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Experiential gifts also known as gift experiences and experience gifts, pioneered in the UK in the 1990s, now represent one of the faster-growing segments of the $253 billion a year gift industry. As opposed to material gifts, they allow the recipient to have an experience, such as skydiving, kayaking, race car driving or touring a vineyard.
Experiential gifts often fall into the following groups:
- Adventure – skydiving, kayaking, whitewater rafting, hang gliding
- Driving – rallying, NASCAR, V8 supercars, classic cars
- Gourmet – wine tasting, cigar tasting, gourmet cooking lessons, tasting menu experiences
- Environmentally friendly – Segway city tours, whale watching
- Rejuvenate – spa treatments, pilates, stone massages
- Travel – weekend getaways, golfing breaks, etc.
- Music – karaoke singing
The pioneer of the industry[according to whom?] was the United Kingdom-based Red Letter Days, which rose to meteoric heights before crashing down to virtual bankruptcy. Red Letter Days was founded by British entrepreneur Rachel Elnaugh, who reportedly came up with the idea of gift experiences after looking for a creative way to give her father tickets to an England cricket team match. The success of Red Letter Days led to Elnaugh winning the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2002 and a role as a Dragon on BBCTV's Dragon's Den. Red Letter Days was purchased in August 2005 by Theo Paphitis and Peter Jones, who are also Dragons on the BBCTV show.
Experience gift companies launched across Europe following the success of Red Letter Days and the largest Australian experience gift company, RedBalloon, was founded in 2001. By 2010, nearly all EU countries had an established experience gift provider from the larger states such as Germany through to the small countries such as Cyprus.
While popular in both Europe and Australia, the idea of experience gifts did not hit the mainstream in the US until 2004–2005. Between 2004 and 2005, the four largest US-based experience gift companies – Great American Days (2004), Excitations (2005) Cloud 9 Living (2005), Xperience Days (2004) – were founded. All four continue to operate today.
As of 2009, the experiential gift market is an established, highly competitive multimillion-dollar market in the United Kingdom and in Australia and an emerging category in the U.S.A.
A survey conducted in November 2005 by American Express found that experiential gift giving was on the rise: 30% of those surveyed planned on giving experiential gifts that year versus 23% the prior year. The survey also found that experiential gifts were particularly popular among consumers aged 18–44. A survey published in 2007 by Mintel estimated the UK gift experience market to be worth £98 million.
According to the same American Express survey, the growth of interest in buying experience gifts in the UK is:
Experiential gifts also capitalize on consumers' growing comfort with purchasing gifts online. According to a December 2012 survey, 69 percent of UK experience days were bought online.