The travel industry is in constant flux, evolving, offering new services and finding innovative ways to fuse tech into the travel experience. Here are some of the key developments that will shape the travel landscape in 2018 and beyond.
Rise in Cruises
Cruise ship travel is expected to grow 4.5% in 2018, and the industry is preparing for that huge surge in growth accordingly. Cruise companies are adding ships to their fleet – often smaller ships, both to accommodate the more specialized travel experiences demanded by travelers and to decrease the companies’ carbon footprints – and the range of experiences and destinations available on cruises is expanding rapidly.
Itineraries are becoming more complex, more sophisticated and more specific. It is now possible to sail across the Atlantic, around Canada or through the Caribbean, and then back again to Europe, without ever having to visit an airport. There is also increasing interest in cruises in more far-flung destinations, such as Asia or South America, as river cruises become ever more popular as a way to experience more off-the-beaten-path places and immersion in local culture. On-board experiences are also evolving to include encounters with virtual reality, Wi-Fi at sea and other tech, while some companies are collaborating with world-class chefs to provide first-rate culinary experiences and epicurean-themed cruises.
Experiential Travel Evolved
It feels redundant at this point to say that travelers long for ‘unique’ and ‘authentic’ experiences. According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association, what constitutes adventure travel is shifting from extreme sports and adrenaline-filled activities to “experiencing a new culture,” and again the industry is responding. “Adventure” tour operators are now offering culinary and shopping tours, delivering experiences unique to a specific destination. Culinary tourism in particular is on the rise, with numerous new companies dedicated to sharing a meal with locals in their homes, representing a slight shift away from fine dining towards intimate family settings.
But that doesn’t mean that adventure travel is altogether obsolete. Along with experiences, travelers today seek challenge and achievement, a feeling of having accomplished something during their trips. Traveling to run a marathon, summit a mountain and/or complete other demanding activities with a clearly defined goal will steal the show in 2018.
Every year the travel landscape evolves, and the demographics of travel evolve with it. The lines between what different age groups want from their travel experiences is being blurred, with ever more millennials looking for relaxing getaways, and increasing numbers of Baby Boomers seeking adventure. The takeaway from all of this is simple: cater to lifestyles, not age groups. As reviewed above, people are looking for life-changing experiences, and companies that can provide them for all, rather than a select group, will succeed in the coming year.
Solo travel is also on the rise, seeing a 40% increase over the past five years, reaching record numbers of Google searches for “solo travel” and “travel alone” in January 2018. Wise companies are investing heavily in catering to solo travelers and providing the facilities, services and experiences they require, including designing solo tours and increasing the number of solo cabins on new cruise ships.
Traveling solo doesn’t mean people don’t want to meet and interact with their fellow travelers, however. Providing spaces where travelers can mingle, while also having private accommodation designed specifically for independent travelers’ needs, will be key for hotels in the coming year. Many hotels, such as Marriot’s Moxy hotels, are focusing efforts on open-plan lounges, with bartenders and in-house coffeehouses open around the clock.
New tech will also take center stage at hotels in 2018. Hotels are not only improving Wi-Fi services, but also designing apps which allow guests to seamlessly access and use numerous services in the hotel, such as room service, spa bookings and airport transfer arrangements.
Making travel sustainable has long been a concern of both travelers and providers, and the concept has evolved yet again, giving rise to ‘conscious travel’. Added to sustainability and eco-friendliness is a renewed focus on the community, on making sure that tourism to all destinations has only positive impacts on both the local economy and local life. Small-scale, local businesses will greatly benefit from conscious travel. Rather than competing for travelers’ attention, travel providers should focus on cooperating with local communities to ensure that tourism in their areas is at once kind to the environment and beneficial to local businesses and residents.
The problem of overtourism in certain destinations demanded attention when residents of Barcelona and Venice protested the effects of the unmanageable numbers of tourists in their cities during the summer of 2017, and some places have already begun to limit the amount of visitors or hotel capacity allowed. It is clear that limits must be drawn, sometimes in the form of legislation, but as a result, lesser-known destinations have a chance to take the spotlight.
Nearly half of all bookings made through a tour operator’s website last year were carried out on mobile, up from 31% in 2016, according to TrekkSoft data, and the trend seems only to be increasing. Travelers are on their devices throughout every step of the planning, execution and post-trip phases. One huge advantage of mobile is the ability to provide meaningful interactions with users pre-trip, post-trip, and perhaps more importantly, in-destination. Carriers, operators and travel providers which learn how best to harness the power of mobile will have a huge leg up in 2018 and the years to come.