothing short of a transformative experience – one that leaves a lasting change or impression – is required. The push for transformation is expressing itself across industries from health and wellness to fashion, and, yes, even travel.” […] “Survey respondents noted their chief motivations for engaging in adventure tourism are to have a “life-changing experience” and enjoy “personal growth and challenge.” Travellers also said they wanted a sense of “accomplishment and achievement” and a feeling “gratitude and mindfulness.” In short, they’re looking for transformation”.

Also according to the prestigious economy and finance magazine Forbes in its article “Understanding The Natural Pull Of Transformative Travel Marketing” dated July 2018 “All of us seek transformative moments, the moments that bring us a little closer to becoming the people we hope to be. It’s no surprise then that tourism marketers have been talking a lot during the past 18 months about “transformative travel.”

It’s interesting to note that this new travel motivation implies also a change in the destinations sought by travellers who will no longer turn to bucket-list Countries but to “the communities that build authentic connections with their visitors, connections that transform the lives of the community just as much as they change the lives of their visitors.” In this international panorama where tour operators are specialising in designing transformative experiences, travel industry communities such as Pure Life Experiences grant awards each year to the best practices in transformational travel, and even gears brand like Eagle Creek use transformation needs in their marketing campaign “we take pride in equipping you with versatile gear to take you beyond your fears and outside your comfort zone“, my Country – Italy, appears to be a step behind on the evolution of the transformational travel concept.

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