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So Are Your Guest Feeling Nostalgic?

By Samantha Hardcastle, Founder & Creative Director for The Storied Experience
10 September 2021
5 min read
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You might have heard “when things return to normal…” thrown around a lot the last year. And while there are varying opinions on whether returning to “the way things were” is a good or bad thing, that’s not the point. The point is that tumultuous change is a catalyst for nostalgia. When chaos runs rampant, people long for easier, happier times – “the good old days”. What exactly does this mean for your guests and the experience you offer them?

Even in “normal” times, most people report experiencing nostalgia at least once a week, and nearly half experience it three or four times a week. Nostalgia has the power to bring to mind cherished experiences that remind us that our lives are meaningful. We often romanticize about the past, wanting to relive it in desirable ways. It’s a huge part of the human experience, with nearly 15 million photos tagged with #Nostalgia, and 54 million photos tagged with #ThrowbackThursday on Instagram. If you think about it, social media is essentially one giant time machine!

But so is travel, isn’t it? Every moment throughout time contributes to the story of a destination. A destination is its history. What would NYC be without the roaring 20s? Paris without 1789? When someone is being pulled towards a certain place, it’s often the meaningful moments of that destination throughout history that they are being attracted to, not just what’s going on in that moment in time.

We can be nostalgic for a time and place we have never even lived through or been to. Stories of different destinations and eras are often the spark for what is known as historical nostalgia. For example, a little girl who grew up on stories of Aladdin, might feel a pull to a romanticized version of Egypt. Someone born in the 80s who grew up listening to classic rock might feel a sense of nostalgia for Woodstock, even though they never lived through it.

One of the greatest appeals of travel is to step into a place only to be transported to a completely different point in time. What better way to escape the doldrums of normal life than to go out and explore the medieval villages perched on rocky outcrops in Spain, or cycle to a 14th century eco goat farm in Croatia? These experiences take us far away from the modern conveniences-turned- nuisances of today, such as cell phones, never-ending emails, and doomsday media. Nostalgia in this sense coincides nicely with the slow travel movement, giving people a break from the hustle lifestyle that plagues so many. Would your guests trade their fast cars for horse drawn carriage?

For the enlightened, luxury traveler seeking solace in the past, the best hotels are orchestrating moments that allow travelers to relive moments in time first-hand.
Design Hotels, a collection of independently owned properties, does this deliberately. Marketing email subject lines like “Go back in time 500 years” feature a Dolomites property that is “a place of lives well lived”. But what about more modern properties that haven’t been around for centuries, or even decades?

In these instances, it’s worth exploring this concept on a more emotional level. Nostalgia isn’t limited to design & aesthetics, at the root of it, it’s a feeling that people are longing for. Travel expert Jason Wertz perfectly captures that concept in his quote: “Maybe – just maybe – travel is a deep-seated nostalgic quest to reconnect with the child within, be a stranger to the world around and see things with a childlike innocence. To again feel the pure ecstatic joy of a 5-year-old you.”

So, in the case of the modern property with no obvious nostalgic ties, it’s just a matter of asking yourself & your team: what is the moment in time we wish to transport our guests to, and what are the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and touches that take people there? People have particularly strong nostalgic ties to smells, songs, even inanimate objects. Everything people take in through their senses has the ability to bring about nostalgic feelings.

Consider the touchpoints in your hotel right now, and what emotions they stir up. Old items from the past carry stories and symbolic meaning that emotionally enhance a moment in time. Even fonts, colors, and symbols can create a sense of nostalgia and transport people through time.

Creating immersive programming & activities that seamlessly blend nods to the past with modern trends (nods to the future) is another way to give guests more of this feeling that they desire. It’s no longer about experiencing history in the confines of a museum. There
are people all over the world preserving cultural tradition and ancient practices. How can you collaborate with them to create experiences worth traveling for?

Nostalgia is said to be a coping mechanism, as the act of reminiscing has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom, and anxiety. When people speak fondly and lovingly of the past, they also tend to become more
hopeful for the future. And that’s exactly what this world needs right now. If you can find ways to recreate this feeling for your guests in creative ways, you will be giving them exactly what they need and delighting them in ways beyond the expected.