6 Travel Trends of 2018

As we enter 2018, trends in travel are influencing the ways hotels and travel brands are marketing themselves to travelers. This year, the trends of personalization and there-when-you-need-it offerings continue alongside wellness and transformational travel. Social media's influence on the travel industry continues to gain traction, and savvy hotels are teaming up with Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) to host influencers who have carved out space in marketing budgets worldwide. Travel upgrades and downgrades are a major trend in air travel and winter tourism is transforming the off-season.  For the top six trends of 2018, and how to adapt your marketing plans to stay ahead of the curve, keep reading.

1. Experiential & Transformational Travel

Now more than ever, travelers are seeking out transformational travel experiences. Whether escaping from the demands of a nine to five, or seeking out off the beaten path locales worthy of sharing on social networks, travelers are eager for experiences that offer more than an escape, but a total transformation. It used to be that coming home with a tan and a vial of sand was enough, but today's travelers are now seeking fresh outlooks. Hoteliers are doing what they can to participate in these transformative experiences. From wellness amenities like in-room yoga mats, on-site spas, and bicycle rentals, to full-blown retreats, resorts are coming around to the idea that guests want more than a poolside margarita. The upside? These add-on experiences and itineraries mean travelers are ready and willing to spend more money on property and in the destination as a whole, bringing more tourism dollars to local economies. 

Airbnb was among the first to get on board. It's launch of 'Trips' in late 2016 gave travelers the ability to book more than a vacation rental through the popular site, but also tours, tailored activities, and personalized guide services; allowing travelers to immerse themselves in a local community. In 2018, we'll see more hotels and resorts partnering with local DMOs, adventure and tour outfitters, to offer these same sort of experiences to their guests. 


2. Influencer Marketing

In 2017, marketing became a dirty word. Consumers became hyper-aware of traditional advertising and behavioral targeting. Shunning traditional advertising, they turned to review sites like Tripadvisor to vet hotels and locales, even crowdsourcing on Facebook for travel recommendations. Further, they found inspiration in the palm of their hands: scrolling Instagram feeds, Twitter, and Pinterest, stumbling upon dream destinations in a seemingly organic way. And maybe it was organic for a minute, before travel influencers emerged. In 2018, we'll continue to see a rise in travel influencers - bloggers, models, solo and family travelers, who have developed large followings on social media and are speaking directly to their audiences daily. Travel influencers are now being commissioned by destinations, hotels, and outfitters to travel to destinations and share their experiences with their followers, often at a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising. Best of all, consumers not only trust influencers, but also desire to follow in their footsteps. Although influencer marketing is just the latest iteration of social media marketing, travelers are taking the bait. 

3. Off-Season Travel

Venice is sinking due to what the Italian government has called "low quality tourism" as tens of thousands of tourists disembark cruise ships and descend on Venice's picturesque, canal-lined streets. This extreme tourism has forced many locals out. Venetians have dwindled from a population of 175,000 in the 1950s down to 50,000 in recent years according to The New York Times, with close to half of those voting to end cruise tourism to the city all together. Travelers who aren't fond of crowds have all but given up on Venice, at least for now, with various bloggers sharing images of wall-to-wall tourists well into the fall.

So what's a traveler to do? Visit in the off-season of course. For places like Venice, that window has become slimmer, but more and more consumers are willing to trade warmer temperatures for something other than a shoulder-to-shoulder tourist experience. As a result, winter tourism is on the rise. According to Intrepid Travel, 79% of Americans are now considering overseas winter trips, and over half of those would be coming from cold destinations to begin with, whereas in the past, those living in colder climates would only consider traveling to warmer destinations in the winter months. Off-season travel is a great opportunity for once seasonal destinations to enjoy the benefits of tourism dollars throughout the year. 

