2023 is here. And thankfully, for the first time in far too long, we can look forward to a world of discovery and possibility without restrictions or restraints. Finally, we can allow our wanderlust to feel the warm sun of a new year’s sunrise, allow our long-awaited plans to confidently take root, and our dreams to blossom. It’s time.
We enter this new year of travel, and our new world of travel, with gratitude. 2022 was a wild year for both travellers and the industry alike. While we rediscovered the travel bug, we also felt its bite. The surge of pent-up travel demand, further fuelled by pent up travel budgets, revealed very real challenges across the global travel and tourism ecosystem. After standing still for so long, the industry was simply unable to cope with the huge, almost immediate rise in pressure on airlines, airports, and other critical networks. This, combined with the huge drop in traveller patience and sympathy, made for a heady cocktail.
Across the industry hard lessons have been learnt, linkages across the experience chain have been established, and critical investments in infrastructure and human capital have been made. No one, absolutely no one, wants to see the incredible opportunity for global recovery be wasted. Everyone is wishing for a 2023 in which we can all celebrate travel, travellers, and travelling.
Which is why, as I look at the year ahead with its very clear growth in travel spread, spend and momentum, I feel we need to not only take full advantage of the opportunity of these times of high demand, but also full responsibility for ensuring the opportunity is wholly embraced. Defaulting to old ways of thinking and doing, old models of business and brand building, and old ways of market attraction and conversion, cannot be our response.
We need to honour the changes that have occurred in not only WHERE, WHEN and HOW people wish to travel, but WHY, which has a direct impact on WHAT they seek to experience.
We need to respect the desire of travellers to reinvest not only their personal time and money, but their personal dreams, into reconnecting with the world despite the looming risks of global economic difficulties and logistical complexities.
We need to be their guides into the new world of travel.
With this foundation, the following are what I firmly believe we will see in travel in the year ahead. Some may call these ‘trends’. I prefer to call them ‘truths’ as we are too early into a new, post-pandemic world of travel to have trustworthy, trendable data.
The below are shared with you based on my observations of how I see the world reopening, my projections of the developing runway based on current demand and desires, and as a passionate practitioner in our great industry:
1. FOLLOWING AMERICA’S LEAD: In 2022, Americans were the first to return to international travel. In 2023, the rest of the world will join too. Why? Not only because of their growing confidence in the safety of travel, but because it’s also now clear that if they do not resume travel again, they will miss out on a very special time of global invitation and inspiration. Importantly, this will include the outbound Chinese travelling market – a market of over 150 million international travellers in 2019. The global travel industry is acutely aware of the immense pressure this will put on the ability to move millions upon millions safely and smoothly across the globe. For this reason, increases in air capacity and stabilisation of air fares are an absolute priority. We saw it during COVID: no aviation, no travel, regardless of demand.
2. PAYING THE PRICE: Travel costs will continue to rise. It is impossible for them not to. And it is not because of industry opportunism. Quite the contrary. The industry is doing all it can to eliminate barriers for travel to meet demand, however inflation, threats of a looming recession, the global energy crisis, reduced supply, labour shortages and rising costs are resulting in the cost of travel increasing. And as we all know too well, the same is true with the cost of living. As such, the opportunity for travellers to reconnect to their travel dreams within a known pre travel budget will bring confidence; meaning the relevancy of pre-packaged, pre-planned, inclusive holidays or tours will be on the rise.
3. SEASONAL SILVER LININGS: With increased travel prices especially in peak travel periods, we will see the expansion of both shoulder and off-season travel as travellers adopt ways of stretching their travel budgets by stretching their holiday planning outside of traditional holiday seasons. This is a very good thing. The sooner we can recalibrate travel to being year-round, the better it will be for local economies desperate to sustain economic activity. And of course, evolving travel to be outside of traditional high density peak times and top-of-the-list destinations makes for a better travel experience for the visitors and the visited.
