6 travel trends to look for this year

Who doesn’t love to travel?

Each year, many of us add more destinations to our bucket list and new experiences we want as part of those trips. That’s partly why travel is up and expected to grow even faster this year, according to the US Travel Association. Another reason is the strong economy and high unemployment giving people the means to travel.

Here are six trends that may reshape the way we travel this year and beyond:

1. Unplug

More travelers want to refresh themselves and escape their busy lives. They’re prioritizing mental health over fun and thrills, according to the ATTA-Outside study.

This trend, however, varies by age, according to AARP. Nearly half of boomers say they travel to relax and rejuvenate or as a getaway from everyday life. But nearly three-quarters of millennials expect to bring work along on a trip.

I wrote an article about spa travel for the Chicago Tribune in late 2016. Spa spending has grown steadily over the last decade.

Japanese garden at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary
The Japanese garden at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in Freestone, Calif., offers another way to relax and meditate. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

2. Higher prices

That relaxation may come at a higher cost this year — a reflection of the stronger U.S. economy and growing travel demand, according to a report by Carlson Wagonlit Travel and the GBTA Foundation. They expect global airfares to rise 3.5 percent, hotel prices to increase 3.7 percent and ground transportation, such as taxis, trains and buses, to remain more or less flat.

“If 2017 was the rise of the airline carriers’ “basic economy/no frills” concept, 2018 will be the hotel industry’s big year for ancillary charges,” according to a report by American Express. More lodgings are charging higher rates for a refundable room and fees for services that used to be free, such as Wi-Fi service, holding luggage, parking, early departures or a room safe, it said.

This may affect older travelers more because Baby Boomers (people age 54-72) prefer to stay in hotels or motels for amenities such as the concierge and room service, according to AARP. Millennials (age 13-36) are more open to staying in private home rentals, citing better prices, more space and amenities like a kitchen or washer/dryer.

3. Travel restrictions

Cheap regional airfares, home rentals and social media hype has contributed to overtourism in many popular places worldwide. Italy’s Cinque Terre is trying to control large tour groups that visit the five small, hillside towns linked by a trail along the Ligurian coast. Peru’s Machu Picchu restricts the number of visitors and how and when they access its ruins. Norway has introduced safety digital marketing to help deal with increased tourism and rescue calls.

The ATTA expects more places to restrict visitor access as governments and local residents protest the impact of overtourism on historical sites, pollution, traffic and the cost of living.

4. Customized travel

More people traveling to more places means there are fewer hidden gems and untrammeled areas. Research by Deloitte and the ATTA show that more travelers want personalized itineraries in their quest to experience something truly different.

5. Go local

Travelers also want more authentic interactions with local residents and communities, according to a study by the ATTA, East Carolina University and Outside magazine. This may include immersive experiences, such as staying overnight in a villager’s home or visiting a farm to learn about their sustainability efforts.

AARP found similar trends among international travelers: 49 percent want to “tour with a local” vs. 40 percent in 2017.

Bike and donkey in New Zeland
Personalized travel, such as a multi-day bicycle tour in New Zealand, lets you get closer to local people and animals. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

6. Virtual travel

Simulated travel experiences based on virtual and augmented reality technology provide access for people who can’t travel, enhance travel with behind-the-scene looks at damaged or hard-to-reach sites and create new marketing opportunities, according to the ATTA. Discovery Communications’ Discovery TRVLR project takes people to the seven continents using VR headsets. Go Under the Canopy takes people into the Amazon rainforest in an educational VR tour by Conservation International and Jaunt. You can take an interactive kayak tour of the Grand Canyon with Immersive Entertainment.

Virtual travel still can’t replace the real thing.

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What do millennials want when they travel? Authenticity

Millennials have put off expenses like getting married and buying a home or car, but that will change as they enter their prime spending years (25-45), according to a report by Goldman Sachs.

Travel, however, is one thing millennials already spend money — and plan to spend more money and time on, according to Goldman Sachs and other reports.

Millennials were born 1982-2004, making 13 to 35 this year. The range of dates varies depending on the source: Goldman Sachs, for instance, defined millennials as being born between 1980-2000 in its recent report.

Why is so much attention paid to millennials? They’re today’s largest living generation at more than 75 million members. Their numbers are expected to peak at 81.1 million by 2036.

When it comes to travel, millennials want authentic, unique, adventurous and immersive experiences, according to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). They want to be active and to live like a local, which influences everything from where they stay overnight to what they eat.

Millennials also are the largest and most technologically and social media engaged group of consumers. In fact, Airbnb says some 60 percent of its bookers are millennials.

Here’s what Airbnb’s “Rise of Millennial Travel” report found out about the travel habits and preferences of U.S. millennials:

  • More than 70 percent say “travel is an important part of who I am as a person.”
  • At least three quarters prefer to create their own itinerary rather than take a tour.
  • Nearly 60 percent don’t mind traveling solo.
  • More than half say they spend more on travel than they did a year ago.
  • Nearly 60 percent seek more of an adventure when they travel vs. decompressing.
  • More than half say meeting people when traveling is more important than bringing back souvenirs.
  • Three quarters prefer to try food at local restaurants, rather than familiar chains.
  • Most say discovering hidden local places is more important than visiting major tourist attractions, and they prefer accommodations in cool, local neighborhoods than close to tourist attractions.

The Airbnb report is based on the company’s booking data and a fall 2016 online survey of about 1,000 millennials in the Unites States, the United Kingdom and China.