Tired of standard travel itineraries and average service?
COVID led us to re-assess practically everything about our lives, including our travel habits. After months of being trapped indoors dreaming up our future travels, cookie-cutter itineraries simply won’t cut it anymore.
Travel has always been about personal experience, but the industry must now prepare to take things a step further.
With the cost of living - and travel - increasing, holidaymakers want their trips to be transformative, not throwaway. This meansthink-outside-the-box adventures that are personalised in virtually every way. Hyper-personalised, if you will.
Going the extra mile will mean far more than a hotel offering a complimentary drink or a tour company providing a group discount.
From QR codes for stress-free contactless check-in to vegan options at breakfast to niche activities that align with your personal interests, hyper-personalised opportunities will abound in 2023. Here’s what’s in store.
Customised travel experiences will no longer be a luxury
Personalised service has always been a marker of luxury travel, with companies offering the chance to buy your way into a one-of-a kind trip. There are plenty of travellers who will gladly splurge to ensure their holiday is exactly what they desire.
Businesses like Golf Air host luxury golf and safari trips in South Africa, while companies like Black Tomato will transport you to Antarctica on a private yacht excursion for a hefty - yet arguably, priceless - price.
But now, travellers on every budget are demanding personalisation.
“The number one challenge travellers are trying to solve is the equation of time versus experience, and how to combine that experience with personal interests,” says Paul Easto, founder of Wilderness Scotland, a UK tour operator specialising in active, nature and personalised tours.
However, “from a destination standpoint, there’s a conversation of volume versus value,” he explains. “Many destinations struggle with the very nature of customisation because it’s more time intensive and ultimately a more expensive product.”
This leaves tourism companies with the challenge of creating “unique experiences that offer value, no matter the price point”.
Niche personalised travel trends are going mainstream
For some, personalisation isn’t a preference, it’s a lifestyle necessity. Vegan travel is one example of a niche that has gone mainstream.
UK-based travel booking website Responsible Travel increased its number of vegan-friendly trip listings by 1,000 in 2021, to cater for a lifestyle that requires a more personalised offering from hotels and restaurants.
“Over the last decade, demand [for vegan travel] has quadrupled, with bookings up more than 300 per cent since 2012,” says Responsible Travel CEO Justin Francis.
Other data points to travellers seeking out eco-friendly ways to explore the world as they adopt a low impact lifestyle. Research from Expedia Group Media Solutions shows that 65 per cent of consumers will opt for more environmentally friendly transportation or lodging on their next trip.
Customised travel in itself offers a route to lower volume and, arguably, more sustainable tourism.
Another hyper-personalised trend going mainstream is ancestral travel. This activity caters to solo travellers and multi-generational families, and often involves low-impact, low-cost activities like walking through towns and speaking with the community.
“During our tours, we’ve been quite successful in tracking down our clients’ ancestral connections just through talking to locals or asking questions at pubs. It’s incredible to put together,” says Paul.
Tour operators with local connections will reign supreme
Data from Expedia’s Inclusive Travel Study shows that 64 per cent of consumers are interested in learning more about travel options that support local cultures and communities.
To make a real impact, and deliver a genuine experience for visitors, this requires tour operators to be rooted in local communities.
One example is Sri Lanka Bespoke. Their ‘Food Mapping’ itineraries rely on the long-standing community ties of the owner’s Sri Lankan family. This facilitates immersive activities, like a day out with a local fisherman to learn the genesis of a regional clay pot fish curry.
Local connections and community buy-in are key for experiences like these. The challenge for tourism companies will be finding a way to offer diverse experiences in a cost-effective manner, without falling into the trap of pre-built itineraries and inflexible policies that are already encouraging travellers to consider options elsewhere.
The hyper-personalised travel trend is explored in more detail in Expedia and Euronews Travel's 2023 Trend Report.