As the wealth of data on 2023’s travel trends continues to expand, it's clear that significant changes are underway. Habits forged during the pandemic, including a desire for more authentic experiences, a preference for luxury travel, a growing inclination towards sustainable trips, and blended work trips, show no signs of slowing down. The critical question for travel professionals is how to harness these trends to gain a competitive advantage. The solution lies in technology.
Travel is an ever-evolving industry, with new trends emerging every year. For travel professionals, staying ahead of these evolving habits and preferences is key - but it can also be a challenge. Thanks to the numerous tech solutions at our fingertips, you can ensure you align traveler preference with your business’s offerings. Here are the key travel trends you need to know about, and the specific technologies you should leverage in order to capitalize on each one.
The rise of Bleisure
As the global community continues to prioritize remote work, a shift catalyzed by the pandemic, a distinctive travel trend has emerged: Bleisure. This amalgamation of business and leisure travel empowers professionals to intertwine vacation time with corporate trips, opening up a whole new market. Just as cloud technology has undoubtedly fueled this trend, technology is also the key to capitalizing on it.
Your first step is to choose a booking and payment platform that supports flexibility and personalization, offering features such as add-ons and bespoke booking pages. By granting travelers the autonomy to modify the duration of their trip or incorporate leisure activities into their schedules, you broaden your scope. Suddenly, business travelers, who may have previously overlooked your brand, are transformed into potential clientele, all thanks to flexibility of your expanded trip offerings.
The sustainable travel shift
Sustainable travel cannot be regarded as a passing trend, but as a seismic shift within the industry. Its components vary, encompassing aspects such as engaging with locals through enriching cultural experiences, opting for eco-friendly lodgings, minimizing carbon footprint through efficient transportation choices, and even carbon offset initiatives. The consensus among travelers is clear: noted in Skift's 2023 State of Travel Report, an impressive 75% of travelers express a preference for sustainable travel options in the future, while a significant 69% are actively seeking to implement these options.
The ways in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology can be used to support traveling more sustainably are effectively unlimited: from resource and waste management to wildlife conservation, finding flights with the lowest emissions to partnering with sustainable accommodation platforms; there are options to suit your business's needs.
For tour operators who run trips in popular tourist destinations, further examples of AI supporting sustainable travel include predictive analytics, which could be deployed to anticipate peak travel periods. This allows managing traveler inflow more effectively, thereby minimizing the impact on local resources. Alternatively, you may wish to put emphasis on reducing carbon emissions in your business’s operations. In this case, adopting a booking platform that offers a carbon offsetting feature could help counterbalance those emissions that can't be reduced.
The new luxury
During WeTravel's Tech and Innovation Summit, Stuart Greif of Forbes Travel Guide noted that the pandemic has fueled an appetite for genuine, transformative experiences, spurring the growth of luxury travel from a niche to a mainstream demand. This shift aligns with an Expedia Group study that revealed that 43% of travelers planned to boost their travel budgets in 2023. It's clear that travelers, regardless of their economic backgrounds, are ready to prioritize luxury experiences.
So, what does this mean for your business? It's all about upping the ante on personalization. Greif forecasts that the luxury and custom FIT market will continue to morph, empowered by technology that meets travelers' evolving needs. An example of this may be allowing your customers to have a greater hand in shaping their own experiences, what he referred to as a "DIY luxury". One effective strategy to support this is to offer an array of add-ons, enabling your clients to customize their trips to their unique tastes.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Marc Mekki, a renowned thought leader in AI, proposed an exciting perspective. He contends that AI tools - easily accessible and available for us all to harness - hold the power to elevate personalization to unprecedented levels. Speaking at the WeTravel Summit, Mekki emphasized the crucial role of AI tools in securing a significant competitive edge.
Mekki illustrated this point with an engaging example: Imagine an adventurous traveler inquiring about a trip to Hawaii. By smartly utilizing various AI tools, their query could be automatically addressed in the form of a voice note - even in the voice of one of your own tour operators - providing a personalized and enhanced version of the trip they're interested in. With personalization closely associated with luxury, AI is undoubtedly the tool that can support this demand.
The review economy
As the desire for connection continues to shape travel experiences, the significance of reviews and personal recommendations has grown. According to the President of Premier Travel Media, Jeffrey Gayduk, data from the 2023 Leisure Travel Trends Study by TravelBoom reveals that conversations with family and friends dictate the travel decisions of 43% of travelers. Complementing this finding, a recent TripAdvisor survey shows that a staggering 82% of travelers deem reviews as crucial when securing accommodation.
Given the weight of reviews in the decision-making process, it’s imperative for your business's profitability and reputation to actively pursue reviews and thoughtfully engage with them through customer support. Fortunately, a host of tools are available to facilitate this process.
Automation is a key component of this strategy. Whether by collaborating with a booking platform that already has this functionality integrated or by creating simple automations with a third-party application like Zapier, you can ensure a consistent follow-up with travelers to request reviews after each trip. Rather than manually composing emails to each guest, automation streamlines and simplifies the process, conserving both time and resources. Then, harnessing the power of AI, each review can be addressed in a personalized manner - provided that your selected tool has been fine-tuned to deliver the right tone of voice and responses. Finally, you can utilize an AI-enabled tool that analyzes the overall sentiment of your reviews, helping you understand how to better align your trip offerings with your travelers’ needs.
Social media platforms have long been recognized for their value in the travel decision-making process. While this trend is primarily focused around travel marketing, there is a growing consensus that more and more social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram will increasingly incorporate e-commerce features, allowing users to make purchases without ever leaving the platform.
While less evident in travel than other industries such as fashion, the e-commerce trend is beginning to infiltrate the travel space. Greif predicts that this will only continue to grow, noting that “we go where our customers are going. And if you're not there, you're not going to be relevant. Where people are going is social [media] with influencers." For example, Facebook has a feature called City Guides that allows users to book flights, hotels, and activities directly through the platform. Instagram has also added a Book Now button to business profiles, allowing users to book experiences directly through the app.
What does this mean for your business? A social media strategy that considers your business's goals and target audience is essential. And while content creation and distribution - especially video, which is increasingly important when it comes to marketing to younger travelers - may seem like a time-consuming task that you'd rather not have to do, it doesn't have to be. With countless AI-supported tools out there to support content creation, from video.ai which repurposes long-form content into short videos to entire platforms such as Magpie Travel, which allow you to manage and distribute content all from one place, there are numerous solutions to assist business owners successfully engaging with social platforms.
By staying informed and adapting to new technologies, travel professionals can position themselves as leaders in the industry and provide their clients with the best possible travel experiences, at the same time as streamlining their operations. However, technology isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s important to understand your travelers’ - and your business’s - needs and preferences, and experiment with the tools that are out there in order to meet them.
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