NFT travel, electrified escapes and a rail revival: the 2023 travel trends

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From a pandemic-born trend for immersion in nature, to the evolution of virtually enhanced tourism and more eco-friendly and sustainable journeys to reignite the passion for train travel, a new report has identified and analyzed eight sector trends set to shape the travel industry as it snaps back to pre-2020 norms.

Euronews Travel has published its latest report Travel in 2023: Connecting People, Places & Planet on the future of tourism. It worked alongside key players in the travel industry to map out travel and tourism pathways for 2023 and examined the COVID-19 pandemic impact on travel, alongside current challenges like the energy crisis and ongoing climate catastrophes that continue to impact the industry and consumer behaviour.

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Trend #1: Regenerative travel

In 2023, the focus will move towards nature positive and carbon positive/neutral travel as more holidaymakers ask what hotels, destinations and tour companies are doing for the environment. With the climate emergency headline news, it will no longer be enough for travel businesses to simply aim to minimise their environmental impact. Tour operators, destination bodies and hotels will be tasked with actively repairing, restoring and investing in nature to keep pace with consumer sentiment.

Exodus is one travel company leading the way with its pledge to become nature net positive by 2024. The jewel in its crown is a huge rewilding project in the Apennines of Italy, partially funded by trip bookings, with the potential to remove approximately 1,500 tonnes of carbon annually.

Trend #2: Rail revival

Convenience, cost and carbon footprint are all factors to help reignite a passion for train travel in 2023. As travellers look to become more eco-friendly, a handful of private companies are reviving night trains across Europe. One of the most exciting initiatives is Nightjet, an international consortium led by Austria’s ÖBB, which bills its services as “a new generation of sleeper trains”. It’s already connected Vienna, Munich and Paris; and Amsterdam and Zurich via Cologne. December 2022 will see the launch of a Zurich to Rome train via Milan; next up will be a sleeper connecting Berlin, Paris and Brussels, then finally a connection between Zurich and Barcelona in 2024.

Passengers wait on the platform before boarding a Nightjet train of Austrian Federal Railways OeBB ahead of departure as it resumes travel operation amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the main station in Vienna, Austria, May 24,2021. (Reuters)
Passengers wait on the platform before boarding a Nightjet train of Austrian Federal Railways OeBB ahead of departure as it resumes travel operation amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the main station in Vienna, Austria, May 24,2021. (Reuters)

Eduardo Santander, Executive Director and CEO of the European Travel Commission (ETC) said: “The undeniable truth is that European tourism currently runs on aviation. To spend the weekend in London, Rome or Paris, and instantly, so that you leave the office on a Friday and come back on a Monday morning or Sunday afternoon, that's only possible by plane. So, let's admit that we have to change the way we see that kind of tourism."

Trend 3: #Hutlife

A growing number of travellers will ditch hotels in favour of rural huts and cabins as more look to connect with nature. These tiny retreats tap into the recent aesthetic appeal of ‘vanlife’ and tiny homes and will attract a much broader demographic than ever before.

Once the preserve of hikers and low-budget travellers, hut and cabin accommodation is now being given a new lease of life. In the Swiss Alps canton of Valais, traditional hikers’ huts are being upgraded in response to a spike in bookings from non-traditional users, post-pandemic. Australia, meanwhile, is set to see the completion of a large network of off-grid holiday cabins in 2023.

Hikers are seen near the Britannia Hut refuge, near the Alpine resort of Saas-Fee, Switzerland July 19, 2022.
Hikers are seen near the Britannia Hut refuge, near the Alpine resort of Saas-Fee, Switzerland July 19, 2022.

As ETC’s Santander, said: "The trend is definitely that: we are getting out of the cave, and we are exploring nature. This is nothing new for human beings, but maybe there has been an awakening because of the pandemic and all the restrictions.”

Trend #4: Virtually enhanced destinations

The pandemic forced travel companies, attractions and destinations to get on board with technology in new and exciting ways. The untapped potential of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to enhance the travel experience came on in leaps and bounds during the pandemic. Almost overnight you could take a tour of a cobbled medieval town in Romania, join ice bathers in Helsinki or go shopping in the fragrant souks of Marrakesh – without leaving the comfort of home.

The same absorbing technology will be employed to enhance the visitor experience rather than replicate it.

In Paris, for example, the Eternal Notre Dame VR allows groups to tour 850 years of cathedral history in a more engaging way than a physical exhibition could ever achieve. Immersion is key, taking tourists into a living, breathing version of Notre Dame’s ageing, fire-battered shell.

