Blog post

Experience gifts over material gifts

Dr Sarah Rawlinson, Head of Centre for Contemporary Hospitality and Tourism at the University of Derby, explores experience gifts as alternatives to traditional Christmas spending.

By Sarah Rawlinson - 16 December 2019

Christmas is about memories. Good ones if we are fortunate to have family and friends to share it with. It is about spending time together, sharing a meal, playing games and creating memories, but this can get lost in the frantic consumerism of buying gifts, decorations and way too much food.

According to the Deloitte 2019 Christmas Survey, shoppers in the UK spend more on gifts, food and socialising at Christmas compared to the European average. But does this make us happy? Dr Thomas Gilovich, a Psychology Professor at Cornell University, states: "We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them." His research found that you get more happiness spending money on experiences because experiences are part of you and that shared experiences connect us more to other people. A recent LinkedIn survey found that more than three in four workers say they would rather share an experience than exchange gifts.

Although consumer spending is rising, it is being driven by travel and entertainment more than retail. Experiences are becoming more important than things. Last Christmas, one in five UK shoppers bought experience-based presents for Christmas spending an estimated £1.6bn, according to Barclaycard, which was a 115% increase on the previous year. The average spend was £129 on entertainment and events such as concerts, theatres, festivals, beauty treatments and adventure days.

What is fuelling this trend?

The research by Barclaycard suggests that it is the rise of a generation that values experiences over material possessions and predict this trend is set to continue. The main reasons for gifting experiences include making memories, quality time together, trying something new and buying for 'those who have everything'. The ease of purchasing online is also taking the stress out of finding new and interesting experiences and no wrapping and packaging making it great for the environment. Consumers are becoming less materialistic and possessions seem to be of decreasing importance, which is also good news for the environment.

This Christmas we can see a growth in experiences aimed at children and teenagers being marketed. Children's experience days range from family days out, animal experiences such a being a zookeeper for the day, and off-road driving, while popular experiences for teenagers include indoor skydiving, introductory flying lessons, concert tickets and food and drink experience days.

The great thing about experience gifts is that not only do you get the pleasure of giving the gift at Christmas, you might also get lucky and be invited to participate in the experience and create new memories with the person which, according to research, makes us happier.

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About the author

Head of Centre for Contemporary Hospitality and Tourism

Sarah Rawlinson
Former Head of Centre for Contemporary Hospitality and Tourism

Sarah was responsible for the development and implementation of the Centre for Contemporary Hospitality and Tourism's research, teaching and learning strategies and student experience.