Travel Trends

Here at TrekkSoft, the tourism market continues to fascinate and surprise us. With our annual Travel Trends Report and surrounding content, we publish the data on travel that we want to read, and have drawn on our own research as well as interviews with experts to provide you with new insights and opinions.

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Our focus is on the experiences that are inspiring consumers to book trips and see the world, as well as the markets behind these and the powerful industry shifts in the background.

Scroll down for what we think you should know about travel and tourism in 2018 and beyond. And for more in-depth reading, here's our key content on travel and tourism trends:

Travel all comes down to experiences

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Experiential travel is a form of tourism in which people focus on experiencing a country, city or particular place by connecting to its history, people and culture. And it's a key tourism trend for 2018.

"Travel is about the people we meet. It's about who we are and what we want to do. Is it food experiences? Active outdoor pursuits? Experiencing different cultures? Travel is about what you do and who you experience it with". – Olan O’Sullivan, CEO of TrekkSoft

No surprises here:experiential purchases (like a trip, tour or activity) make us happier for longer than material purchases. Yet there are also differences in how we feel before an experiential or material purchase, according to researchers Amit Kumar, Thomas Gilovich and Matthew Killingsworth (2014).

People report being mostly frustrated before the planned purchase of a thing, but mostly happy before they bought an experience – like a trip or an activity.

The best tourism brands put experiences and the joy we receive from them at the forefront of their marketing. This is especially the case for destination marketing organisations, 56% of which consider experiences to be “a vital part” of their destination marketing, according to TrekkSoft destination research. Only 7% of DMOs consider experiences to be “somewhat important”.

"Travel providers need to remember that at the heart of guest experience is the experience part". – Jon Fauver, Co-founder of TrekkSoft

As the Guardian says: "There is science behind it, but it’s also very simple: regardless of political uncertainty, austerity and inflation, we are spending more on doing stuff, choosing instead to cut back on buying stuff".

Read more – Research Report: Making Experiences the Cornerstone of Destination Marketing

What experiences are travel consumers looking for?

For our Travel Trends Report 2018, we analysed the TrekkSoft tour & activity companies that were driving the most bookings. Here are the types of experiences that kept coming up in the list of top companies:

1. Recharging deep in nature

"Our guests are looking for an authentic river experience. They want to get off the beaten track with an expert tour guide, a small group, and with safety and quality first".
Les Rives Authentic River Experiences

2. The one-off experience you can't get elsewhere

Swimming with pigs in the Bahamas? This is the kind of experience that turns heads when you come home and start talking – and you will struggle to find it anywhere else.

3. A walking tour in a cultural capital

The free walking tour concept has boomed in recent years. It’s one of the best ways to see a city through the eyes of a local, as the leading free walking tour provider, SANDEMANs NEW Europe, knows well. They ensure that every guide is a local expert who represents their unique style of “infotainment”, mixing history and the guide’s own style of charismatic storytelling.

4. Sustainable adventure travel

Kristian Jørgensen, CEO of Fjord Norway, the official tourism board of Western Norway, shared how the region has “exploded over the last ten years”, with growth every single year. As one of the world’s adventure hotspots, their most important conversation now is sustainability. For travellers looking for a responsible destination, the commitment of Norway’s Fjord region makes it a strong choice.

5. A crazy story to take home

"Our guests are looking for adventure, getting the local experience, and small group tours. They’re travellers, not tourists".
GOECCO Iceland tours

6. Really getting to know a country and its culture

There’s much to be said for solo wandering, but it’s hard to learn more about a place’s culture and heritage than from a guided tour. One of Switzerland’s leading tour providers, Best of Switzerland, shows the diverse appeal of tours that share the “best of” a region.

