Exploring new frontiers in travel experiences
‘Travel experiences’ is a relatively new industry, and one that often needs a bit of explaining. Travel experiences are essentially curated programmes and itineraries (large or small), that focus on giving a traveller an interactive and immersive cultural or travel experience.
Many travellers are no longer happy to visit an exotic nation and spend their time lounging by the pool at their hotel. They want to interact and learn about the places and people they are visiting in a more meaningful way than conventional tourism allows.
This is where travel experiences come in, with especially curated itineraries and activities that give travellers an immersive experience based on their interests.
Launched in 2019 by Brindley Wijeysooria and Udaya Wickramage, who were friends from their schooldays and both with extensive experience in the travel and hotel industries, Sensory Indulgences is Sri Lanka’s newest innovation offering diligently customised and deeply personalised experiences for the discerning traveller.
Working closely with Radheesh Sellamuttu and the team from Leopard Trails – Bespoke Tented Safaris, Sri Lanka’s first dedicated high-end travel experience company, Sensory Indulgences, is working to create inspiring virtual travel experiences for travellers during this time of restricted travel.
The Sunday Morning Brunch caught up with the Sensory Indulgences and Leopard Trails teams to learn more about this latest innovation.
Bringing Sensory Indulgences to life
Sensory Indulgences started because of Wijeysooria and Wickramage’s mutual passion to showcase the true essence of Sri Lanka to the world. After years working at Jetwing Hotels, Wijeysooria struck out on his own and curated his first travel experience in partnership with Airbnb, the Colombo Food Coma, giving travellers an inside look into the amazing street food of Fort and Hulftsdorp. Wickramage is no stranger to the travel industry with a decade of experience in designing bespoke itineraries in Sri Lanka for luxury, high-end travellers during his tenure at Sri Lanka In Style and Authenticities.
Following the success of the Colombo Food Coma (Sri Lanka’s only Airbnb experience offering at the time), Wijeysooria, with his old friend Wickramage, decided to go all in and launch Sensory Indulgences, offering a small portfolio of curated experiences hosted by various local personalities like Chef Dush Ratnayake, artist Chinthaka Thenuwara, and food blogger Yashasvi Kannangara, to name a few.
Building experiences post Covid-19
Like all tourism and leisure businesses, Sensory Indulgences took a big hit in the wake of the pandemic. From the effects of international travel being entirely suspended, to Sri Lanka being in complete lockdown, the team at Sensory Indulgences has had to halt operations and look at ways forward in “the new normal”.
Disruption breeds innovation, and with more or less the whole world going virtual, Sensory Indulgences looked at how to make travel experiences come alive in a virtual context.
A close partnership with Leopard Trails has brought this vision to life, with Sensory Indulgences now offering Sri Lanka’s only virtual Sri Lankan Airbnb experience.
Leopard Trails, or Leopard Trails – Bespoke Tented Safaris as it was initially called, was launched in 2012 and was the first company to look at the travel experience as a whole, curating immersive luxury safari experiences where travellers could not only go animal spotting but also interact with rangers in an informative setting.
In addition to traditional safari experiences, Leopard Trails also curated experiences like guided bushwalks, where guests explore buffer zones around national parks looking at native fauna and learning to recognise different animal tracks. Guests could also learn about local cuisine through guided tasting menus explaining different local delicacies.
In addition to curating luxury safari experiences locally, Leopard Trails also curates luxury outbound safaris in various locations across Africa.
Leopard Trails Managing Director Radheesh Sellamuttu explained that what set Leopard Trails apart was the interactive element built into the experience, with specialist guides who accompany and interact with guests, sharing knowledge and creating the feeling of being shown around by a friend.
The interactive and hospitality elements of travel experiences are very important to Leopard Trails, and over the years, the Leopard Trails team has come together to conduct intensive safari guide training for the industry, focusing on developing guides who are strong and competent not only with the science involved in guiding guests on safari, but who can also give guests an interactive, informative, and memorable travel experience worthy of the global hospitality industry.
Working together, Sensory Indulgences and Leopard Trails have launched an interactive online travel experience giving guests the chance to learn about leopards in the Yala National Park, their habits, and how to identify them.
“Identify Leopards With A Safari Guide” takes place in the format of a Zoom conference. Dhanula Jayasinghe, one of Leopard Trails’ most seasoned safari guides, greets guests and talks them through leopard behaviour.
Through presentation and video, guests are introduced to the leopards of Yala and given background information on each leopard. The experience also teaches guests how to spot leopards’ unique identifiable features, using popular identification methods like the whisker-spot identifying technique. The one-hour session gives big cat enthusiasts a wealth of insight into the secret lives of leopards.
“Identify Leopards With A Safari Guide” has been available online for a little under a week and has received glowing reviews from nearly all participants.
An important aspect of Airbnb experiences, particularly now during the pandemic, is that it is no longer defined by region, but rather by genre, which gives a wider audience the chance to engage.
Looking to the future
Udaya Wickramage shared that it is very likely that global tourism will take a while to bounce back from the pandemic, with travel restrictions very likely staying in place for the next six months or even longer. With this in mind, Sensory Indulgences and Leopard Trails will look at adding value to local tourism in the coming months.
Having successfully adapted to being able to offer a travel experience virtually, looking to the future, both Sensory Indulgences and Leopard Trails are looking to expand their virtual offerings as well as offer curated experiences to the discerning local traveller. The digital uptake of information and how it comes into play will play a large role in this aspect, explained Leopard Trails Sales and Marketing Director Daksitha Karunarathne.
Experiences that Sensory Indulgences hope to offer locals include the “Colombo Food Coma”, giving local foodies the chance to discover some of Colombo’s best-kept street food secrets; an overnight travel experience in the Knuckles mountains, that gives guests the chance to hike through picturesque mountain rainforests rich with endemic plant life; and “Arts Walk”, an experience that gives guests the chance to interact with local artists and Colombo’s art scene.
Sensory Indulgences also hopes to launch a cooking experience with an Italian partner that they feel will be very popular as well as a Sri Lankan “learn to cook from home” experience.
Leopard Trails hopes to offer their ranger experiences to local travellers, including their popular “Junior Rangers” experience which focuses on teaching younger guests how rangers observe their environment and track animals, while parents get a chance to relax while on safari. Leopard Trails also hopes to focus on bushwalk experiences as well as curated dining experiences like bush dinners across various safari and non-safari locations.
Resilience is a recurring theme that has emerged through the pandemic and its aftermath. While many industries are still planning how to tackle the future post Covid-19, the teams at Sensory Indulgences and Leopard Trails have come together and found a way to keep their businesses dynamic.
Globally, via Airbnb, there has been lots of traction for virtual cultural and travel experiences, and now, with Sri Lanka being able to contribute on this platform, perhaps this is a way for the beauty of Sri Lankan tourism and culture to become more accessible on a broader level, and potentially take Sri Lankan culture to the mainstream.