According to new research from Mintel, UK travelers are increasingly traveling overseas to improve their knowledge or learn a skill…as American travel affiliates and travel suppliers, do you see the same trends with your customers?

The British are unquestionably amongst the world’s most peripatetic travelers, so when market research powerhouse Mintel suggests that ‘fly and flop’ vacations are becoming somewhat passé, American travel professionals should take notice.

Mintel suggests that more and more Brits are seeking vacation breaks that engage their minds, and, not just for rest and relaxation.  In its new traveler survey, Learning from my Holiday – UK – August 2009, Mintel identifies Specialist Learning Holidays – i.e., vacations that offer the traveler an opportunity to learn creative, linguistic, sporting or other skills – as the wave of the future.

Commenting in the press release announcing the survey results, Mintel Senior Travel and Tourism Analyst Tom Rees, points out that: “As odd as it may seem to those that jet away simply seeking sun, sea, sand and sangria, long-term trends show that a growing number of UK holidaymakers are turning away from fly and flop holidays. Factors such as the increasing number of specialist products, more active styles of holiday-taking, the internet and the expansion of low-cost air travel have created demand for new destinations and novel experiences.”

Here are several of the highlights from Mintel’s report which supports Rees’ contentions:

Demand for learning vacations is growing

  • 36% of adults believe educating themselves about the place they’re visiting is an important part of their vacation experience
  • 20% said they enjoy learning new skills on vacation
  • 59% adults say they have visited a museum during their travels

Travelers participate in a broad range of activities while on vacation

  • An estimated 7.1 million adults (11%) have learnt a new sport or game while on holiday in the past three years
  • 4.6 million (9%) have learnt a language
  • 6.6 million (13%) have learnt a new skill
  • 3.1 million (6%) have attended a course

Several segments within this travel category are poised for dramatic growth

  • Three of the fastest-growing segments in the Specialist Learning Holidays sector are photography holidays, culinary holidays and dance holidays.
  • Vacations involving learning a language or a new skill represents a niche within this segment that holds significant future growth potentialAccording to Mintel, some 27% of adults would like to learn a language,24% would like to learn a skill while on vacation,While just one-in-twenty (5%) said that “learning is boring and not what they want to do on holiday.”

“Learning holidays are tapping into the travel zeitgeist for the ‘real thing’,” says Rees, adding that “Learning to Tango in Buenos Ares or to cook Vietnamese in Saigon offer a ‘double whammy’ of intense local flavor and allows people to take their hobby to the ‘next level’.”  Additionally, Rees says that the growing singles population in the UK is increasingly being attracted to “…group-based learning holidays…especially for female travelers.  Meeting others with shared values and interests,” he concludes, “will be a key driver in future years, and online social networking will play an important role in organizing learning events and trips.”

TravelDividends doesn’t find any of Mintel’s conclusions as novel or startling; in fact, in our opinion, they are consistent with our views about the evolving tastes, needs and wants of the traveler consumer, whether the traveler is on this, or that, side of “The Pond’.  American and British travelers have a multitude of choices when it comes to travel products, services and experiences, as travel suppliers have long recognized that offering either diverse or specialized product is key to sustained competitive success in the brutally competitive travel industry.

For example, when it comes to product mix, travel-affiliate friendly Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, Travelocity and Priceline try to be ‘all things to all people’, offering travel consumers everything from airline tickets to villas (and lots of other stuff in between) on their sites.

Similarly, so too, have many of the large tour operators, like vertically integrated players like German behemoth TUI.  In fact, TUI has a division focused exclusively in what Mintel calls the Specialist Learning Holidays, although TUI refers to it as its ‘Activity Sector‘.  The Activity Sector is among TUI’s fastest growing business lines, and within this group (which consists of 5 segments – Adventure, Marine, Ski, Student and Sport travel), TUI operates 40 separate specialist brands in 8 countries, and moves more than 1 million passengers annually on activity-specific tailored trips.

There are literally thousands more specialist travel suppliers around the world that cater to travelers in very narrow (or wide) travel niches, ranging from tour operators, hospitality companies, cruise and yacht lines and even airlines.  Specialization is also at the core of most travel affiliates, who work in concert with these and many other travel suppliers as key and valued distribution partners.

From our perspective, Mintel’s latest consumer survey simply reinforces what successful travel suppliers and travel affiliates have long known, and that is (to paraphrase that popular, and successful, quote from Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign): It’s the Customer, Stupid. The single most important aspect of any business is its customers; understanding and keeping up with their ever-evolving needs separates the winners from the losers.

TravelDividends is keen to hear from our travel supplier and travel affiliate readers; let us know what you think about Mintel’s survey findings, or what dynamics you see with your customers.  Please leave a comment or send us an email; as always, we appreciate your participation.  Thanks!