11th Nov 2021
The travel market has had a rocky year and a half, but travelers are pulling out their suitcases again and travel stocks are perking up, with a McKinsey survey finding that travel is the second most-desired activity (coming in just below eating out)1.
However, it would be a mistake to expect travel to return to its 2019 situation. Instead of going “back to normal,” travel in 2022 and beyond is rewriting the rule book, creating new trends that promise a different future for travel.
Post-COVID-19, and following months of headlines about wildfire, floods, and landslides caused by climate change, travelers are more aware of their impact on the globe. One study found that the gap between demand for mass tourism and sustainable tourism has narrowed to 52% vs. 48%2; a different report predicts the sustainable travel market will grow by $338.06 billion, or 10% CAGR, between 2019 and 20233; and another survey found that 60% of travelers would choose an airline that’s committed to carbon neutrality4.
Few people are willing to stop traveling altogether, but they do want to offset their vacations with eco-friendly choices, like visiting hotels that don’t wash the towels every day, restaurants that support local farmers, and airlines that recycle food waste. They are also looking beyond emissions to consider how their visit impacts on the local community, with Booking.com reporting that 66% of tourists want their visits to support the destination’s economic recovery5.
People aren’t just avoiding group tours; they want meaningful travel that reflects their unique interests. This desire is manifesting in a number of ways, from off-the-beaten-track destinations to the rise in experiences like culinary tours and meditation retreats, and longer vacations that allow the traveler to experience a community more deeply.
63% of respondents to Booking.com’s study say they want to avoid crowded tourist attractions6, and a report by Scotland’s tourism authority observes that “Contribution and constructive behaviour through rewilding, volunteering in conservation and heritage restoration are increasingly seen as popular activities during travel.7“
It’s part of the trend for more authentic travel, as a backlash against cookie-cutter travel posts on social media. People are investing more time and energy in research, choosing fewer, consciously-planned trips over more short hops8. Instead of a package deal from a travel agent, travelers “choose their own adventure,” picking a hotel from Instagram, local tour guide from TripAdvisor, and spa treatment from a nearby therapist.
The increase in “workations” also makes it easier for travelers to immerse themselves in a new culture, instead of skimming the surface with stereotypical “tourist” pursuits. Data from HospitalityNet shows that searches for a one-day trip to the Caribbean fell by 79% in 2021 compared with 2019, but those for stays of more than 14 days jumped by 43%9.
Travel close to home
Although masses of people look forward to traveling in 2022, at least as many are planning to take their breaks at or close to their homes. McKinsey reports that 30% of travelers say they plan to travel more domestically post-COVID-1910, and analysts at The Economist agree that domestic tourism will boom11.
A number of trends are feeding into this, including a nostalgic desire to return to road trips and train travel; fear of infection on public transportation; and the impact of travel bans, which kindled a new interest in domestic tourism. Some travelers are still limited to their own country or those in a restricted bubble, allowing little alternative to domestic tourism.
The hotel as a destination
Many new boutique and lifestyle hotels have opened even in the past 18 months, offering new ways for travelers to express their personality. Staying in a chain motel is far less individualistic than a stay in a boutique resort. The trend feeds into the popularity of the staycation, allowing travelers to see their city from a new angle and experience luxury without having to travel far from home.
Some hotels are blurring the lines between museum and hotel, like 21C Museum Hotels12, which has curated artwork exhibitions13. As a result, the choice of hotel has become far more than simply a place to lay your head at night; often the hotel is the focus of the entire trip.
Stepping out of the normal
After several months of isolation, sheltering in place, and digital interactions, people are eager to spread their wings. They’re less concerned about physical distance from home, and more interested in entering a different headspace. Travelers want to reconnect with nature, feel open space around them, and breathe fresh air, so we’re seeing a jump in demand for glamping, RV vacations, wildlife tours, and visits to national parks14.
