Post-pandemic Travel: 2023 travel trends
Entering our fourth year post-pandemic, it’s safe to say that travel is back in full swing.
It is, however, looking markedly different than before. One of the big changes brought about by COVID-19 is the shattering of escapism as a driving force for travel. This has further been compounded by an increasing occurrence of shared global challenges, such as energy crises, natural disasters, climate consciousness and the war in Ukraine.
Despite the gloomy picture this may paint, travellers are not put off! Instead, we are seeing the carving out of new kinds of adventures that embrace existential uncertainty, seek out connection, make wellness a priority and leave only the lightest footprints behind.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the major trends that will define global travel in 2023 and the shape they may take in a South African context.
Millennials seek to put new destinations on the map
There’s no doubt that, when it comes to building wealth, millennials and Gen Z have had a rough ride, compared to their boomer and Gen X parents.
However, with the average millennial now aged 34, this generation is finally reaching its peak purchasing power and continues to choose to splurge on experiences rather than material possessions.
Of course, as Skift points out, not any old experiences will do:
“In a world where travel is more commonplace than ever, millennials want to be seen as not simply following the crowd but trailblazing unique experiences. Seventy percent of American millennials and Gen Zs report seeking out travel experiences that their family and friends have not heard of, according to Skift Research.”
With a strong desire to seek the roads less travelled and share their experiences, millennials and - hot on their heels - Gen Z are putting less obvious destinations on the map.
An interesting off-shoot of this trend, is the desire to seek out the kind of experiences that offer the opportunity to hone skills in self-reliance.
According to Booking.com, “Travelers are keen to use travel in 2023 as an opportunity to learn survival skills (58%) including how to source clean water (53%), light a fire from scratch (42%), forage for food in the wild (39%) and even prep for an apocalypse (39%).”
While the overarching theme may seem to be ‘off-grid’, the truth is that sharing via social media is an integral part of the millennial and Gen Z travel experience, which means that the ability to connect to WiFi/Data on a regular basis (not necessarily all day every day) is an important factor to consider.
TikTok trumps Google for trip planning
Considering this love for online sharing, it’s hardly surprising that short-form video content is becoming the primary resource for travel discovery and inspiration.
According to a Portrait of American Travelers, an annual survey by MMGY Global, a travel and hospitality marketing agency, about 34% of travellers were influenced by TikTok in 2022. This is a 10% increase from the previous year.
Along with TikTok, Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts offer entertaining, compelling and informative content within a few seconds, making it the perfect format for piquing interest.
Furthermore, given what we know about Millennials’ and Gen-Z’s penchant for off-the-beaten-track travel, it offers glimpses at lesser-known destinations.
“One of TikTok’s attractive advantages over Google is it doesn’t default to promoting hotspots, which too often suffer from overcrowding,” write Seth Borko and Dawit Habtemariam in Skift’s 2023 Travel Megatrends report.
While many Destination Marketing Organisations (DMO) may shy away from creating content for these fast-paced, youth-driven platforms, it’s important that they start considering ways and means to tap in.
One solution could be to partner with those already creating quality content on these platforms.
While some seek to be seen as destination trailblazers, another sector of Millennial and Gen Z travellers’ seem to be driven by nostalgia.
As they become parents themselves (later than any previous generations), many young travellers find themselves longing for simpler times and the magic of their childhood vacations.
In its 2023 trends forecast, Booking.com predicts an increase in destinations previously popular in the 80s and 90s.
“Millennial travelers will be first to book emerging era-themed accommodation that transport them back to a time they hold close to their hearts, and will likely be doing so with family by their side (54%) with ‘family reunion’ multi-generational trips top of the travel agenda in 2023,” the report reads.
Wellness experiences reign supreme
With work-from-home/anywhere having become the norm over the past few years, the line between being ‘on’ and switching ‘off’ has become increasingly blurred, taking a huge toll on mental, physical and relational health. Add navigating life during a pandemic, a world at war and growing economic challenges and you have a lot of tired and stressed people.
In response, many travellers are seeking to restore a sense of equilibrium in 2023 by pursuing experiences that prioritise wellness.
According to Booking.com, two in five survey respondents said they aim to find peace at a silent retreat, while 42% were planning to go on a transformative hiatus focusing on health or life milestones such as menopause or pregnancy.
“For those seeking enhanced spiritual experiences to stir the soul, alternative substances such as cannabis or plant-based psychedelics like ayahuasca or mushrooms will become a more mainstream offering, with 36% keen to try this kind of experimental wellness experience as part of their 2023 travels,” the report continues.
Climate and sustainability remain top of mind
Going hand in hand with the personal wellness trend, travellers are more mindful about the impact their journeys may have on the environment and local communities.
The 2022 Virtuoso Sustainable Travel Survey revealed that 74% of their customers are willing to spend more money to travel sustainably, and 70% feel that travelling sustainably enhances their overall experience.
In Europe and the US, this has led to a revival in rail travel as people choose to forgo short-haul flights for train trips instead. Unfortunately, South Africa’s railways don’t offer much respite in this regard. However, local travellers can always opt for staycations or road trips closer to home.
In terms of local communities, several travel trend reports highlight the continued and growing desire for travellers to have authentic encounters and make meaningful connections with local communities in the destinations they choose to visit.
Skift predicts that “in 2023, leading luxury destinations are expected to respond to this demand by doubling down on developing and marketing elevated nature-based and cultural offerings.”
Full circle back to the era of travel agents
Following a decade or more of DIY trip planning, the travel agent is back in vogue!
According to a Virtuoso survey, 76% of respondents indicated that they would invest in building a relationship with a good travel advisor who can save them time, money and the headache of orchestrating trip logistics.
Make 2023 a memorable year by investing in more local trips, supporting small and female-owned businesses and appreciating our own country's natural beauty. Read about a few of our favourite local getaways and outings here.