Saturday, December 23, 2006

Adventure Gifts Are New Wave in Holiday Giving

This Los Angeles Times articles reports that traditional holiday gifts are on the way out, and not for just the well-heeled, as "experience" giving is becoming a more popular Christmas tradition:

They don't take much space under the tree. But look for more fantasies and long-sought "experiences" showing up this Christmas morning.

Instead of sweaters, toasters and paperweights, many adults will be receiving surfing lessons, parachute jumps, spa visits, gourmet meals and exotic vacations as gifts this year.

It's especially true for baby boomers, who seem to have all the household necessities, everyday apparel and appliances they want. Now, shoppers — young and old — are in the market for one-time adventures.

"More and more, they're looking to create memories, in particular things that are different and unique," said Lois Huff, senior vice president at consulting and research firm Retail Forward.

That's what Tristan Wimmer was after when he decided to purchase a $300 bungee jumping expedition in Azusa for his fiancee, Meredith Wardy, who was afraid of heights.

"Giving something material just didn't seem to have much weight," said the 22-year-old Marine from San Clemente. "I figured an experience we could share would be better."

More than one-quarter of all people giving gifts this year will give an experience, up from 20% last year, said Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, a consumer research firm based in Stevens, Pa. On average, consumers will each spend about $950 total on Christmas gifts this year, according to her research.

"People are realizing they have more than enough material goods," Danziger said. "But gifts that people will experience last forever" as memories, she said.

Danziger, who will give her husband a wine tasting at a museum for Christmas, said that as more consumers looked to give one another experiences, businesses were accommodating the demand. Restaurants, spas and companies such as Ticketmaster are beginning to provide easy ways for customers to purchase experiences as gifts.

And then there are the companies that focus on experiential gifts for the creative, wealthy or just plain crazy.

Take, for instance, the $1.8-million Virgin Galactic Charter to space (not available until 2009) offered in Neiman Marcus' Christmas book or the $2,650 five-day shark expedition offered by Chicago-based company Signature Days.

"We're the typical males who never had any idea of what to get people — we were tired of buying watches and sweaters and shirts," Signature Days Vice President Chris Widdess said.

"We think that a memorable experience makes a fantastic gift."

Signature Days has promoted its experiences in CVS drugstores, Wal-Marts and Costcos across the country, evidence that it's not just marketing to the upscale consumer.

The company, which was founded in June 2004, sold 5,000 experiences last year. This year, it will exceed 35,000, which it provides in the 51 largest U.S. cities, Widdess said.

Some of the choices are unique to the regions where they are sold, such as a Los Angeles option to work out with Jason Kozma, Mr. America 2004 ($500 for two sessions) or stunt-driving school ($2,500). Others, such as massages or personal chefs, are nationwide.

Businesses such as Signature Days and Boulder, Colo.-based Cloud 9 Living drew their inspiration from Europe, where people have been giving one another experiences for years, said Cloud 9 co-founder and Chief Executive Adam Michaels....

Cloud 9 was founded to accommodate what Michaels saw in this country as "an overall shift in society from wanting material possessions to wanting life experiences."
I don't know if I'd go in for skydiving or bungee jumping, although a wine tasting trip might be pretty fun.

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