Transformational Travel: Embracing the Search for Deeper Meaning

November 09, 2023
Young woman with brown hair in brightly patterned short-sleeve shirt and long pants kayaking through luscious trees.

Twenty years ago, Development Counsellors International (DCI) shifted its approach for tourism marketing to focus on connecting with the experience seeker. Consumer preferences were changing, and it became apparent that we needed to target a different kind of traveler. We had to market to those who truly wanted to immerse themselves in a destination through its cultural experiences, cuisine and personal connections. 

In doing so, our agency was able to fulfill both a consumer need and the imperative to support locals in the communities we served. 

While this focus on the experience seeker has shaped twenty years of strategy and marketing for DCI’s clients, we’re realizing that the emerging concept of transformational travel will guide the next two decades ahead.

Why Explore Transformational Travel?

With the pandemic behind us, it’s undeniable that the last few years have been transformational for us all. With a shift in working practices, our daily routines and our interaction with the people and spaces around us, the “Great Reflection” has allowed us all to ask about what really matters to us.

We are actively asking how we care for and better ourselves for healthier and more fulfilling lives. It’s no small question. Travel is a natural place for us all to ponder life’s big questions and search for meaning. It’s a vector for creating deeper connections and seeking transformation. This habit of reflecting lights the path to new ways of engaging with the world.

The Many Faces of Transformational Travel

Transformational travel can take many different forms and serve a wide variety of purposes for the individual. It can foster personal growth, by exposing us to an abundance of new cultures, lifestyles, and experiences, giving insight into the vibrancy and nuances of the destination. 

For example, the act of cultural immersion when traveling not only highlights what separates us, but also commonalities in the human experience. Despite our different backgrounds, cultures, and languages, there is so much more that connects us. Experiencing this connection through travel can help us gain perspective, tolerance and open-mindedness. 

Cultural immersion can be particularly transformational in longer stays, or digital nomad travel, giving the individual enough time to truly experience the essence of the destination. Volunteering or teaching English as a foreign language are other transformational ways of immersing oneself into a new place and its community.

Through travel, we can also seek personal growth by stepping out of our comfort zones and embarking on adventures into the great outdoors. This could include anything from camping and watersports to  mountain climbing or daylong hikes across pilgrimage routes. Adventure travel is cathartic, pushing yourself to your physical and mental limits, overcoming adversity and discovering your own capabilities. Not only does it provide a sense of accomplishment and a rush of endorphins, it helps to boost confidence in your everyday life and prepares you for the challenges it can bring. It brings us closer to nature, disconnecting from the screens and hustle bustle of urban life, and reconnecting with ourselves. 

Of course, adventures in the wilderness aren’t for everyone. Travel focused on health, wellbeing and mindfulness, however, can also be transformational. This could include yoga and meditation or other spiritual retreats focused on finding meaning and connection. Like adventure travel, connecting with nature is also an essential aspect of wellness retreats. Through transformational travel, whatever form it takes, the individual can find personal healing and invigoration while rediscovering what is important in life.

Destinations to Do Their Part

Creating or reframing destination experiences as transformational is the first step to helping visitors achieve their version of the trend. By building an environment where visitors can have conversations about transformation and meaningful travel, a destination unlocks the door, allowing it to swing open for a new kind of visitor.

As the Transformational Travel Council says, “Meaningful travel has the potential to expand interpersonal development, increase personal fulfillment, and elicit pro-social and pro-environmental behavior that creates more empathy, humility, and stewardship in the world.” 

Travel has the power to bring us together, expose us to the beauty of our planet, and shape us into the best version of ourselves. When we explore the world outside, we also explore the magnificent and complex world within – and destinations need to embrace state of mind.

Wondering if your destination is an attractive transformational escape for today’s travelers? Get in touch with Karyl Leigh Barnes at [email protected] to learn how DCI can bring its 60+ years of tourism marketing expertise to position your destination more effectively.

Written by

Robyn Domber

Senior Vice President, Research