Trend #5: NFT travel

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – digital assets that live on the blockchain – are about to break into the travel industry. Early adopters are using them as keys to unlock physical travel experiences and real-world private spaces/networks around the globe. And while NFTs are set to be big in the luxury travel market, providing an extra tier of exclusivity, they can also be used to support fundraising and sustainability projects.

In Bhutan, for example, the new Trans Bhutan Trail has launched a collection of NFTs to fund sustainability projects along the trail and offer hikers exclusive experiences and community connections.

Trend #6: Electrified escapes

As fuel prices soar and low-carbon activities become in demand, the electric travel market will thrive in 2023. Following the recent global e-bike boom, electrically powered scooter tours, sledging, boat trips and safaris are all starting to take off.

Circ e-scooters and rental bikes are ready to use outside the tourist information office next to the townhall Roemer in Frankfurt, Germany, August 8, 2019. (Reuters)
Circ e-scooters and rental bikes are ready to use outside the tourist information office next to the townhall Roemer in Frankfurt, Germany, August 8, 2019. (Reuters)

Driving range, charge time, cost and availability of rental vehicles has vastly improved. This year Skyscanner introduced an e-car hire filter on its website, as electric powered rental vehicles became easier to find while Hertz created a guide to 15 all-electric road trips across Europe.

2022 also saw the launch of r3charge – the first hotel booking platform specifically for electric vehicle travellers.

Trend #7: Journeys with momentum

The seismic shift towards working from home means millions of people are more sedentary in their day-to-day lives. This new global environment will leave remote and hybrid workers craving movement next year. As a result, active travel – typically focused on outdoorsy experiences such as hiking, cycling, swimming and running – will see a surge in 2023.

In Europe, for example, cycling is becoming the energetic holiday experience of choice for a growing number of travellers. EuroVelo, a network of 17 long-distance cycle routes to discover the continent, is reporting an uptick in bookings, as the trend intensifies.

Trend #8: Hyper Personalisation

Cookie-cutter travel is out. Personalised service has always been a marker of luxury travel, but now switched-on travel businesses are going the extra mile with unique, one-off experiences for guests regardless of budget. That might mean unique QR codes for contactless check-ins, vegan food options at breakfast or a bigger range of activities offered around personal interests.

Industry giant Hyatt, with a choice of over 200 experiences across more than 85 destinations, is shaping its hyper-personalisation offer in the form of a platform dedicated to curated wellbeing offers.

Commenting on the report, Santander, said: "It's very difficult now to predict 2023 or 2024. We think there's going to be a huge change of paradigm when it comes to decision-making at the consumer level. But also at the supplier level, where we see a lot of businesses are under scrutiny and the approach to sustainable goals.

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) believes that 2023 will be a year of reform. Sandra Carvao, Chief of Tourism Market Intelligence & Competitiveness, says, “We saw in the pandemic that we need to rethink the governance of tourism; how we co-ordinate amongst ourselves in the sector and with the private sector. I think that we will see a lot of that consolidating in 2023.”

Carolyn Gibson, Chief Revenue Officer, Euronews, says, “The pandemic fundamentally changed the travel industry and while it may be too early to say the lasting effect it will have on the sector, it has undoubtedly caused seismic shifts for business and consumers. With this report, and across Euronews Travel, we’re developing content that supports the industry through this major transition. We’re working to understand how major changes driven by external factors, like the pandemic, the climate crisis, and the change in working patterns, are shaping travel preferences across demographics. We hope these insights will help the industry shape their offerings and their marketing campaigns to support the continued recovery of the sector.”

Jennifer Andre, Vice President of Business Development for Expedia Group Media Solutions said: “2023 will be an important year for our industry as travellers are discovering new ways to travel and placing their values, like sustainability and inclusivity, at the top of their decision making in the booking process. Our 70+ petabytes of first-party data at Expedia Group gave us the opportunity to track changes in traveller behaviour over the last two years and we are excited to have worked with Euronews on this report to help provide the travel industry with actionable insights to leverage for the upcoming year.”

Euronews Travel journalist, reporter and co-author Damon Embling believes, “The social aspect of travel will be more important than ever next year, and this extends all the way from staff to local community relationships to how and with whom customers choose to travel.” Multigenerational travel boomed in 2022, as travellers sought to claw back precious moments with loved ones after two years of lost connections. Report co-author and travel expert Lorna Parkes added, “That trend might not have longevity, but what will remain is the desire for unity and more meaningful human interactions as people travel the world with new eyes.”

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