As if to take its cue from the diverse cultures that populate the earth, the year ahead promises to steer us further away from traditional mainstream tourism towards quirky, off-beat and unique experiences. Travellers are expressing themselves more assertively in the way or where they choose to travel, and even whom they travel with, if not alone. The trends reflect eclectic tastes and inspirations, dipping into locations viewed from new perspectives as well as the lesser explored destinations.

Conscience drives travel decisions

Travellers have gotten a taste of sustainability as regular consumers and now expect to apply their moral compass to the way they travel. The broader definition of responsible tourism will be refined to show greater concern for the protection of local communities in-destination, which has often come second to protecting the natural environment.

The European Council on Tourism has assigned the theme of Protecting Culture and Heritage to the year 2018. This raises the profile of tourism as an instrument for promoting cultural awareness and knowledge.

Tourism is the greatest educator in the world.

Dr Anton Caragea

We will see an increase in the stomach and appetite for the less glamorous opportunities to learn about other places and people, with a greater demand for local interactions and/or reduced outsider interference in local living that threaten to impact negatively upon the hosts.

That’s more voluntourism, more giving back, and more insistence upon contributing to local economies.

Conversely, it means less money spent on large travel companies that take tourism revenue out of the community, less intrusion and less adverse impact upon the lives of residents.

Travellers want to immerse themselves in a meaningful way, to learn all they can about their hosts, and thank them for their hospitality with financial patronage and by spreading the word of their warm welcome and intriguing culture back home and on social media. They will also prefer to formulate their own views and opinions based on direct, up close and personal experiences with their host nation/community. After all, we learn best while we’re being entertained, don’t we?

And what better entertainment is there than travel..

Overtourism is a sensitive issue and travellers will prefer to avoid adding to the problem, as much as they’ll prefer to try something new, different and altogether off the beaten path. It’s almost as if the modern traveller is being taken over by a supercharged emotional quotient that is shaping travel decisions in a big way. Caring about how they travel and participating in sustainable practices amount to an emotional investment into what is essentially an extension of their lifestyles.

They work hard in a crowded, fast-paced corporate environment; so they want to slow things down in isolated places of pristine natural beauty. They feel disconnected in their impersonal urban jungles; so they want to have as much meaningful contact with locals and their leisure activities as they can fit into their holiday. Grown jaded from the monotony of daily life, they want to learn something and improve themselves. A change is as good as a holiday.. well, that’s what they’ll be looking for.

..top travel activities to complete in 2018 look set to be experiencing a unique cultural event (28%), learning a new skill (27%), going on an epic road or rail journey (25%), & visiting a remote or challenging location (25%)..

PR Newswire

Wellness, food and unique experiences

Unique and different is the new ‘mainstream’, putting an alternative perspective on existing destinations. Traveller types and lifestyles will determine the details but essentially you will see certain demographics raising their travel profiles in 2018. Multi-generational groups will travel together, with different interests combined into 1 trip. Itineraries should include a good variety of activities to cater for all those tastes and preferences.

LGBTQ and solo travellers, women in particular, will hit the road in droves this year – they have specific safety issues to deal with. The single supplement must go!

Urban adventures in less expensive, less crowded and less touristy ‘second cities’ will be favoured by travellers seeking something similar to the iconic big city experience, but different. (Think Chiang Mai instead of Bangkok.)

Off peak season travel, especially cold winter breaks, are also less expensive and take the pressure off popular destinations.

Traditionally very few establishments would cater to travellers with ‘alternative’ dietary requirements, but vegan, vegetarian, halaal and kosher meal options are now expected. In fact, 2018 foodie trends will require gourmet dining experiences and cooking lessons, paired with wine or craft brewery, available with all dietary options. And they’ll be expected to feature alongside of cruises, train journeys and within destinations. Itineraries should provide opportunities to learn about local delicacies, relax without feeling weird for having ‘alternative’ diets, and promote general well-being.

Wellness travel already showed promise last year but it’s going into 2018 with renewed vigour for health-conscious explorers with the Mindful Movement. Offer them medical spa treatments and high intensity exercise experiences to complement their alternative diets or healthy food regimes.

Locations on trend

The host of trendy destinations identified by numerous experts and studies on the subject, indicates clearly that few destinations can be excluded if they’re in a position to address the needs of our travellers, as suggested. According to ABTA, for example, Argentina offers urban sophistication in its exotic cities, the thrill of the open Pampas, the stark, forbidding beauty of the Patagonian glaciers, the gushing marvel that is Iguazu Falls, and all of it considerably affordable to your pennywise traveller.

