Tourists are Looking for a Real, Authentic Experience

Jul 30, 2018

Our guest blogger is Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive of VisitScotland, Scotland’s national tourism organisation. For information on Scotland, go to For more on VisitScotland, see our industry website .

In a world of growing air connectivity, where it has never been easier for the discerning traveller to choose their holiday destination, competition is fierce.

Into the mix is the changing tastes of visitors.

The so-called “Instagram generation” are seeking a visitor experience that is both immersive and unique – and in particular, one that can be captured on camera and broadcast to the delight (and envy!) of their social media followers.

However, in amongst all of this, one word is key – authenticity.

Consumers are searching for authentic experiences and the ability to immerse themselves in the local culture. They are looking to combine the traditional tourism experience with something special that takes them off the beaten track.

Our Insight team have highlighted this trend for several years. But what is meant by true authenticity, when the word itself is a fluid concept and subject to individual interpretation?

To one person it is the rural landscape, traditional music and heritage; to others it is contemporary urban culture and multi-ethnicity which defines modern living.

For Scotland it could be the well-known icons such as castles, lochs and Highland vistas or the contemporary shopping experience of Glasgow, Edinburgh’s international festivals and surfing off Tiree.

We need to consider that ‘authentic’ experiences are being developed within the minds of visitors before they even arrive at a destination. In particular, there is a real desire for honest authenticity – whether it be discovering real customs or interacting with locals.

Food and drink, particularly access to local produce, is an important element of the visitor experience – indeed, our research shows that three quarters of international visitors try local food and drink on their trip – especially in conveying this sense of authenticity.

At the heart of it all, however, is the connection with real people – and to this end, the industry is already adapting.

Just look at home-sharing hospitality platform, Airbnb, which debuted its ‘experiences’ range in 2016, whereby hosts can share their passions and interests with visitors from around the world

This year the company brought this new addition to Scotland with Edinburgh – the first UK destination outside of London – hosting experiences, which range from kayaking with Scottish wildlife to making shortbread with a professional baker and learning to cook with a top food blogger.

Last year VisitScotland embarked on its own ambitious project to convey that authenticity.

Scotland: Life brings together social media influencers with real Scottish people.

Social media influencers have been getting a true insight into what it is really like to live, work, study and play in Scotland through the eyes of the people that have made the country their home – from a scallop diver in Mull to parkour athletes in Edinburgh, Harry Potter fans to an Outlander herbalist.

See one of the videos here:

Each social media influencer spends one to two days with their Scottish local and is encouraged to shadow them in their activities. For the rest of their time in Scotland, they complete an itinerary associated with their interests in different regions across the country.

It comes as research shows the strength of social media influencers and their power to drive conversations and engagement as well as deliver inspiring content, with many millennials trusting influencers nearly as much as they trust their friends and family.

This approach has proved popular, with 27 pioneering videos, co-produced with US and UK social media influencers, having been watched 13 million times on YouTube and Facebook.

The project shows there is a hunger for a visitor experience that incorporates the ‘real’.

To that end, tourism professionals need to be aware of customer perspectives and offer something unique but also genuine. To not do so, we run the risk of giving a tainted view of what is a real authentic experience.

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