What is experiential marketing: Definition, why it works & examples

Carla Vianna
Carla Vianna
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What is experiential marketing: Definition, why it works & examples

Experiential marketing campaigns are so effective in drawing in customers because people crave real-life experiences more than ever these days. 

In this post, we’re diving deep into one of the most effective marketing strategies for tour and attraction operators.

What is experiential marketing?

Experiential marketing — also known as engagement or event marketing — is a strategy that focuses on creating an emotional connection with customers through memorable experiences.

Rather than simply presenting a customer with an ad for a product or service, experiential marketing immerses them in a physical or digital activity. This approach might involve hosting live events, pop-up activations, or interactive digital experiences where customers can participate in activities or try out products first-hand.

The idea is that the interactive experience will evoke an emotion beyond just seeing an ad, which helps foster a personal connection between the customer and your brand.

Why it works?

Experiential marketing taps into the fundamental human desire for meaningful experiences and emotional connections. Unlike traditional advertising methods, which are mostly passive, experiential activations stimulate the senses. That in and of itself makes them an effective way to connect with your customers.

Within the tourism industry, experiential marketing is particularly effective because it allows travel brands to showcase the unique aspects of a destination, attraction, or tour in a tangible way.

First, let’s take a look at how one of the biggest brands on the market does this.

Instead of just telling customers that the iPhone camera is top-of-the-line, Apple launched its #ShotOniPhone challenge encourages users to submit their best photos on social media using the hashtag. The campaign gave existing iPhone users a chance to interact with the brand and each other by sharing their photos, with the chance of having them featured in future ads.

Meanwhile, those debating whether to upgrade discovered the quality of the camera by looking at photos taken by existing iPhone users. Perhaps these potential customers even felt a bit of FOMO, or the fear of missing out on the ability of taking high-quality photos.

The campaign built trust in the iPhone by showcasing what it could do, while also creating a sense of community among its users. And the ripple effects were felt worldwide: The more people shared, the more the word got out. Experiential marketing at its finest.

How might this translate to the travel industry? Many tourism boards, for instance, have used virtual reality tours, interactive exhibits, or live events to give potential visitors a true taste of what to expect.

Experiential experiences not only capture attention but also generate excitement, curiosity, and a sense of anticipation, ultimately driving interest and desire to explore the destination further. Again, we might see a bit of that FOMO marketing at play here.

Overall, this marketing strategy allows tour operators to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace by offering memorable experiences that resonate with guests on a deeper level.

3 major benefits of experiential marketing

Let’s look at a few of the most pronounced benefits of experiential marketing campaigns for tour operators.

1. Authentic engagement driven by memorable experiences

Experiential marketing campaigns connect with consumers on a personal and emotional level. By offering them a tangible interaction and sensory stimuli, your brand can forge a genuine connection with your ideal guest, leading to more bookings.

Memorable experiences stand out—and make your customers want to talk about them. Whether it’s a live event, interactive exhibit, or virtual reality tour, these experiences leave a lasting impact on your guests.

Guests are more likely to remember your brand, and if they enjoyed it, you’re likely to benefit from word-of-mouth recommendations.

2. Enhanced brand perception

Experiential marketing allows brands to showcase their unique value proposition and personality in a tangible way. By providing consumers with firsthand experiences of their products or services, brands can shape perceptions, build trust, and differentiate themselves from competitors.

3. Increased engagement and ROI

Compared to a static ad, an in-person activity or immersive online experience will drive higher levels of engagement and interaction among your guests. By immersing them in memorable experiences, you can capture their attention, drive foot traffic, and ultimately, increase bookings and revenue. As previously mentioned, these campaigns often generate buzz and social sharing, which helps amplify their reach and impact.

4 real-life examples of experiential marketing in travel and tourism

From a fun layover idea to virtual reality campaigns, let’s see how four travel brands have used experiential marketing to attract new customers.

1. KLM’s Layover with a Local

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines created a service that helped travelers use their time effectively during a long layover in Amsterdam, the airline’s hub.

KLM created an app that matched flyers with an Amsterdam local based on languages and interests—allowing the traveler to explore the city while waiting for their next flight. The app provided travelers with a free train ticket from the Dutch Railways to the center of Amsterdam, providing a fun and unique layover experience.

The campaign set the airline apart from its competitors. Even if a traveler wasn’t traveling to Amsterdam, they now had the opportunity to visit the city on the way as their final destination. The app solved two problems: being bored during a long layover, and the hassle of stepping out into a new city without knowing what to do.

2. Visit Arizona’s Immersive VR Experience

Visit Arizona created a virtual reality campaign to highlight the most well-known as well as more unexpected experiences that the state has to offer. The goal was to inspire visitors to travel to Arizona once they experienced a sliver of its outdoor wonders virtually.

The tourism board created different VR experiences that appealed to each of its target audience segments. The results were promising: 1.7 million ad-influenced trips and over $4 billion in revenue generated.

3. Marriott’s Virtual Honeymoon

Marriott knew exactly how to draw in newly married couples: The hotel brand set up shop outside of New York’s City Hall, where New Yorkers get married every day. What’s the one thing these couples were most looking forward to? Their honeymoon. A virtual reality campaign was created to whisk the couples away to romantic getaways from London to Hawaii—giving them a taste of what it would be like to take a honeymoon, with Marriott, to one of these locations.

4. Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Virtual Staycation

Norwegian Cruise Lines also used VR to reel passengers in. In 2020, during the pandemic, the cruise brand launched a social media campaign encouraging guests to join a virtual staycation from their homes.

The campaign was promoted via video across social media, including Facebook and YouTube. The virtual experiences transported guests to popular cruise destinations like Alaska and the Caribbean. Plus, they could also participate in virtual onboard activities like cooking classes, performances, and wine tasting. There was even a curated vacation playlist for each destination.

The idea was to make passengers excited for their next cruise, and what better way to do that than to take them on one, virtually?


Whether it’s through an event, VR experience, or interactive social media campaign, make sure to complement your traditional marketing ads with something a little more tangible — and set yourself apart from your competitors.


Writer Carla Vianna

Carla Vianna

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