Outdoor adventure, subscription models, and challenging the veracity of sustainability claims are among the travel trends predicted by leading voices within the tourism industry for 2024
Geopolitical tensions, conflict, a volatile economy – there are many reasons to be despondent as the year draws to a close. The tourism industry, however, remains resilient, and a positive vehicle for change and development. ‘Tourism Opens Minds’ was the tagline at the 2023 World Tourism Day celebrations in Riyadh, demonstrating the role that tourism plays in bridging cultures and promoting inclusivity.
“Local gastronomy, nature, wellness and rural tourism experiences will take centre stage in travel in 2024,” says Ms. Sandra Carvao, director of market, Intelligence & competitiveness at World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). China has emerged as an unlikely leader in rural tourism, while domestic tourism is booming worldwide.
Travellers continue to prioritise sustainability but have grown wise to greenwashing and vague sustainability claims, insisting upon transparency and root and branch reform where necessary.
“Influencers and screen tourism will continue to be leading travel advisors,” continues Carvao. “Digital nomad visas have expanded worldwide, but will this trend be here to stay in 2024, or be short-lived? It’s not yet clear.”
As we embark on a new year, leading voices within the tourism industry share their take on the biggest trends in travel for the year ahead.
Domestic tourism: backyard exploration stays hot
Lily Girma, travel journalist
Few of us could have predicted a war in the Middle East less than two years after the restart of the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Coupled with the soaring cost of travel and inflation, it’s likely more travellers will choose to prioritise trips that are closer to home. That doesn’t mean they’re sacrificing long-haul trips altogether or spending less, but their eye will remain largely on regional destinations. As a result, domestic tourism will remain strong in 2024, whether in the US or Europe and Africa, where an increasing number of countries — Kenya, Gambia, Seychelles, and soon Rwanda — have removed visa requirements for all African travellers. In addition, with the fuller return of major festivals and events, globally, there’s a wealth of exploration and once-in-a-lifetime memories that await… the kind that don’t require a long-haul flight.
Transformative adventure travel, which gives back to the local community
Mike Weiss, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Trailborn
With a significant increase in domestic leisure travel and national park visitation, I’m confident we’ll continue to see a rise in road trips and outdoor adventure travel in 2024.
Travellers are seeking awe-inspiring transformative experiences, specifically those in the great outdoors, and they want to stay somewhere that authentically reflects its surroundings – from design and branding to programming and food and beverage. They are looking for hotels with a unique point of view, which offer creative restaurants that stand out from limited-service brands, and partner closely with local communities.
It is also becoming increasingly important for companies to reinvest in the communities and natural resources they touch, and travellers will continue to be more discerning in supporting brands that do so.
Trailborn specialises in boutique hotels exclusively located in some of the most sought-after outdoor destinations in the US
Challenging unfounded sustainability claims
Stuart McDonald, co-founder of Travelfish
2024 should be a year of debunking and reclaiming. Worthless claims around sustainable tourism, environmental protection, and social benefits by travel companies should be challenged across the board and debunked – in a court of law if need be. Travel writers must lift their game to be in a position to confidently interrogate claims made by hotels and other tourism enterprises in this regard.
Recognising low-budget sustainable travel
Stuart McDonald, Travelfish
The myth that sustainable tourism must carry a premium price tag should be dismissed. Budget travel should receive the acknowledgement it deserves from both the industry and from destinations as a whole that it is the most sustainable and lowest impact form of inbound tourism, and the least prone to economic leakages and environmental damage. Smart destinations must cotton on to the value independent budget travellers bring, be it through longer stays, less environmentally damaging forms of transportation, and spending that places a larger proportion of revenue in the actual hands of small, locally run tourism enterprises rather than those of international conglomerates. Longer-stay tourist visas catering to this specific market should be brought on-stream as soon as possible.
Lastly, the curtain should be pulled on the purported sustainability panacea of luxury tourism, revealing much of this sector as the most egregious, leakage-prone, and environmentally rapacious sector of tourism’s many realms.
Travelfish.org is the leading independent travel guide for Southeast Asia
Tech is no substitute for tactile hotel moments
Avi Brosh, founder of Palisociety
Following several years of contactless hospitality and the related trends – front desk substitutes at hotels, QR code menus – we are seeing an ever-growing appreciation for the opposite: tactile moments made to surprise and delight have taken centre stage in our design and amenities, and we predict that this will continue to be key going into the new year and hopefully beyond. We saw it so warmly embraced in the launch of Le Petit Pali this year, where we leaned heavily into tactile, thoughtful moments. More warm cookies, more layered blankets, more in-room surprise amenities. People feel and appreciate these details like never before.
The dawn of digital passports
Jenny Southan, founder of Globetrender
What’s the one thing a traveller should never forget to pack? A passport. However, it may not be long until all you need is your smartphone – or even just your face – to get through immigration. In summer 2023, Finland became the first nation in the world to start a six-month trial of digital passports. The European Union is planning similar pilots in Croatia and the Netherlands because by 2030, the bloc wants at least 80 per cent of citizens to be shunning paper IDs in favour of more secure electronic credentials. Over in Singapore, Changi airport will implement a biometric immigration clearance system in 2024, meaning air passengers will be able to use their face as a “single token of authentication”. Instead of showing a passport, it will just be a smile and a scan.