4. Travel Upgrades (and Downgrades)

From new fare classes to Travel Rewards cards with staying power, I'd be remiss not to mention the recent changes in travel classes and bookings. First, let's talk about the upgrades. On the one hand, you have big banks like Chase rolling out travel-centric credit cards that are no longer loyal to a single airline or brand, instead offering travelers more choice in bookings, destinations, and experiences. The Chase Sapphire Reserve does just that, with $300 in travel credits per year, $100 credit towards Global Entry, 3x points on travel and dining, and 50% more point value when redeeming travel on Chase Ultimate Rewards (the card's own online travel agency). When it comes to earning status with an airline, dedicated airline credit cards continue to prove their worth. For instance, the Delta Skymiles card from American Express gives Silver cardholders first dibs on upgrades to Comfort+ and First Class. Plus, points earned on spending are easily transferred at a rate of one point per mile, making booking with miles more convenient than ever.

Then you have the ultra-luxury first class experiences: the lay flat seats, the never-see-another-passenger experiences spearheaded by Emirates, even train cars that are offering new levels of luxury to passengers. Apparently, it truly is the journey, not just the destination, that travelers consider when organizing a trip - and this now includes the in-flight experience as much as anything else. 

On the other end of the spectrum, you have heavily discounted, budget airlines growing in popularity. The pay-for-what-you-use trend continues to spread with discount airlines like Frontier and RyanAir. Although these airlines were once focused on short-haul flights, itineraries are getting longer as budget airlines like Norwegian Air are adding longer flights with similar pricing structures. Even United has caught on: the new Basic Economy is their lowest fare class which removes the option of choosing a seat and severely limits legroom. The Skyteam airlines, including Delta, are expected to unveil their own budget fare classes later this year. 


5. Staycations & THE NEW Hotel RoomS

Travelers in increasing numbers are seeking out shorter stays in their own backyard, and it's as much about "tourist for a day" experiences as it is about unique overnight accommodations. Lodging is no longer limited to hotels and vacation rentals in the traditional sense. The recent trend forgoes hotel-quality experiences and favors rustic and one-of-a-kind units: an oceanside yurt, a cabin in the woods, a teepee in a state park, a fire lookout. Interestingly, these rustic accommodations are fetching the same, if not more, in price per night than nearby hotels, proof that travelers tastes really are changing (it's not about budget limitations). In the past two years, staycation demand has grown 70%, and sites like Glamping Hub aim to cater to this growing market. 

This trend is not just about having the unique experiences, it's about being able to share them. Sites like Glamping Hub and even independent vacation rental owners are doing their part to make accommodations camera-ready, finding that the aesthetics of a unit are as important as its amenities. Take this Tiny House listing in Corbett, Oregon - the surrounding farm ups its appeal, and an Instagram location search reveals many users sharing photos of their recent experiences here. The equation is simple: the more worthy of sharing a unit is, the more bookings it will see.  


6. Mobile Bookings

If 2017 was the year of mobile, 2018 is the year of mobile bookings. Whereas previously, travelers were using mobile phones for location services and for researching experiences, users are now booking their entire stays via mobile device. Thanks to ApplePay, Venmo, PayPal, and other one-click methods to transfer cash, users are more willing than ever to complete large purchases on their phones. In fact, up to 40% of all vacations are booked via mobile phone. And once the traveler is on vacation, there-when-you-need-it mobile phones provide all the tools to plan itineraries, make dinner reservations, find nearby trails and beaches, and not least of all, share these experiences at the touch of a button. 

Now more than ever, travel sites must be optimized for mobile, ensuring the right information is available when and where a traveler is searching for it - this includes in the planning stages, booking stages, and experience stages of their vacation. Likewise, if you're a hotel or restaurant operator, free Wifi is essential to reaping the rewards of experience-sharing on social media - so make sure that treehouse you've built in your backyard is wired with the one thing travelers just can't live without: Wifi.

Are you a hotelier planning for 2018? Or a curious traveler who stumbled upon this post? Comment below with what you've experienced in terms of travel trends in 2018. Let's keep the conversation going.

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