Nancy Friedman and Julie Freeman
Julie Freeman (L) & Nancy Friedman

“Traveling, it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller,” said scholar and global traveler Ibn Battuta. As marketers specializing in travel and hospitality, we believe nothing can shape our view of the world like travel. Every day we tell stories and capture attention through vivid imagery that inspires people to see the world differently and then go experience it for themselves.

O'Dwyer's Jun. '18 Travel & Tourism PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jun. '18 Travel & International PR Magazine

A history of sensationalism

As an industry, we have a long-standing history of telling fantastic stories about far-off lands and mystical travel adventures. Travel has driven literature and poetry, influenced television and continually finds itself on the big screen. Certain destinations in travel have been successful in embracing these fantasies. Most recently, Tourism Ireland has received awards for campaigns tied to “Game of Thrones” and “Star Wars,” which were both filmed in the country. However, while there’s a growing appetite among U.S. travelers to explore more on vacation, their desires are grounded in something a little more genuine and real.

Culinary feature coverage recently secured for Los Cabos in Bon Appétit, Endless Vacation, Essence, Hotels and Robb Report, among others, further emphasizes the growing international recognition of the destination’s leading gastronomy.

Understanding traveler motivations

Today’s traveler has a growing desire to explore. According to MMGY Global’s 2017–2018 “Portrait of American Travelers” study, 78 percent of all active travelers say that they’re motivated by exploration when choosing their vacation. That’s an increase from 62 percent just five years ago.

We see this reflected in some of the top-ranking desires and motivations that travelers seek when booking their trips: 73 percent want to experience different cultures; 70 percent want to try new cuisines; and 50 percent are interested in guided tours with exclusive access to local experiences.

The concept of traveling like a local is pervasive in tourism today. Yet, creating stories that connect with travelers must be rooted in understanding why this trend has come about.

There’s an inherent desire among today’s traveler to stake claim to new experiences by being one of the first to visit a new hotel, travel to a location that others may not have heard of or gain local access to activities that others have not. Sixty-four percent of travelers visited at least one new destination last year. And more than one-third of that group cited the desire to visit someplace off the beaten track as the reason for choosing that new location.

Highlighting off-the-beaten-path experiences in South Dakota like this Nylon feature about the first-ever Wild Gypsy Tour, an all-female motorcycle gang at Sturgis-Buffalo Chip, helped contribute to an increase in South Dakota visitors.

Perhaps this motivation is being driven by people’s connection to travel and self-identity: 41 percent of travelers say that the places they visit say a lot about who they are as a person. Or, maybe it’s as simple as bragging to others. After all, 40 percent of travelers say that they like using social media to post images from their travels, and 20 percent admit doing so to make their friends and family jealous.

Storytelling today

As a result, the most influential travel stories today are not grand or sensational by nature. Yes, there will always be those who want the best of the best, who seek to check off their bucket lists or who plan their travel itineraries based on top user rankings and reviews. But, the stories that truly connect today are those that are new and undiscovered, hidden among the locals or perhaps just overlooked. After all, 75 percent of travelers are willing to try new things when on vacation, and 85 percent say that the memories they get from those experiences are what make the trip worth it.

Feature coverage in the New York Times shines a light on a relatively unheard-of town in southern Arkansas, El Dorado, and its effort to bring back its livelihood.

About “Portrait of American Travelers”

Now in its 28th year, MMGY Global’s “Portrait of American Travelers” survey provides an in-depth examination of the impact of the current economic environment, prevailing social values and emerging travel habits, preferences and intentions of Americans. It’s widely regarded as a leading barometer of travel trends and an essential tool for both the development and the evolution of brand and marketing strategy. The survey polled 2,902 U.S. adults who have taken at least one overnight trip of 75 miles or more from home during the previous 12 months. For more information, visit


Nancy Friedman is a partner and Julie Freeman is managing director of NJF, an MMGY Global company.