Overabove Blog

In the latest installment of Man Vs. Machine, John and Deven discuss travel trends we’re watching for in 2020.

Deven: Almost 2020. The dawn of a new decade.

John: Sheesh. I just cheated on my Whole30 diet with leftover Halloween candy, and we’re already talking New Year’s!! Maybe we can take a step back for minute and think about the holidays? If you want to look into the future, tell me what my commute south on I-95 is going to be like on Thanksgiving.

Deven: Not sure what the stats are for this year, but last year, the AAA. projected that 54.3 million Americans would journey 50 miles or more away from home at Thanksgiving — the highest Thanksgiving travel volume since 2005. Sounds about right for this year too. The travel sector remains pretty healthy – travel to or within the US grew 3% in 2019 vs. the previous year, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

John: And in addition to those stats, we’re keeping an eye on some of the biggest consumer trends that will affect travel. Looking at holiday travels, which trends jump out at you?

Deven: The one I’m really watching now is the movement towards wellness travel. It’s not new, but it’s transcending “trend” and moving into the realm of “zeitgeist.” The Global Wellness Institute estimates that wellness tourism grew into a $639 billion market in 2017.

John: Here we go. I just unwrapped another fun-sized Snickers bar and you’re talking wellness. I guess you don’t just mean in-room yoga and hotel spas and vegetarian room service options.

Deven: No, wellness goes “well” beyond all that.

John: Clever.

Deven: Ha! You’re right in that wellness in hospitality has been classically characterized as spas, fitness centers and health food. But now it encompasses amenities that touch other dimensions of wellbeing. Physical, spiritual, mental, as well as social and intellectual. For instance, we’re seeing a shift to “undertourism,” or tourism to places less traveled. This sounds like a necessary development in tourism: Because of what The Atlantic calls a new “global middle class” that has resulted in tens of millions of people acquiring the means to travel in just the last few decades, some of Europe’s most touristed museums and cities are inundated with crowds they can’t handle. The Louvre in Paris closed last Spring because its staff walked out to protest the high volume of visitors. Barcelona has a population of 1.6 million, but receives 30 million tourists a year; Venice’s population is 50,000 and it receives 20 million visitors a year.

John: Oh, Venezia! Don’t tell me the Piazza San Marco is off limits. And the canals. Have you been to Venice? It’s no surprise millions love it. But I do realize it’s not tenable to keep overrunning fragile places and monuments with monumental surges of visitors.

Deven: This is where undertourism comes in — by visiting places that are off the beaten path, tourists inject local economies with new spending. They come away having connected with, and immersed themselves in, a whole new place, people and culture. In that sense, it is a dimension of wellness travel: it speaks to spiritual, social and intellectual wellbeing. And it presents a huge opportunity for travel operators and DMOs who may not consider themselves “bucket list” places. They can position themselves as offering unique experiences, for better value and without the crowds.

John: It’s interesting, because it aligns very closely with another trend we’re talking about with our clients right now: a movement towards “Transformational travel,”, or a travel experience that is so immersive, it actually changes you. This would seem to fit in really well with – or even be an extension of — undertourism. Visiting a place that is so outside the bounds of your normal tourist experience, or even your own life, that it is transformative. In our new blog, “On the Road,” we talk about these kinds of places ourselves – our first volume highlights a trip to Colombia, which is sort of becoming the standard bearer of undertouristed, perception-smashing places. But transformational travel doesn’t have to mean going into the deepest jungles or up to the highest mountaintops (even Mt Everest is overcrowded.) It could mean visiting a region of the US you’ve never been; or if you live in the city, going out to the country.

Deven: Or learning a new skill like surfing or cooking while you’re traveling; discovering something about yourself or the world that you never knew. There’s even a council for it; they describe their organization as “creating change by empowering, guiding and supporting travelers in their pursuit of personal growth and global understanding.” Travel operators would do well to learn about how to leverage interest in these types of experiences.

John: And it’s a draw for Millennials, who — as we’ve all been exhaustively told — are more interested in putting money towards experiences than material goods. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on these shifts in consumer travel motivations, and the implications they could hold for the industry.

Hey, you didn’t mention a Financial dimension of Wellness, but if there was such a thing, there’s another new idea being talked about that we want to look at for 2020: the “new” long weekend.

Deven: I’ll call the Global Wellness Institute and tell them to add a Financial wellness dimension. Tell me more!

John: The New York Times ran a piece recently where the writer theorized about what planning a long weekend around Saturday to Monday (vs. the typical Friday to Sunday) might do for travelers’ pocketbooks. They found that flying Saturday and returning Monday would be 10% cheaper than Friday to Sunday, and that Sunday night hotel stays cost 30% less on average than Friday or Saturday night rates. It could be good for operators too – they interviewed the CEO of Hoteltonight.com, who called Sunday night an “orphan” – neither a business nor leisure night of the week.

Deven: I always felt Sinatra had it wrong. Sunday night is, actually, the loneliest night of the week. It would be interesting to blow out this idea from not just a weekly perspective, but to a seasonal one – maybe toy with the traditional boundaries around seasonality to determine creative and interesting ways to sell shoulder seasons. “The unexpected” as not just a product benefit, but the way a consumer experiences a product. Outside the bounds of normal timelines and normal itineraries.

John: Yeah. All good stuff. For folks like us in the world of travel and leisure marketing — working with some of the world’s biggest travel brands, I must add! — it’s exciting to look ahead and see lots of unique angles for communicating with guests and messaging travel and leisure in 2020.

Deven: And if you’re reading this and need help navigating these trends and their impacts, call us! We’d love to help.

John: Definitely! Unless, of course, we are traveling for the holidays…we’ll try to stick to the undertouristed places but Italy is calling my name again…

Deven: First you’ve got to manage I-95 on Thanksgiving.

John: Yes! And here’s hoping for easy Thanksgiving travels for all our friends, family and clients this year.

John Visgilio

Principal and Co-Founder