VisitScotland found that the top two reasons given for taking a vacation in 2021 were to get away from it all, and to connect with nature. Additionally, the most preferred destination was to the coast or countryside, while cities and large towns came bottom of the list.15
Other travel experts are noting the uptick in interest in travel adventures. “People are gravitating towards more adventurous experiences than they might have done 18 months ago, possibly because our relationship with our own mortality has now changed quite a bit,” says Sam Bruce, co-founder of Much Better Adventures. Intrepid Travel’s Managing Director Zina Bencheikh adds “Agencies are saying that people who would never have considered themselves outdoorsy are booking adventure trips.”16
While integrated, friction-free, contactless digital interactions play a key role in the future of travel, they come along with this desire to switch off and step out of city life.
The future of travel is rushing towards us
Hotel stocks, airline stocks, and other travel stocks have endured several months of uncertainty, but there could be a light at the end of the tunnel. The travel trends of the future promise a travel industry that’s very different from how it looked in 2019, but they all point to an ongoing and sustainable demand to return to travel.
1 “A travel boom is looming. But is the industry ready?” July 27, 2021 https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/travel-logistics-and-infrastructure/our-insights/a-travel-boom-is-looming-but-is-the-industry-ready
2 “Sustainable Tourism Critical to Recovery in Latin America” June 7, 2021 https://blog.euromonitor.com/sustainable-tourism-critical-to-recovery-in-latin-america/
3 “Research Report: Sustainable Tourism Market (2019-2023)” September 7, 2020 https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200907005022/en/Research-Report-Sustainable-Tourism-Market-2019-2023-Need-Of-Organic-Sustainable-Tourism-to-Boost-the-Market-Growth-Technavio
4 “Spend more, stay longer: The consumer trends driving travel in 2021” March 9, 2021 https://www.phocuswire.com/the-consumer-trends-driving-travel-in-2021
5 “Smarter, Kinder, Safer: Booking.com Reveals Nine Predictions For The Future of Travel” October 20, 2020 https://globalnews.booking.com/smarter-kinder-safer-bookingcom-reveals-nine-predictions-for-the-future-of-travel/
6 “Smarter, Kinder, Safer: Booking.com Reveals Nine Predictions For The Future of Travel” October 20, 2020 https://globalnews.booking.com/smarter-kinder-safer-bookingcom-reveals-nine-predictions-for-the-future-of-travel/
7 “The emotional benefits of tourism and the role of travel in the pandemic recovery” July 2021 https://www.visitscotland.org/binaries/content/assets/dot-org/pdf/research-papers/about-our-visitors/insights-emotional-benefits.pdf
8 “Travel industry experts on the post-COVID travel trends emerging from bookings” June 3, 2021 https://www.euronews.com/travel/2021/05/26/travel-industry-experts-on-the-post-covid-travel-trends-emerging-from-bookings
10 “NEF Spotlight: Mapping the travel sector’s recovery” January 26, 2021 https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/nef-spotlight-mapping-the-travel-sectors-recovery
1 “Holidays in 2021 will be fewer, longer and closer to home” NOvember 26, 2020 https://www.economist.com/the-world-ahead/2020/11/16/holidays-in-2021-will-be-fewer-longer-and-closer-to-home?itm_source=parsely-api
14 “Predictions: 7 real travel trends that will happen in 2022” August 12, 2021 https://static.euronews.com/website/pdf/euronews-trend-report-travel-after-Oct-2020.pdf?utm_source=euronews%26utm_medium=organic%26utm_campaign=whitepaper
15 “The emotional benefits of tourism and the role of travel in the pandemic recovery” July 2021 https://www.visitscotland.org/binaries/content/assets/dot-org/pdf/research-papers/about-our-visitors/insights-emotional-benefits.pdf
16 “Travel industry experts on the post-COVID travel trends emerging from bookings” June 3, 2021 https://www.euronews.com/travel/2021/05/26/travel-industry-experts-on-the-post-covid-travel-trends-emerging-from-bookings