©istockphoto.com/Stepan Popov

In this ho-hum holiday season, turns out that the only retailers who experienced a surge in sales, according to the New York Times, were those who let customers do the handiwork themselves.

Design-it-yourself websites such as Zazzle, CafePress and Scrapblog reported a whopping 80% increase in sales compared to last year’s gift season. At Spreadshirt, where customers create t-shirts, bags, umbrellas and even underwear, orders have doubled. Sales are also up 43 percent at Blurb, which lets customer craft their own photo or art books.

Mass customization, a niche that’s growing 10 times as fast as online retail, isn’t limited to Web 2.0. start-ups. Major international brands are enabling customers to personalize products through slick online portals and promotional offers. Adidas encourages amateur athletes to design their own one-of-a-kind running shoes. Prescriptives lets ladies create their signature lip gloss by choosing a shade, finish and flavour. Meanwhile, sweet tooths can visit the My M&Ms website, upload a photo or company logo, select a colour and even write a message to create their own custom candy.

But when you think about it, no industry is as ripe for customization as travel. After all, everyone’s travel experience is completely unique and deeply personal. Here are some examples of how travel brands are giving their customers the tools to customize their own adventures.

Disney and Personalized Video

Mass customization works for services as well as products. At Disney’s Epcot Theme park, customers can design their own personalized roller coaster ride— The Sum of All Thrills—on a touch table using rulers and speed tools to create twists and turns. The design is saved on a special card, which is then swiped at a launch station—a giant carriage controlled by a robotic arm. Kids watch a video version of the ride they just designed while the arm jerks them around and a giant fan blows air in their face, simulating the feel of a rollercoaster.

Last year I went to Disney’s website and created my own personal faux news video, which announced that for the first time ever the entire Magic Kingdom park would be dedicated to one person for the whole year – Me! I counted 13 instances in which my name appeared in the video, superimposed on signs, rides, menus, and other places in the park. The video was even hosted on a personalized microsite.

Considering how much this delighted me as an adult, I can only imagine how special a child would feel seeing her name plastered all over the Magic Kingdom. Talk about emotional branding.

Maine Event: Personalized Travel Guides

Seeking a competitive edge in the battle for tourist dollars, the Maine Office of Tourism decided to mail a free personalized travel planner to anyone who visited its website and volunteered information about his or her travel plans. The variable elements included photos of attractions the traveller said they intended to visit, a calendar listing events taking place during the time of their stay, a custom letter, and a document featuring the regions and activities in which they expressed interest. The package was printed on demand and included a feedback card that offered respondents the chance to win a shopping spree at L.L.Bean, one of the state’s most famous retailers.

Mailing the personalized package cost approximately 15 percent more than mailing the standard info package, but the results clearly outweighed the costs. According to Xerox 1:1 Lab, which piloted the project, 24.1 percent more people responded to the personalized package, with over 50 percent of those responding providing feedback, and 73 percent indicating that the guide was helpful.

That’s what marketing is all about—figuring out what customers want, and how they want it. So why not go ahead and ask them to spell it out for you?