It's no secret that revenge travel is filling up airplanes, restaurants and resorts. But sometimes, travelers don't necessarily want to feel cramped, or be next to fellow tourists when they reach their destination. As a result, more travelers have been seeking private experiences.
"When the pandemic happened, [private experiences] kind of grew organically," said Ron Veno, director of sales for Island Routes, which offers excursions and custom tour experiences to 13 islands in the Caribbean. "There was a niche in the market, and then people were clamoring early for private travel. They didn't want to be on a bus with people because of Covid. So we were getting a lot of requests for these private excursions."
Since it opened in 2009, the company's offerings have progressed from group to private to custom, although it still offers all three. While Island Routes has been customizing excursions for a while, it wasn't until May when it debuted 12 new offerings in Jamaica, where the company originated, and it is now finalizing options on other islands.
The main categories in Island Routes' Private & Bespoke Collection are cuisine, water-based and culture and history, although there can be overlaps. The private experiences are prepackaged and readily available. Any customization would make it a bespoke experience.
According to a report by Arival, "Outlook for Travel Experiences 2019-2025," published in October, travel experience global gross bookings accounted for $254 billion in 2019. That number is projected to reach $260 billion by 2024. Travel experiences are the third-largest sector of tourism after transportation and accommodations.
Island Routes' new private experiences in Jamaica include a Blue Mountains hike, a powerboat adventure and beachside lunch, bamboo river rafting and riverside lunch and an experience that includes having a meal with two chef sisters who bought and renovated a 16th-century Spanish villa.
"They're not only cooking, but they're teaching you about the history of how jerk developed and the reason why it was cooked on the ground initially," Veno said.
(The cooking technique was developed in the 1700s as a way for enslaved people who ran away to cook food without risking being recaptured.)
Boots on the ground plays a major role in what destinations the company operates. "We're not in Puerto Rico, so we wouldn't do anything in Puerto Rico," Veno cited as an example.
The company is close to launching new experiences in Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada and the Bahamas, where they currently have locations. Next year, Island Routes will launch operations in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where Beaches Resorts is slated to open its fourth resort next year. Both companies are a part of Sandals Resorts International, but Island Routes is operated separately.
Island Routes is promoting its Private & Bespoke Collection on a series of roadshows in the coming months.
"The market is going in the direction where people are looking for real, authentic experiences," Veno said. "They want to get out. We want to get people outside the resort or the hotel or wherever they're staying."