"Usually, our guests are seeking the “must dos” in Switzerland. Our customer base is 40% Asian with the biggest group from India (25%), almost 30% from the US, 10% GCC, 10% from Australia/NZ, 8% from Latin America, and 8% from Europe. People come to us for stunning nature and to enjoy seeing must-dos that they can go back and tell their friends about. There are of course many other reasons too. Some come for the shopping, others want a more educational tour and others want some serious adventure… There really is a bit of everything!"
Best of Switzerland Tours

7. Thrills in a stunning location

We're talking about once-in-a-lifetime experiences with a touch of adrenaline. Think paragliding in Interlaken, Switzerland, the beating adventure heart of Europe. You can stop by the TrekkSoft office and say hi too.

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Booking trends

TrekkSoft booking software processes tour and activity reservations in hundreds of countries around the globe, which gives us a unique insight into booking trends for travel experiences. Here's what we're noticing.

Read: Travel booking trends: what's changing for 2018?

According to TrekkSoft booking data:
  • 82% of tour & activity bookings are on provider websites.
  • More bookings are happening on mobile, with less device switching to desktop. 49% of tour & activity bookings were on mobile in 2017, compared to 31% in 2016.
  • 64% of tour & activity bookings are made by women.
  • 69% of consumers who book a tour or activity via TrekkSoft are aged 34 or younger.

The use of online travel agents is growing

As of March 2018, suppliers using TrekkSoft get most bookings through Viator, which drives 75% of marketplace bookings as of the time of writing. This is one of TrekkSoft’s longest term integration partners.

The next biggest channel is Expedia, with 14% of marketplace bookings, followed by GetYourGuide (7%) and Musement (2.7%).

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Read more: Tour & activity bookings on marketplaces are increasing in 2018 (Medium article)

Last minute booking

Read: Last-minute booking trends & best practice for tours and activities in 2018

According to Phocuswright in Tours & Activities Come of Age: The Global Travel Activities Marketplace 2014­-2020, two in five bookings happen within two days of a trip.

Looking at TrekkSoft booking data from 2017-2018, we've also seen that tours and activities are still far from last-minute – even for those using a booking system like TrekkSoft.

13 days before a trip is the average time that bookings are made for TrekkSoft users.

This decreases to 5 days for bookings made on mobile, and increases to 24 for frontend and direct bookings on a supplier website.

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Markets

The maturing Chinese market

From 2017 to 2022, Euromonitor International predicts continued growth of 8.4% in the number of Chinese outbound travellers, reaching a whopping 128 million outbound trips by 2022.

With a growing middle class, researchers also expect China to be one of the largest contributors to the tourism sector in the coming years. 2018 will be the EU-China Tourism Year where the European Commission and the European Tourism Commission will work closely with China National Tourism Administration to promote European destinations to Chinese travellers.

Also keep in mind:

  • Chinese travellers want to experience local culture
  • The Free and Independent traveller (FIT)
  • More Chinese women travel compared to their male counterparts
  • Chinese travellers book online and on mobile
  • Travel Trend Report 2018

    Download the report today and get the latest data-driven insights and advice from industry experts.

    Get your Trend Report

The Indian market and how to reach it

India’s Ministry of Tourism reported an 11.4% growth in international departures, from 18.3 million in 2014 to 20.4 million in 2015. In 2016, there was a 7.3% growth, where a total of 21.9 million travellers left to explore the world. The UNWTO expects this number to grow to 50 million in the next three years.

In our Travel Trends Report 2018, we've identified four main types of Indian travellers:

  • Group travellers
  • Frequent Individual Travellers (FIT)
  • Meeting, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE)
  • Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR)

“India is home to 1.32 billion people and more than 60% of them who visit Switzerland are under 35 years old. There are plenty of opportunities and potential for long term growth in this market. Even 1% of the market is a lot of. If 1 out of 3 of them travel to Interlaken, that too is a huge opportunity for us”.
– Andrea Schneider, Director of Marketing and Market Manager for India at Tourism Interlaken

For the Indian outbound travel market, most bookings still happen offline. Long haul travel purchases are usually made with established travel agents. Other booking channels include OTAs like India’s homegrown Make My Trip (which takes up 45% of India’s OTA share), Yatra, and Expedia.