The tiny treasure chest that is Rwanda hosts a proud heritage and culture with invitingly lush forests teeming with wildlife, including the fascinating mountain gorilla, comprising the perfect East African experience in a far lesser known destination than some of its neighbours. Canada is another hot spot for this year with the Canada-China Year of Tourism hailing a significant growth in Chinese tourists, given that 1.8 million Canadians have Chinese ancestry. Not for nothing is China one of the fastest growing outbound travel markets of the years behind and ahead of us. Canada will hold festivals, apart from featuring impeccable lakes, forests and vineyards and offering winter sports, kayaking, and hiking among others.

56% of travelers…want to do walking or hiking trips in 2018..

PR Newswire

We know New Zealand offers some awesome venues for hiking and all round nature appreciation, but what will draw visitors to this destination this year goes beyond outdoor activities for adrenaline junkies and the consistent proximity to ocean everywhere. Maori culture is of huge interest to our modern traveller with their inclination to preserve heritage, especially where indigenous cultures are under threat. In fact, here the Polynesian-European culture mixture, with each aspect proudly asserted, provides an interesting study in heterogenous communities trying to make it work.

There are other destinations to note, like India, Nepal, Botswana, the Middle East – all destinations that appeal to the desire to try something new but responsible, unique but trendy.

The devil in the content detail

Providing opportunities to experience the unique and the trendy destination is hardly enough – that’s just where the job starts. Packaging together tours, activities, shows and sports events as integral to the full experience of a destination will be a vital service and value to provide travellers with. Your products will have to be designed with this holistic approach in mind because travellers are concerned with cost, time, security and convenience, which are the main reasons they’re using your services in the first place.

87% of Generation Z travellers find it useful to book all their trip components together..

Expedia

You’ll need to do more planning and allocate more resources to invest in traveller satisfaction, and instill a sense of safety through your communications.

For sure, the depth and extent of your travel content will be the thing that differentiates your brand from others operating the same destinations.

The more entertaining and informative, the better!

This is what travellers will demand increasingly this year and what defines you as a competitive travel service provider. You should enable your big data analytics to drive how you personalise your offerings and track buyer behaviour, so that you can improve upon your products and services. Documentation covering all eventualities before and during travel, disaster management info, visa requirements, weather forecasts, and more, are important to travellers as they wish to ensure all their i’s are dotted before they’ve even left home.

And tying up all these requirements, packaging it all in a neat, easily-consumable, deliciously eye-pleasing digital morsel, is tech – the necessary devil in the content detail.

Tech also brings service via customer engagement to another level that meets traveller expectations. They will expect to try before they buy, meaning you’ll need to make your actual experiences available for them to test drive in VR, AR or video formats. The former 2 in particular will be used by more travel professionals in-store to offer the client a virtual immersion in the experiences they’re keen to buy, before they’ve gone anywhere. It’s technology that’s accessible and affordable, now verging on ubiquitous in the tourism trade.

Seamless service means less friction for the traveller to access what they need and for the travel professional to provide all their client needs. Providing a 1-stop shop is one useful thing; speedy responses and resolutions to problems are another.

Growing ‘digital impatience’ among consumers & expectations for instant responses to queries and purchasing requests has driven adoption of digital assistants.

TTG

They’ll want a bit of human contact fused with tech facilitated access for service and mobile booking options on a 24/7 basis, whether you offer it in the form of a Messaging platform or you make use of a chat bot.

It offers a single service touch point for travellers on-the-go who expect in-destination info like weather, directions, entertainment, flight status, etc. on demand on their mobile devices.

Voice-enabled digital assistants the likes of Siri are already broadly in use and are expected to become more prevalent. This technology isn’t meant to replace humans, but rather to add value and to free staff up for higher value activities such as more consultation time with their clients.

Travel then and now in conclusion

This is the year that we acknowledge the changes in tourism, and while we can enjoy a bit of nostalgia about how far the industry has come and grown, we should celebrate the progress and the fact that we can continue to thrive.

How do we secure the health of tourism in view of this year’s trends? We must understand how existing locations can present new, inclusive experiences to reinvent and rejuvenate destinations; open up access to new under-explored areas and experiences to all traveller types; face up to the responsibilities that we have towards our host communities and neighbourhoods; and accept what used to be a cool novelty among the tech savvy few, is now a definite expectation among an increasingly digitally aware audience.

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