The fight for brand loyalty
Sharan Pasricha, Founder & Co-CEO of Ennismore
As we head into 2024, we’re seeing three main trends emerge. A big one is instant gratification and access to benefits, and a move to a more subscription-based model for hospitality. Earlier this year, we introduced Dis-loyalty, a travel and food membership that offers discounts not only on hotel rooms but in restaurants too, and a free barista-made drink every day, which allows hospitality brands to integrate much more into a person’s everyday routine. This also plays into the second trend, with hotels becoming much more hybrid and collaborative spaces. We’ve long seen this at The Hoxton where its lobbies have seen guests and locals cross paths, work, and see friends, which we extended into our co-working brand, Working From. This means someone can wake up in the hotel, head to the restaurant for breakfast, spend a few hours at a laptop in a co-working environment, and then end the day at the bar. And the third trend is centred around wellness offerings. Not just your traditional spa and gyms, but a much more dedicated programme including nutrition, mindfulness, and new types of sports, like padel, where brand partnerships can really elevate the guest experience.
Shoulder season travel in response to climate change and overtourism
Zina Bencheikh, Managing Director EMEA at Intrepid Travel
The extreme weather in Europe this summer is a stark reminder that climate change is here, it’s happening, and it’s changing the way we travel. With temperatures getting more extreme in the high summer, Intrepid Travel is expecting shoulder season travel to grow in popularity in 2024.
In 2023, we observed a 61 per cent increase in shoulder season bookings to western Europe and 29 per cent increase in southern Europe. We have upped the number of shoulder season departures to destinations like Spain, Italy, Portugal, and France next year. Travelling in the shoulder season often brings cooler temperatures, but it can also help with overtourism and bring a better travel experience to our customers. As cities experience more and more tourists in peak times, travelling in shoulder season means fewer crowds.
More flight-free alternatives
Zina Bencheikh, Intrepid Travel
The climate crisis also means that an increasing number of travellers are conscious about their impact on the planet, and are seeking rail journeys as an alternative to flying. Intrepid is removing more flights from its itineraries in 2024, with our customers predicted to take about 4,000 fewer flights on trips compared to this year. We’ve also launched our first flight-free trip from the UK which travels through France and Spain.
Choosing to travel by train isn’t only about skipping the flights but slowing down and making the journey to a destination more meaningful and part of the holiday itself. Travellers are keen to experience scenic railway routes and spend time exploring towns and cities along the way that they wouldn’t see if they were flying.
Intrepid Travel focusses on consciously curated trips around the world, intrepidtravel.com
Screen tourism and destination dupes
Ariane Gorin, President of Expedia for Business
Expedia has found that travellers are looking to visit destination dupes in 2024. These are places that are a little unexpected or under the radar, sometimes for great value, but are just as special as the tried-and-true destinations. A great example of this is the island of Paros in Greece, an alternative to popular Santorini: both islands ooze Cycladic charm, with iconic, blue-domed churches and whitewashed buildings, but in Paros you will find fewer crowds.
We first spotlighted the set-jetting trend in 2023, highlighting how TV shows and movies inspire travel plans. This continues for 2024: the new series of White Lotus will place fresh emphasis on Thailand; Emily in Paris will celebrate the French capital, and the remaining seasons of Outlander will draw travellers to the Scottish Highlands.
Coffee culture captures the hotel market
Anne-Cécile Blanchot, co-founder of August Twenty Eight
Hotels are increasingly investing in coffee shops, which are destination hangouts in their own right. Initially developed in response to the remote working model, they draw a creative audience that hotels are eager to tap into. Filter coffee and a pastry won’t cut it – the best of them invest in retrofitted interiors and spacious seating, and champion local artisanal roasters and brands, thus celebrating the energy of the city.
Smart suppliers switch on to accessible tourism
Michael Parker, co-founder of ROADBOOK
Forecasting from recent growth, accessible tourism will be worth more than 100 billion USD by 2027. Depending on definition, different authorities corroborate that people with physical, mental or sensory accessibility needs are between 15 and 30 per cent of all people. Ageing populations are a multiplying factor on demand for accessible tourism, as well as average trip frequency and spend. After three decades of basic rights legislation, goal setting and policy making by governing bodies, tourism suppliers have in general met a small fraction of demand for accessible tourism and, until recently, with little inspiration, holistic design thinking or true sense of the market potential. We predict the accessible tourism segment will outgrow total market growth in 2024 by a factor of at least three times. Meanwhile an unprecedented number of industry events and awards will be dedicated to accessible tourism in 2024 and the digital ecosystem will see digital accessibility apps evolving. So the question begs, which hotels, transport carriers and tourism destinations will go beyond minimum requirements to meet the demand for accessible tourism in 2024?
A new wave of young bleisure travellers
Robin Chadha, Chief Marketing Officer for citizenM hotels
More than a third of Gen Z and millennial business travellers now say they plan to extend a business trip to enjoy leisure time before or after work obligations – this has been a noticeable shift among citizenM guests, and a trend we think will continue into 2024 and beyond. We’re seeing an increasing demographic of younger professionals on the move, looking for an inspiring place to meet and work. A trip no longer has one purpose – guests want to be able to discover somewhere new, have fun, get their work done, and truly rest.