Travel providers should keep in mind:

  • Majority of Indians are vegetarians.
  • Sharing their travel experience online is important so make sure that WiFi is available.
  • They tend to change their travel plans at the last minute so be flexible to accommodate changing needs.
  • While Indian travellers are open minded and love trying new cuisines, they too will crave Indian food on long haul trips.
  • Travel visas remain the barrier to travel.

The Arabic Market in 2018

Another influential market is the growing Arabic market. Experts estimate its growth will be more than 50% between 2000 and 2020.

Leisure travel is king in the region. With some 77.4% of tourism being associated with leisure travel, the spending is expected to grow to AED 191.5 billion by 2027.

Business travel is predicted to fall below its 22.6% through 2020.21 In other words, “bleisure” travel is far from being the buzzword of the region.

The region’s inbound tourism is also growing. The total amount of international guests in Dubai alone grew from 8.40 million in 2016 to 9.20 million in 2017.

Read more: How to reach the growing Arabian travel market

Solo female travel

A search for “Solo female travel blog” returns more than 2.45 million search results on Google as of December 2017. Google Trends has recorded how interest in solo travel has grown steadily over the past ten years while interest in female solo travel has only gained traction since 2013.

Economically, women today control more money ever before. In 2015, the BMO Wealth Institute estimated that 51% of personal wealth in the US was controlled by women.

In 2015, TripAdvisor reported that globally, 74% of women had travelled solo or were planning to travel solo. In 2016, VBT Bicycling & Walking Vacations and Country Walkers reported to Conde Nast Traveler that solo female travellers made up 40% and 58% of bookings respectively, with a 5% increase in female travellers each year.

“Now, I only travel alone. I enjoy travelling alone because it’s easier to plan and I have more freedom to do whatever I want. The best part is I never feel lonely because I meet so many new people from all over the world.” – Ha Truong, Blogger at Expatolife

In the research for our Travel Trends Report 2018, which has an in-depth chapter on solo female travel, we found that safety is the biggest concern for solo female travellers.

“For me, the difficult part is trying to work out when someone is being genuine and friendly, and when they have bad intentions. You don’t want to travel the world telling everyone to go away.” – Ellie Cleary Founder of Soul Travel Blog

LGBTQ tourism

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) tourism has experienced a significant increase in recent years, and we can only foresee more growth. Why? It makes social and financial sense.

Up to 7% of adults are estimated to identify as LGBT. And as the Second Global Report on LGBT Tourism by UNWTO and IGLTA explains, the LGBT segment is recognized to travel more often and demonstrate higher-than-average patterns of spending.

“We’re definitely going to see more destinations and businesses standing up to support LGBTQ tourism in 2018 and beyond – particularly in places that haven’t traditionally been associated with the market.”
- John Tanzella, IGLTA President/CEO

Tourism trends for the LGBT segment:

  • More ambitious, adventurous trips. This is partly due to a wider global trend, but also thanks to the Internet and the greater acceptance and accessibility it has fostered. There are still many destinations that are yet to catch up politically and socially, however, and this still leads to some safety concerns for the LGBT travel segment.
  • Millennial LGBT travellers tend to be more open and comfortable about their sexuality. They expect the same from travel providers, to the extent that it is often not even an issue.
  • Same-sex marriage is great news for tourism. Couples frequently travel to get engaged, and honeymoons are often one of the most memorable trips of a lifetime.
  • Technology has changed LGBT travel, both matching the wider shift in the way we dream about, plan and book trips, but also influencing the visibility of and attitudes towards LGBT people and issues. In turn, new destinations and experiences have been opened up and others more readily available for LGBT people.

Generations

Generational lines keep blurring, especially when it comes to travel. Everyone is on the hunt for a life-changing experience while they travel and it's up to travel providers to create tours and activities that appeal to their lifestyles rather than to a specific age group. Saying that, here's what we're noticing about each generation for 2018.

