The world has changed, and travelers are changing with it.
Keeping up with evolving traveler sentiment is a constant task for people working in tourism. Generational shifts and cultural currents change customers’ taste and impact the kinds of experiences they’re looking for.
In the past two years, though, world events have had an outsized impact on travel, and many tourism professionals are finding that customers’ personal priorities have changed more than usual. As a result, new travel trends are emerging, with an increased emphasis on personalization, diversity and social impact.
Here are some things travelers are looking for in 2023 and beyond.
With a few exceptions, the traditional 50-passenger group tour may be a thing of the past. While the trend toward smaller groups was already developing before 2020, the pandemic accelerated the movement away from mass tourism experiences and toward more boutique tours. Insightful travel planners have found that groups of just a few dozen offer more comfortable motorcoach seating, better relationship building and a higher quality travel experience. And some planners are finding they can charge more for trips of 10-15 passengers, offering exclusive amenities and VIP experiences not possible with larger groups.
When people travel on their own, they have complete autonomy. Increasingly, group customers are looking for more autonomy over their travel experiences too. Rigid full-time itineraries are falling out of style in favor of flexible plans that feature lots of free time for people to explore, relax and dine on their own. Savvy tour companies and planners have adjusted their operations to give passengers a variety of attraction and activity options — some included in the tour price and others that cost extra — allowing each guest to customize the trip that best suits their taste.
As America reckons with difficult aspects of its past, tourism leaders have begun to realize many travel experiences lack authentic diversity. Traditionally, travel companies have focused more on keeping guests comfortable than on exposing them to a variety of cultures or supporting local entrepreneurs. That is beginning to change, as many organizations reassess the ways they do business and look for opportunities to highlight diverse voices in their tour products. Some are also seeking out hotels, restaurants, attractions and other tour components owned by people of color and other marginalized groups.
What’s the worst part of most group trips? Packing up your suitcase each morning and checking into a new hotel each night. Tours that cover a lot of territory require many hotel changes, and that can be exhausting. Many travelers today prefer trips that allow them to stay in the same city — and the same hotel — for several days at a time. Travel planners can accomplish this by narrowing the scope of their tours and employing hub-and-spoke itineraries that allow groups to visit several nearby cities without relocating every day.
Today’s travelers are more concerned about the footprints of their trips than ever before. And the idea of sustainability has grown beyond recycling and reusing to a reexamining of the ways travel impacts places and communities. This can include rejecting abusive animal practices; ending “cultural” encounters that are tacky or exploitive; and looking for ways to lessen the burden on destinations that are at risk of overtourism. Travel planners can help prioritize these values for their customers by asking their vendors and tour partners what commitments they’ve made to sustainability and seeking out destinations that can accommodate their groups without risk to the local environment or communities.