Underlining the various trends in travel for 2018 is a visible shift from travellers being given choices by the trade to travellers setting the tone, scene and expectation for how tourism will happen. As they assert their expectations of travel content, service, experience, sustainability, we’ll need to respond by finding or creating opportunities for them to engage in the sort of tourism they desire. These trends are an exciting sign of our times though, where mainstream gets turned on its head in favour of the more quirky, unexplored, non-traditional experiences.
An expectation of content
Two elements rule this trend: detail and technology. The fact that travellers are strapped for time and therefore desperate for you to save them some time with travel research, might be how we arrived at the stage where suppliers of travel responded by making as much of their own product content available to the travel community as possible, as an extra. For sure, we’ve surpassed that now, entering a new stage where depth, quality and accessibility of content is a major differentiator among brands. It’s the devil in the detail and for a change, the devil is the traveller’s friend. It’s also your competitive edge.
The importance of traveler satisfaction is quickly becoming a major focus in today’s travel industry.
It’s about supplying the demand for end-to-end, from before and throughout travel, travel info about every possible thing they might need to know about in-destination.
Think tours, shows, festivals, activities, excursions, sports events, etc. by way of complementing details on accommodation and facilities on-premises. Supplier products essentially become the pivot around which other tourism elements revolve, especially catering to our trendy travellers seeking meaningful experiences. So this is an opportunity for us to put our brand ahead of the competition, by simply thinking outside the box and considering what our guests might like beyond the comforts of their hotel room, cabin, compartment or RV.
Technology provides the other opportunity for you to differentiate your brand by addressing that other huge decision-maker: access to content. In this regard, there’s a happy and profitable confluence between tech for the trade and tech for travellers. The trade can use the power of digital to showcase content in a way that inspires both travel and confidence, and your potential clients benefit from easy access to all the info they need to make informed decisions on where to spend their holiday and what to do there.
Use video, because that is one of the longest surviving trends in travel content history. Drones are now ubiquitous, taking pics and vids of locations just about everywhere.
VR and AR are nipping at its heels though, as virtual and augmented reality devices will become more prevalent in use.
The world is catching up with the likes of Marriott Hotels and Resorts, who’ve blazed trails in the hospitality industry providing virtual immersions of their products to travellers sitting in their homes, dreaming about travel.
They want to try virtually before they buy actually.
Not forgetting the essential but often considered less sexy info – terms and conditions, maps and directions, amenities, distances from points of interest, activities in the surrounding area, safety matters and so on – as well as things like climate and details on cultural do’s and don’ts.
When it’s easy to find amid the online cacophony of travel content, and it’s consistent wherever it’s found, that inspires confidence in the brand.
The option of sharing the same content is a super attractive bonus (and guess what, yet another expectation) for our #FOMO driven audience of travel Instagrammars and Facebookers. Provide all these goodies in a user-friendly format and your brand find will itself in the hallowed hall of one-stop-shopping fame that modern consumers need and expect.
The expectation of service
Seamless access to comprehensive content is also an expectation of service for travellers, who will be looking for better communication with brands before and during travel. Chat bots feature broadly in the way brands are choosing to service their clients, as does direct messaging with the likes of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. It’s about providing speedy responses and resolutions, 24/7 access to service and mobile booking/enquiry options.
The smart rooms of the future is here now, with Siri and Google voice-enabled digital assistants about to go mainstream – this is going to have huge implications for the hotel industry. Connectivity is now imperative, so improve or sustain what you offer to ensure your guest’s satisfaction.
They’ll still want that human element together with the convenience of tech – the good news is that tech doesn’t replace humanity here, it complements.
Staff are then free to engage more with clients and add higher value to the overall experience.
You decide what that should be based on the character of your brand and experience, but rest assured, your guests will be expecting it.
Trendy twist on experiential travel
Experiences headlining travel bucket lists will be unique to lifestyles as well as traveller types. You’re going to have to invest a fair amount of time understanding your client and their preferences. There will be more solo, LGBTQ, disabled travellers and kids on sporting trips with special needs and safety issues mixed in with the usual crowds, with special mention going to the multi-generational family groups that deviate from the traditional 2-parent-plus-kids formula. Revise those single supplements and kids staying free with 2 full-paying adults rates and fares, if you hope to snare their business.