Millennials

Read more: Myth buster: What the travel industry has gotten wrong about Millennials

Generation Z

Generation Z (born between 1996 and 2010) is gearing up to take its share of the market. With the oldest in that group starting to collect their diplomas this year, prepare to see what they bring to the table.

As early adopters to social media and technologies that some companies are still dragging their feet over, these are the kids who will be showing up for your tours and activities as they take their first holidays into adulthood.

According to the Digital Tourism Think Tank (DTTT), they are a quarter of the population and in two years, they could account for 40% of consumers.

Generation X

Along with Generation Z, Generation X (those born between 1965-1980) is currently sharing the spot for the third-largest generation.

Notoriously overlooked, Gen Xers remain a demographic that has stayed out of the spotlight a fair amount. This could mean trouble for tour and activity providers who are looking to increase their revenue, as Gen Xers tend to have the most buying power and financial freedom of any generation right now.

According to Millward Brown in their survey of China, Germany and the US, 68% of Gen Xers are the chief shopper when it comes to big purchases such as travel and activities.

Baby Boomers

In 2018, we can expect Baby Boomers to enjoy just as much leisure travel as in 2016 and 2017. According to AARP:

  • 57% of Boomers travel to spend time with loved ones.
  • 39% take trips to step outside of their everyday life (similar to findings from the 2016 AARP Travel Research data).
  • Unlike in previous years, only 38% of those surveyed are taking trips to relax and rejuvenate. The 65+ folks are often wanting to socialize and carve out some time for adventure when they travel.

Read more:
9 ways to attract baby boomers to your tours and activities
4 ways to adapt your tours for Baby Boomers

What’s shaping travel in 2018

The sharing economy

In the sharing economy, people can rent beds, cars, boats and other assets directly from each other, via platforms like Airbnb, BlaBlaCar, Uber, Couchsurfing and Lyft.

In travel, this ties heavily into the ideals of authentic and experiential travel.

What about peer-to-peer travel experiences? In March 2017, Olan O’Sullivan, TrekkSoft COO, asked: “Airbnb Trips: Publicity Stunt or Industry Disruptor?” He wrote that for Airbnb’s venture into experiences to succeed, it will require long-term commitment to match the long tail of the market with a consistent booking flow.

Peer-to-peer experiences are also changing our image of who a tour guide is, as emphasised by David O’Kelly, CEO of SANDEMANs NEW Europe, on our panel at WTM London 2017:

“I think there’s an outdated image of a tour guide with an umbrella and an anorak boring the pants off people – that’s changed now. And the change is only going to be more pronounced through the success of Airbnb Experiences and the gig economy phenomenon that anybody is quite possibly and potentially an experience leader or a tour guide. This ties in nicely with the increased desire of millennials for something more seemingly authentic, more seemingly local, more seemingly unique.”

Responsible tourism

The summer crowds of 2017 sent locals in Barcelona and Venice marching in the streets to protest overtourism, sparking conversations all over Europe about sustainability practices, or the lack of it. 2017's conversations about sustainable tourism looked beyond protecting the environment to protecting local communities and residents.

As we head into 2018, more and more travellers are becoming aware of how overtourism is ruining certain destinations and will be looking to visit other lesser known destinations to satisfy their wanderlust.

"In some cases legislation might be needed. I think the case of overtourism shows that, with the number of people travelling growing strongly, some boundaries need to be drawn. While some destinations are able to market themselves as more sustainable (and expensive) destinations which would benefit their economy while at the same time reducing the actual number of visitors, not every destination can do this. Some tough decisions might need to be made to keep destinations sustainable."
Wouter Geerts, a Senior Travel Analyst at Euromonitor International

Read: Why responsible tourism is the future of tourism

And get more data and expert insights on sustainable travel in our Travel Trends Report 2018.

"We need to ensure we develop a region that is sustainable for the future and the people living here. We cannot turn our industry into an industry that nobody wants to touch. Now that 110+ of our suppliers use TrekkSoft, we can develop and control our destination in a better way and not just hammer growth into the summer months."
– Kristian Jørgensen, CEO of Fjord Norway