From language lessons to cookery classes, many business leaders are going on learning holidays to acquire new skills. It may seem like work away from work – but there are big benefits to be gleaned, say our experts
When Abta – the association of UK travel agents and tour operators – recently published its report on travel trends for 2015, second on the list of nine was ‘Holidays working harder’.
“While a small group of consumers are feeling more affluent, for most other people cautious optimism remains and many of these holidaymakers are looking to ensure they maximise their expenditure and leisure time,” the report observed. “This is driving the ‘hard-working holiday’… these include the added benefit of coming home with a new skill… this holiday mindset is set to continue for years to come.”
The concept of the activity holiday – the by-product of which can be coming home with a newly learnt skill – is, of course, far from new. But a read through Abta’s trend reports of previous years shows that 2015 is the first time the industry body has specifically referred to a consumer desire to learn a new skill when on holiday.
So what is it about the current climate – apart from merely a desire for added value – that is driving a need to acquire something more useful than happy memories while taking a hard-earned break? Both trend analysts and travel operators alike agree that something deeper is behind this – especially when it comes to holidaymakers with an entrepreneurial streak.
Why are learning holidays popular?
“The rise in popularity is, I think, the result of several trends,” says William Higham, founder of forecasting and strategy consultancy Next Big Thing.
“In a period of economic instability, many people try to improve their employability by adding additional skills to their CVs. Gaining greater knowledge of a specific subject – being niche experts or connoisseurs as opposed to knowing a little about everything – will also help distinguish us from our fellow job applicants.
“This is part of a broader trend for greater self-determination and control over one’s life, and a subsequent demand for self-improvement,” he continues.
“All of which, combined with our increased access to information, is driving a general trend for ‘braining up’ – as opposed to the laddish, pop culture-loving ‘dumbing down’ we saw in the Nineties and early Noughties, which draws us to skills-learning and cultural holidays. It doesn’t harm us to learn something we could maybe earn a little extra money from as mumpreneurs or tabletop tycoons.”
The emergence of businesses specialising in facilitating learning holidays is further evidence of the trend. Leeds-based Deirdre Bounds founded what would become the world’s largest gap-year-travel company i-to-i.com, before selling it to First Choice Travel for £20m in 2007.
Her new venture – gocambio.com – has entered the sharing economy by connecting those who can teach languages with those who want to learn, in return for accommodation on their travels. She believes advances in connected devices and social media have prevented business leaders from switching off on traditional holidays and fuelled the need for a different distraction while away:
“Until a few years ago, people would think ‘why would you go on a busman’s holiday, when you can just spend two weeks on a beach?’ But what they’ve increasingly found is that they aren’t switching off – they’re still working on their devices,” she says.
“We’ve all done it, haven’t we? We get to a far away place and the first thing we ask for is the WiFi code. Which is why I think we are seeing the whole concept of learning holidays, mindfulness escapes, experiential travel trips – something that sees you concentrate on helping your own body and spirit rather than being busy doing your work.”
Another business riding the crest of the trend is Golearnto.com – a London-based travel operator specialising in learning holidays. A browse of its website reveals holidays offering lessons in Spanish and photography, cooking and jewellery-making, painting and yoga, the list of combinations goes on. Such has been recent demand, in April the company launched a new marketplace Vidados.com – to help independent holiday providers without online booking facilities or websites to reach the audience of learning-hungry travellers.
“The demand is such that this sector of the market is now worth $263bn [£167bn] globally. It’s the fastest-growing trend in travel and that is what led us to start Vidados,” says founder Vanessa Lenssen.
“By immersing in something new, you’re forced to put your phone and laptop aside and focus on the task at hand, even if it’s only for a few hours. It’s a fast and effective way to switch your mind into holiday mode and at the same time stimulate your brain with something that is completely different to work – which often leads to some really creative thought processes that can, in turn, help you in your entrepreneurial life. Plus, meeting new like-minded people from around the world, who share a passion for the activity you are doing, is really appealing and inspiring, too.”
So what are her business-leader customers choosing to learn while away? “Exec-level people are, by nature, high achievers and this doesn’t stop on holiday,” she says.
“One activity is never usually enough. Things that combine surf and yoga, for example, hiking and canoeing, cycling and cooking, and so on. We have a luxury eco-retreat in Andalucía where guests can learn photography, cooking, foraging, go on guided treks or even go on a paint safari. It’s a dreamlike location in a desert and we get a lot of people who run their own businesses escaping here so that they can unwind.”
So, beach holidays = regularly checking your work emails. Skill-focused holidays = guaranteed distraction and fantastic new ideas. Lesson learnt.