Travelers flying to Iceland on Icelandair have a new way to create a custom itinerary with the carrier’s new Buddy Hotline service, which connects Icelandair passengers with local “experts” to get travel recommendations — like the best spot to soak in geothermal waters or where to tuck in for a great meal in Reykjavik.
All “buddies,” the carrier says in a release, are Icelandair employees “who are knowledgable and passionate about promoting responsible tourism in the country.” The buddies include people with interests in and knowledge of hiking trails, hot dining spots, geothermal pools and spas, and even knitting lopapeysa — a traditional Icelandic sweater.
The hotline is Icelandair’s foray into the growing trend of providing travelers with an authentic experience in the destinations they visit. Results from a new global study conducted by Icelandair in March confirm that travelers want to explore the “real” location they are visiting.
This is a desire shared by business event travelers — whether they venture out for these experiences in whatever free time they have during the conference program or extend their stays (a.k.a. bleisure travel), which is on the rise. According to the second annual State of Business Travel Survey by National Car Rental, 90 percent of millennials have engaged in bleisure travel in the past year.
As further confirmation of this trend, Airbnb has doubled down on its Experiences program, in which its home-sharers recommend local excursions for travelers. Other services, including Vayable, Touriocity, Withlocals, and the New York City–centric Like A Local Tours, have their own spins on connecting travelers and locals.
The desire to explore destinations like a local was highlighted in the recent “Future of Meetings & Events” study, supported by the PCMA Foundation and Marriott International. A “sense of place” was one of the five major, future-oriented consumer trends and market forces identified in the joint research project as having a transformative effect on meetings and events in the years to come.
In addition, the Incentive Research Foundation’s 2019 Trends Study identified “transformational travel” — highly memorable and authentic experiences — as one of 10 key trends in the workforce engagement and incentive travel business sector.
It will be interesting to see if Icelandair’s Buddy Hotline — which relies on employees to volunteer their time to engage with travelers — will be a model that the CVB community considers. In the meantime, beyond working with hotel concierges to create local dining and recreational recommendations for attendees to pursue during their free time, how have you tapped into local residents in host destinations to provide authentic experiences? We’d love to hear.
Curt Wagner is a Convene associate editor.