4. SUSTAINABILITY DELIVERED, NOT JUST DISCUSSED: In conference halls, meeting rooms, virtual meetings, and a myriad of other ways and means of discussing and debating the future of our global industry, the most talked about issue has been ‘sustainability’. Every leader, everywhere, has been vocal about sustainability being critical to economies, communities, cultures and environments worldwide. They are talking, talking, talking and talking – but where is the action? The travel sector continues to move at varying speeds when it comes to looking at what can be done to address the imperative of sustainability. What does all this mean for travellers? They are growing impatient. They want to see delivery, not press releases or policy or people on stages, or empty promises. The travel industry is hearing their frustration. Ideas are being tested, investments are being made. In 2023 and beyond, travellers will be doing their research to be able to make informed decisions on travel that aligns to their own personal sustainability commitments. We as an industry must be ready to help them fulfil their dream of making travel matter.
5. THE JOY OF THE JOURNEY: As travellers look for ways to be more eco-friendly, less costly, less at risk of disruption, and more conscious of their carbon footprint, the beauty of train travel is re-emerging. Similarly, the value and ease of touring is being rediscovered. This is wonderful on both accounts. We all know that train travel was always seen as the poor cousin of air, and that there’s been snobbery around touring for decades. The convenience of being able to just go and discover the soul of a destination, without a worry, with incredible comfort and beauty of in-depth experience, and with a greater sense of control, has never been greater. We are seeing this in our booking numbers that are at an all-time high – with 76% of guests new to brand, coupled with the continued highest industry repeat rate. Travellers are making smarter, new world travel choices where they can travel with confidence and complete ease, making touring the most relevant way to explore once more in this new, exciting world.
6. THE RENNAISSANCE OF THE TRAVEL AGENT: As travel reopens more widely, and uncertainties endure, the relevancy and need for an outstanding travel agent will be essential for fulfilling travellers’ dreams. The imperative of having an expert who will ask the right questions, research every option to meet distinct travel needs, and then select the right suppliers, has never been more relevant. And if anything should go array, their ability to lessen the stress and time of adapting and changing bookings to the right possible variations is priceless.
7. BLEISURE IS BACK, BIGGER THAN EVER: After over two years of people successfully working from anywhere, and being encouraged to value their me-time, ‘bleisure’ is back, and it’s on steroids. We ourselves experimented with enabling our team to add working from anywhere to their holiday plans. The response has been huge, and hugely successful. As technology and work from anywhere policies become normalised in the workplace, workers across the world will settle into an increasingly acceptable and easily do-able nomadic lifestyle, blending holidays with their work. Expect workers to not only spend extended time with friends and family, but extend the invitation to their loved ones to join them before and/or after their work is done. It’s a win:win for everyone.
8. TECH AND TOUCH IN TANDEM: AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) – this incredible IT is becoming a daily reality. Everyone’s talking about it, but not everyone is convinced about doing it. Why all the AR and VR discussion and confusion? Because not everyone is clear how it fits into their reality. And some are even concerned that AR and VR are a very real threat. The opportunities in AR and VR are, however, immense, if utilised to immensely enhance the experience of travellers right through the travel experience journey, from pre-travel inspiration to post-travel remembering and sharing. No reality will be as enriching, empowering, educating and touching than actually being in the destination, being with local communities, being part of making travel matter for people and places worldwide. AR and VR are tools to enhance the ease and excitement of travellers to understand all that their physical travels can be for them. Technology is and will always be a tool enabling greater touch. Together technology and touch have the power to be the greatest of travelling companions.
9. JUST IN TIME: Gone are the days of long lead-times. Shorter booking windows will continue. Why? Two important reasons. First, the past two years of living online have reduced our patience for waiting. We want to be where we want to be, doing what we want to do, now. And without question we can, through our keyboards, find someone in the world, somewhere, who can make it happen in seconds. Second, we have become highly alert to barriers to travel outside of our control – flight cancellations, new health regulations, border restrictions, unexpected positive test results. The closer one books to travel the farther away they can keep disappointment. While this can create huge challenges for us as an industry, it also offers huge possibilities as we can offer planning flexibility and creativity in our offers like never before. ‘Just in time’ can be just the thing we need to ensure sustained momentum through the year, and to support our ‘seasonal silver linings’.
And so we begin an exciting new chapter in all our travel lives, right across all our businesses and brands, as we enter the ‘next normal’. This time is ours to bring to life, and lives, all the joy of travel.
Join me on what I am absolutely sure will be an incredible adventure for us all.
A new year. A new start in 2023. Together, let’s embrace the opportunity.