The New Year places authentic experiences at the heart of travel, with an emphasis on emotion, individualism and purpose, says Ashley Pearson, who rounds up 2020’s significant travel trends
In a world of climate change and unsettling politics, 2020 will be the year that travellers prioritise the journey – a decision powered by a firmly held belief that authentic, meaningful experiences are the new definition of luxury. It’s no longer all about the filtered Insta-brag – positive influences outside of the travel sector are having an impact, and purpose and intention now permeate everything.
2020’s big trends are steeped in emotional resonance and layered with meaning. They are distinctly green-minded, highlighting unsung destinations, promising off-season surprises and showing off new sides to old favourites. So, from eco-trips to culinary adventures, here are the trends you need to know about now.
Protecting the environment has moved from a fringe issue to become one of the leading factors in planning a trip. Millions of us have been inspired by Greta Thunberg to start taking action on climate change. Sustainable travel has seen more growth in 2019 than in any prior year, and next year it will soar even higher. And, although we are merely at the beginning of this shift, it is led by those who will shape travel in the future. With Gen Y&Z leading the charge to save our planet, they also now represent 55 per cent of the global luxury goods market. Digitally savvy and eco-conscious, sustainability is at the top of their list.
Airlines, hotels, tour operators and car hire firms, along with a wide spectrum of businesses across the travel industry, are participating in eco-initiatives such as allowing air travellers to purchase carbon credits when booking a flight or car hire companies offering, and even specialising in, electrical vehicles. Next year will see an increasing number of hotels and resorts investing in sustainable technology, waste reduction and energy-saving initiatives.
Very much in line with eco-travel is a need for purpose. Consumption on its own just isn’t cool any more. Aiming to counteract the negative impact flying has on the environment, travellers in 2020 want to make their emissions count. Reconnecting with loved ones, soul-enriching experiences, supporting local communities and adding to the greater good are major focuses for travellers in the year ahead. Travellers in 2020 want to feel as if they are making a difference even when away on holiday.
From participating in coral regeneration projects in the Maldives, picking up trash on local beaches, building schools in India or opting for a multi-generational escape designed to foster closeness and connection –intention and purpose inspire the experience.
The cannabis tourist
As of next year, more than 30 countries will have, to some degree, legalised cannabis. And, as people increasingly look for ways to calm down and destress, marijuana isn’t going anywhere. 2020 will see the rise of the ‘cannabis tourist’, with hotels increasingly offering everything from weed-smoking yoga sessions to luxury CBD oil massages, marijuana fine-dining, pot-cooking classes and cannabis-laced desserts on the menu.
Market forecaster Globetrender cites California operators such as Cannabis Tours, which offers ‘wine and weed craft experiences’, in which guests can visit extraction labs that look like modern whisky distilleries and partake in tasting sessions that mimic the experience of a vineyard. A spokesman from Med Men (the high-end cannabis dispensaries scattered across the US) says: “Amsterdam has already proven that people will travel to experience cannabis culture but the legalisation of weed in North America is shifting its aesthetic from grubby vice to a glamorous lifestyle experience.”
Stories over services
A beautiful lobby, stylish rooms and iconic restaurants are not enough. Hoteliers in 2020 need to be storytellers, crafting narratives with authentic moments as the plotline. For today’s luxury traveller, traditional luxury amenities and services are a given – I mean who doesn’t have a hairdryer at this point? 2020 is experience-led, not amenities-led.
What travellers want now are great stories to pass on at a dinner party, share on a WhatsApp call or post about on Instagram. 2020 will see many leading hospitality brands going out of their way to create unique experiences for guests, many of which are designed around their storytelling potential.
The rise of the cashless Chinese
In 2020 China will overtake the USA as the world’s biggest economy. Also, next year, the country’s middle class will continue to grow exponentially, and this new generation wants to see the world on their own terms. Chinese millennials are breaking away from historical norms, seeking out destinations in which to spend their newly acquired wealth.
