Last year felt like it lasted a decade. But now that we’ve successfully put 2017 in the rear view mirror, let’s pause and look ahead. What's in store for 2018? Everything from augmented reality tour guides to heritage-driven travel.
The Guardian forecasts that the DNA home kit market—which lets you map your lineage—will explode into a $350 million industry by 2022. And as the audience for these DNA tests continue to rise, so will their thirst to explore—first-hand—their own heritage. Multi-generation travel has already established itself over the last five years, and heritage-related travel dovetails nicely with that demographic—heck, “exploring your roots” is almost as much a travel cliché as Eat, Pray, Love acolytes. As more people learn where they came from, more of them will want to go back and check it out for themselves.
Google knows there’s serious money in the travel space—just look at how they've been surfacing airline and lodging pricing directly into search results. The Pixel Buds were perhaps their most visible foray into the industry, though, and while the device doesn’t deliver on the promise of a Star Trek-esque instant-translator, chances are that the experience (and the artificial intelligence that powers it) will only improve. Skift, who watches all elements of the travel space like a hawk, just published a new report documenting Google’s entire 2018 travel ecosystem, including insights into voice search, how online travel agencies are going to compete with Google’s move into direct booking, and how its suite of apps draw in a massive consumer base. Our hope? It triggers a space race, both with companies that live squarely in travel and other Silicon Valley big-hitters like Amazon and Apple.
Lonely Planet dubbed Detroit the best city in the country to visit in 2018—largely for the same reasons that Jetsetter recently profiled the locale. Now, all signs are pointing to a rise in popularity in similar, unexpected cities in 2018. Based on in-depth analysis of where Airbnb saw the strongest growth in bookings in 2017, the company predicts that next year will see increased visitation to other Midwestern cities, particularly Indianapolis, IN, and Columbus, Ohio.
The urge to have an authentic experience while traveling has been trending for about a decade now, and is part of the reason for Airbnb’s success (to say nothing of their program to let you book “experiences” with locals as part of their accommodation model). Authenticity has now—thankfully—become easy to find. Even if you opt for a tour operator, there are companies like Intrepid Travel to help you tap into the local scene with relative ease. Those who’ve drank deep of that experience will likely gravitate to the extreme side of packaged travel next. Operators like Secret Compass have started to offer experiences that are less traditional package trips and more like bona fide expeditions—pack-rafting Gabon’s Ivindo, a mountaineering excursion in Kyrgyzstan—as well as bespoke trips that promise high adventure in a totally remote, off-the-grid locale.
According to a recent survey by AARP on U.S. travel trends, people who plan to bring work with them while traveling will increase, generation by generation, over the next year, with 74% of Millennials and 65% of Gen Xers likely to work outside of the office while on the road—but only 56% of the Baby Boomer Generation. No one’s criticizing remote office strategies, but here’s hoping we all remember to vacate while on vacation in the coming year.
Patagonia’s lawsuit to block Trump’s reduction of Bears Ears National Monument is just the latest salvo of corporate-driven responses to the new administration’s attempts to alter the country’s landscape or control who can visit the U.S. Remember all the Silicon Valley companies that spoke out against Trump’s various travel bans? Yet another example of how the companies of this country can attempt to leverage their corporate influence to try to keep America’s environment protected, its citizens safe, and its visitors feeling welcome. It’s doubtful we’ll see airlines or hotel brands polarize their potential customer base by directly supporting one side of a controversial political argument, but others, like Patagonia—companies that have a tangential relationship to the travel industry—should serve as an example that it’s not only admirable to speak out. Sometimes it’s essential.
Virtual reality has long been praised as the next great thing—and when you don a pair of VR glasses to jump off a cliff in Yosemite or plunge into the swirling chaos of Iguazu Falls, it can be a transformative experience. But other than with gamers, VR hasn’t really caught on with the masses. Augmented reality—layering a digital experience onto what’s real—feels a lot more feasible, especially because it’s becoming an integral part of all modern smartphones. AR may still face some of the same hardware hurdles that plague VR, as evidenced by the unenthusiastic response to Google Glass and Snapchat’s lower-cost product—but phones should significantly reduce that barrier. The iPhone X already has a bunch of AR apps available, and the platform is open to any developer with a cool idea, so expect more AR experiences—and we’re not talking about dropping a dinosaur into your selfie of the Taj Mahal. Think about being able to peer into the inner workings of a pyramid, unlock “live” stories at historic locales, see how Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia will look when it’s complete (while standing next to the church), or get an augmented tour of San Fran alongside Allen Ginsberg.
Boutique hotels are nothing new. But in the perpetual acquisition of the small guys by the big players like Marriot, Hilton, and Choice Hotels, even these once-hip properties have started to take on a degree of homogony. Thankfully, lifestyle brands will inject a bit of character back into the hotel space. Detroit’s Shinola will open their first hotel property in their hometown in the fall of 2018, leveraging their dedication to American-built craftsmanship into eight floors and 130 rooms, along with 16,000 square feet of food, beverage, and retail. And MUJI Designs, makers of “good quality items” as varied as stationary, household goods, and apparel, opened their first hotel in Shenzhen, China, in late 2017, the first of several others outposts, including in Beijing and Ginza.
Whether it was due to Trump taking office, his administration’s America-first stance, their repeated attempts at passing a travel ban, or some of the president’s scathing anti-Muslim tweets, last year saw a noticeable decline in international tourism to the United States. Figures released by the U.S. Department of Commerce showed a drop by close to 700,000 the first quarter of 2017 compared to the previous year—a trend that continued throughout the year. It’s clear that the current administration won’t abandon its isolationist philosophies (the promise of the wall still looms, as does future travel bans, aggressive trade bargains, potential sanctions, and new “hostile nation” designations), so whatever kept non-U.S. travelers from visiting the United States last year will certainly carry over in 2018.
In a world where domestic terrorist attacks and mass shootings barely scratch our collective conscious and where terrorism in Europe is just as expected as unrest in Egypt and Turkey, security while traveling will be a growing concern in 2018. An uptick in travel insurance should be one solid indicator, and travelers might taking advantage of the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program sponsored by the State Dept. But for those truly paralyzed by fear, trips to places without political value or huge urban populations like Alaska or the more remote stretches of the National Park System might become more prominent.