Sorry to keep using the word, but your guests will be looking at quirkier, non-traditional modes of accommodation like nature lodges, RVs, tents, mobile camps, glamping, tree houses, and the like. It’s an escapist trend, wanting to experience something utterly unlike what they do back home; simultaneously, for some it’s a natural extension of their own quirky lifestyles.
No need to panic if your products don’t have much quirk factor. The unusual has a way of seeping into the conventional and this year your destination will be popular during off peak, colder, wetter or otherwise undesirable weather, seasons. They’ll look more closely at rail and cruise travel – even the millennials – as long as those value-adds are presented front and centre!
With worldwide film sales of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ hitting almost $200 million in 2017, it seems that luxury rail travel is back on the map & sales are expected to increase in the next year.
Travellers will be looking to experience the other faces of those well-known destinations. They’ll also prefer to visit second cities or smaller towns to take the pressure off overtourism at the more popular sites. They will want to get away, seek rest and relaxation in isolation, with a nod to the invigorated wellness trend.
The Mindful Movement is inviting travellers to combine adrenaline and health, with medical spas, high intensity exercise and healthy diet promising to increase in demand. So dust off those massage therapies, alternative menus and cookery programmes, vegan, vegetarian, halaal and kosher in-room dining experiences, and present them as integral parts of your offering. Travellers will expect to have a gourmet meal in their bathrobes and later go outside to forage for local produce, perhaps with members of their host community, to learn and appreciate something new about food and culture.
The sustainability expectation
While they’ll still want that immersive experience (to live like a local), travellers care deeply about being responsible in the way they impact local communities. They will expect to associate themselves with brands that care likewise and are proactive about mitigating the negative effects of tourism on any destination. This year will see a growth in responsible and sustainable tourism as travellers insist upon contributing to the protection of local culture and lifestyles rather than damaging the quality of life for residents or taking tourism revenue out of the hands of local economies.
This is as important to them as conserving the natural environment – they’ll want to show their appreciation for being welcomed, hosted and entertained, and allow themselves to be educated.
The European Council on Tourism is pushing ‘Protecting Culture and Heritage’ as their tourism theme for 2018, setting the tone firmly for a deeper focus on sustainable practices among tourism organisations and the trade. It’s about the health of global tourism, yet it reaches down to even the tiniest, most remote part of the world that receives visitors.
Trendy locations abroad
Finally, a look at a few destinations mooted as trendy spots for travellers looking for their unique experiences in 2018. The actual list is considerably longer, given the amount of research that’s gone into it; so these examples are some of my favourites because they point to particular value adds that travel suppliers can latch onto to fall in line with trends.
Sultry perennial favourite, Brazil, will be popular once again for its wide range of attractions, from beaches to rainforests, wildlife and adventure. Some noteworthy hotel groups breaking ground there soon are Six Senses and Anantara.
Mauritius is calling out to travellers desiring a tropical escape this year, brought to the public eye by the movie Serenity. Pop culture continues to wield its influence!
Travellers are ready to be wooed by promises of luxury, cultural diversity and history, and diverse culinary traditions.
35% yearn to tantalise their taste buds by trying a local delicacy…34% want to head to an island paradise
Malawi gets a mention for its fever trees and baobabs, unspoilt wilderness, game-viewing, and Lake of Stars festival held on Lake Malawi this year. Robin Pope Safaris will introduce their Kuthengo Camp in the destination soon. Then there’s Bhutan with its natural fortresses, temples, cultural experiences enjoyed by few tourists so far, adventure and fitness opportunities. Travellers in search of spiritual rejuvenation with meditation and local interaction, will be proud to contribute to the local economy. All visitors to Bhutan are accompanied by local guides and this is an amazing boon for travellers wanting a true immersion into the culture.
Other hot destinations on the radar, according to Intrepid Travel, are Ethiopia, Belize, Sri Lanka, India and Botswana, with the Middle East opening up as a popular option.
Wherever you’re based and whatever the nature of your offerings, ensure you incorporate elements of that quirk factor in your marketing campaigns and take a look at your destination from alternative angles. Feature activities out of peak tourist seasons and revisit your product pricing to accommodate the less traditional travel parties. It’s time for a new ‘mainstream’ in tourism, so get with the trends and communicate effectively for your share of the spoils.