Here’s what you need to know: according to information from a study carried out by Hotels.com in 2018, 71 per cent of Chinese millennials prefer autonomous ‘free and simple’ travel, and 55 per cent of Chinese travellers choose independent hotels. And they never use cash. As Globetrender cites in its Cash Free Culture section, mobile payments via WeChat Pay and AliPay apps are the norm among Chinese citizens. The shift to mobile means paying with cash is ‘practically unheard of’ in China. For overseas hotels, bars and restaurants, this means figuring out how to integrate the preferred payment methods of Chinese people if they want to stay ahead of the curve.
Good or bad, in today’s digital world, everyone from Facebook and Google to hotels, airlines and ride-sharing companies knows more about us than ever before. This level of personal knowledge permeates all aspects of our lives: we personalise our grocery orders, vet potential mates from the comfort of our sofas and receive suggested music and podcast playlists that are aligned to our tastes. Our world is undeniably personal, and in 2020 travel will be, too.
Arriving in new places used to mean reading a hefty guide book, dutifully toted along each day, as well as asking friends and taking chances. Today’s hoteliers and tour operators are working harder than ever before to make it personal for travellers – from bespoke toiletries and breakfast smoothies to personalised tasting menus and curated local experiences.
The unsung heroes
Everyone is talking about the rise of the ‘second city’ in 2020 – that is, the exploration of lesser-known destinations over the typical and touristic. In fact, according to Booking.com, more than half (54 per cent) of global travellers want to play a part in reducing over-tourism, while 51 per cent would swap their original destination for a lesser-known but similar alternative.
In 2020, travellers are likely to forgo Dubrovnik and instead head to Šibenik, one of Croatia’s oldest historical towns, with its dreamy deep blue seascapes and architecture of vanished centuries. Travellers in Turkey will discover Datça in southwestern Turkey – a striking peninsula cloaked in pine-forested coastline and a crystal-clear cove that is a blissful haven from the bustling crowds of nearby Bodrum.
Learning from locals
In 2020, travel is less about poolside lazing than broadening personal horizons and getting under a destination’s skin. And, in terms of nailing this trend, learning a traditional skill from a local is a two-for-one.
That means experiences such as Himalayan hikes led by local climbers and mindful yoga retreats in Morocco. And, on the Istrian peninsula (an achingly beautiful forested region in Croatia), visitors can learn the skills passed down through generations of truffle hunters and join locals on forages, finishing off the day with a joyful lunch of truffle-infused delicacies and local wines.
The alternative bucket list
Big ticket travel wonders are over – 2020 is about curiosity and a point of difference. After all, watching the sun rise over the Egyptian pyramids alongside hundreds of selfie-stick-wielding tourists is just not the life-changing experience you were hoping for.
Next year, visitors will seek out the bucket-list destinations that go beyond the norm. So, rather than trekking up Machu Picchu, savvy travellers will explore Peru’s incredible rainbow mountain in the Andes. Or, steering away from the northern lights in Finland, 2020’s travellers will discover Cambodia’s bioluminescent beach and soar in hot air balloons over ancient Anatolia.
Fuelled by genealogical curiosity and the boom in affordable at-home DNA testing, ancestry travel – ancestry trips, pilgrimages and genealogy tours – is one of 2020’s fastest growing sectors. Indeed, the desire to track down genealogical background can be overwhelming and, once discovered, travellers are looking to book trips based on their newly found roots. As next year marks the 75th anniversary of end of World War II, many whose ancestors fled Eastern Europe will be rediscovering Poland. There are nearly a dozen hotels set to open in Warsaw, the home of the Warsaw Uprising – and next year will see the capital evolving as a vibrant travel destination. Globetrending Nobu Hotels will open its first outpost in Eastern Europe – a place certain to be a magnet for those seeking to turn the page on a complicated history.
Ashley Pearson is media director at Fox Communications