Richard Turen is a senior contributing editor and the owner of luxury vacation-planning firm Churchill & Turen.
This is a uniquely challenging time to predict our shared travel future. We have a seemingly dysfunctional system that will soon attempt to engage in a national election. We have a war in the Middle East that seems like a fire pit just waiting to ignite. We can’t trust what we read because we have entered the age of easy brain manipulation. The top 10 travel books on Amazon when I looked recently were all written by nonhumans. Internet sources regarding travel are most often untrustworthy. Reviews of nearly anything can be purchased in bulk.
Yet we are on the cusp of innovation and new designs that could well alter our near-term travel landscape. This year, I just want to share some of the future travel trends I am personally following. I thought I would try to cover as many of these trends as possible, leaving it to you to dive deeper into those that interest you the most.
Before we start, for a bit of perspective on predicting the future, let’s go back to a day at Yale when a management professor gave student Fred Smith a “C” for his paper outlining a “reliable overnight delivery service.”The professor wrote that the idea was “interesting” but to get better than a “C” it had to be “feasible.” That paper served as an outline when Smith started Federal Express.
Here are some trends I see just over the horizon that may not appear to be feasible:
Sustainability meets luxury
Well-educated, affluent travelers will not sacrifice their own quality standards to feel that they are participating in a vacation experience that checks the “Am I being truly responsible” box. The goal will increasingly be to develop “guiltless luxe.”
‘Try it before you buy it’ starts with destination choices
Travelers are looking to enhanced automation to present a representation of the trip to them before it actually occurs. This helps with destination selection, and tourism boards seem to have recognized the value of using sophisticated techniques like virtual reality to present immersive experiences that can be enjoyed from one’s couch. Chile’s tourism board has been a pioneer in this approach.
The growth of ‘set-jetters’
The term was coined by Expedia Group execs to describe a very recent and surprising new industry trend: a leading influence in travel decision-making, overtaking even social media, is television. Dubrovnik, Croatia, saw a tremendous influx of tourists thanks to “Game of Thrones,” and who doesn’t have clients who mentioned wanting to go to Sicily after Season Two of “The White Lotus”? The actors’ strike pushed back the third season of “The White Lotus” until the spring of 2025, but the word is out: If reaction to past seasons is any indication, get ready for an avalanche of requests for Thailand.
Destinations and dupes
Given the never-ending supply of travel research available to anyone with a phone or a laptop, the new travel consumer will be seeking solid recommendations and so-called vacation dupes. Dupes are vacation destinations equal or exceeding the appeal of severely over-touristed primary destinations. The OTA or home-based agent who can deliver this service with lightning speed will be declared the winners when we look at trends next year.
Travel will be contactless
The idea of a contactless travel experience will become the new post-pandemic norm. Hotel check-in, airport check-ins, luggage and dining will be paperless, as some of us go, kicking and screaming, into a digital world that, we are told, is not only more efficient but also healthier. Tech-savvy clients will expect the travel paper trail to disappear. Whatever they need to know about the trip we have planned must be accessible in moments on their smartphone.
Sightseeing will cease to be silly and superficial
Goodbye to the guides who have used the same historical script for decades. Goodbye to guides who cannot create a sense of place and experiences with an actual human touch. Going home and telling your friends that you saw something is going to become much less relevant. The new, “localized” traveler wants to be able to record and communicate a truly personalized series of custom experiences with locals to friends back home.
The ideal travel advisor will remain half human
AI and other new technologies are enabling advisors to achieve almost instant access to data that once would have taken hours to gather. There are already sites totally devoted to providing digital profiles of advisors, including background information and travel specialties. This can quickly become a personalized search for an online specialist well suited to the user’s specific needs. Technology is meeting humanity, and a super-strong seller may emerge. Be ready to greet a new breed of travel superheroes.
Blurring lines between vacation and remote work
We see tremendous growth in wellness destinations. These vacations will be longer than they once were, and digital nomads will want an environment where they can knock out a few hours of research and emails in between massage and relaxation technique-focused activities. More and more remote workers will feel that they can extend their vacation time while working from intriguing, remote locations.
The tides are shifting — in favor of cruise
Up until the past six months, independent travel, escorted tours and cruising have each had a nice-size slice of the overseas travel pie, with no clear shift in sentiment. Going forward, I see that changing as even upscale travelers, responding to $1,000-per-night hotel rates and severe shortages of trained guides and hospitality labor, are expressing the view that cruising will be their future choice, largely based on the value perception: “My hotel has the ability to float, and each morning I awaken in a new destination,” a client might think. “And the per diem cost is approximately 50% less than the hotel alone that I would have booked.” And, our typical client might add, “The cruise fare includes dining and entertainment, and there is a physician living downstairs who is always available.”
Major growth of impromptu travel
You head to the airport after booking your flight that morning. You arrive on the nonstop to Papeete, Tahiti, and then look for a hotel room on your app in the part of town where you want to stay at the price you want to pay. You also click on a dinner reservation. This can all be done in under 30 seconds. Move over, long-term planners — we have two or three generations traveling that understand Google’s current capabilities and see no reason to plan travel in advance ever again.
The role of the savvy travel advisor
The travel advisor cannot compete with AI and the true personalization of the online travel experience in terms of the accumulation of client data. But the advisor who is truly savvy can learn to be a true human planner who establishes an honest personal relationship with every client.
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