“Only you can control your future.” – Dr. Seuss
As a professional traveler, I am by default, a travel trend watcher; and for the better part of three decades, I have watched travel trends come and go…err, trending up and down, in today’s phraseology. Marketing buzzwords vary. Hot destinations sizzle until they sputter. Highly disruptive tech developments are never-ending, with planned obsolescence not too far over the emerging horizon: old-school creative destruction. Change, is of course, inevitable.
Yet one thing remains constant: people love to travel…and can’t seem to get enough of it.
Without stating the obvious, here are a few 21st century travel realities: experiences matter; Millennials are DIY travelers; vacationers still like to eat; selfies and Instagram are big; the share economy can be disruptive; Bleisure travel always was; one-off terrorist incidents happen; the Chinese are still coming; America’s infrastructure is still crumbling; the top travel destinations (that means everywhere planes fly) are busier and more crowded than ever; and walking is not a new trend—it is what humans do!
And funny as it seems, some of the many hyped trends of past years are still waiting to take off, like: space travel; responsible & sustainable tourism (polls and surveys say one thing but people act differently); better domestic airline service is not coming; travelers are not unplugging; and South America continues to be inexplicably off the radar map for most travelers.
Needless to say, the future of travel is of course unwritten; as innovations, disruptive technologies and corporate greed continue to display themselves in novel ways. And as travel grows, travelers needs and preferences are constantly evolving and changing as well. Here are our annual 2018 travel trends:
Polar Desert Tourism – Not as schizoid as it sounds, because travelers will be visiting the icy poles in record numbers in the coming years, making Arctic and Antarctic expeditions increasingly popular (and cheaper too); but hardy adventurers are also chasing mirages with a significant uptick in desert adventures. Look for destinations like: Morocco, Oman, Death Valley and Joshua Tree, along with Atacama treks with Namibian sand boarding to see an increase in extreme sun worshippers. Expect the smell of sunblock and fried eggs to fill the air next summer—or penguin guano.
Travel 3.0 – Travelers have grown tired of canned consumer-driven vacation experiences, where the only locals they meet happen to work in the local tourism service sector, are seeking out more emotional bonding “real” travels. People want authentic, challenging and participatory experiences where trusting strangers in strange lands is an operating feature, like in the around the world travel adventure The Global Scavenger Hunt. An annual event where human connection is about more than just uploading selfies and social media updates, it is about immersive real-time experiences. Some call it transformational travel, but it is actually about experiencing a place with a local POV, not letting consumption, stuff or technology get in the way of a good time.
Medical Tourism II – Patients Beyond Borders reports that close to a million Americans went outside the U.S. last year for medical treatment. As Boomers grow older and their health insurance becomes iffier by the day, 2018 is finally going to be the year that this seemingly always emerging trend finally does take off. With American-trained international doctors leaving the country in droves, Boomers are now choosing to get their surgeries for pennies on the dollar in exotic locations with first-rate medical care, in places like: Thailand, Malaysia, Panama and Colombia to name a few. Why not recover in style? Couldn’t hurt…
Trump Tourism Slump – Will prove to be a double whammy: as more and more wannabe U.S. visitors are being turned away with extreme immigration vetting procedures; while at the same time more countries are issuing travel warnings to their citizens on the perils of actually traveling to the USA. The facts are, that the Las Vegas shootings, unfriendly airlines forcing families apart and physically ejecting others on flights, Charlottesville-like political protests, crime in Chicago, the heroin/opioid epidemic, broken infrastructure, and increasing national park fees, all combine to make America less attractive vacation destination. Look for the domestic travel industry to see a severe down click in foreign arrivals (who spend on average $4,360 per person per visit), as the anti-Muslim ban takes full effect and the Chinese and Europeans start going elsewhere.
Paradox Travel – Millennials want everything now, but at the same time want slow immersive travel. Call it the yin/yang theory of travel, a contradictory emotional trend that has been quietly evolving. Notorious for dwindling patience and instantaneous appetites, it brings just-in-time inventory strategies to the world of travel. It is a bundle of contradictions though: They want spur of the moment mobile booking options with real-time customer support on the cheap to exotic remote backwaters. Is that possible? They say they want to unplug with romantic notions of getting off-the-grid, yet hate places with bad Wi-Fi connections or being told to stop taking museum selfies and food porn photos. They eschew junk travel experiences that remind them of fast food—filling, but with no lasting memories—yet follow the social media crowds to the latest it happening travel destinations. Bottom-line: travel marketers don’t know what they want or what they’ll pay for. It will get interesting…and disruptive too.
Digital Nomads – On the flip side, look for aging Boomers to use their financial clout and technology to drop out, becoming digital nomads: taking longer getaways from the rat race but staying in touch. With an empty nest at home, they are quickly adapting by taking telecommuting to the next level: call them working sabbaticals by renting short-term apartments, and outsourcing their talents internationally as freelancers or wise experienced consultants, while embracing a cheaper better quality of daily life abroad. Think 1920’s Paris, but for mom and dad, not starving students. Plus, they can get better and cheaper health care too.
These are the six travel trends I peg for 2018. What are yours, I’d love to hear them?
Happy trails to all and Happy New Year…it will get better won’t it?