In recent months, as we at GeoEx have remained engaged in dialogue with our travellers, a wide spectrum of attitudes towards travel has emerged. On one end of this spectrum is travelers who love travel and yearn to be wandering the wide world again, but who say they will not be comfortable traveling until a vaccine is available. On the other end is travelers who say that if they travel carefully and responsibly, taking all the necessary precautions, they are ready to take advantage of the amazing travel opportunities that are available right now.
Within this broad spectrum, as the months have passed, one shift has become clear: More and more travelers, fueled by pent-up passions to be on the road again and buoyed by recent positive vaccine developments, are looking ahead to a time when travel will be more accessible and are making plans and booking trips for 2021 and 2022.
Here are six trends that I see emerging as travelers begin to roam the world again, and that I think will characterize the renewed travel industry in the future.
1. Regenerative Travel
One of the great defining buzzphrases of the last half-decade has been sustainable travel, or sustainable tourism. The World Tourism Organization defines sustainable tourism as “development [which] meets the needs of present tourists and host regions while protecting and enhancing opportunity for the future.” It is founded on three pillars of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social.
Sustainable travel grew out of responsible travel, which grew out of ecotravel. Now this evolution is continuing, and a new buzzphrase is replacing sustainable travel: regenerative travel. As Jonathon Day, an associate professor in Purdue University’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, said in a recent New York Times article, “Sustainable tourism is sort of a low bar. At the end of the day, it’s just not making a mess of the place. Regenerative tourism says, let’s make it better for future generations.”
Regenerative travel not only respects and preserves a place and its people, it restores and improves them; regenerative travelers leave a place better than it was when they arrived and pave a path for long-term enrichment.
GeoEx has recently launched a trip that is a good example of regenerative travel. It’s called Unexplored Japan, and it follows the picturesque coastline of the Sea of Japan in the western part of the main island, Honshu. This is an area that is little visited by Japanese travelers, much less Western travelers, and it is a region rich with traditional crafts and practices.
Our tour will spotlight many of these, including Hagi-yaki pottery, indigo dyeing, and traditional salt-, sake-, and vinegar-makers. Among other highlights, we’ll stay in a gorgeously renovated samurai residence in one historic village and in a traditional funaya boathouse residence in a fishing village. We’ll also savor feasts prepared by local chefs who are creating innovative cuisine using seasonal and regional fare.
This trip will not only be an immersive introduction to all these local treasures, it will also serve to preserve, celebrate, and promote the very treasures we are enjoying. It’s a win-win travel experience, an example of the kind of travel we’ll be seeing more and more in the future, I think. Happily, I will have the great privilege and pleasure of leading this trip, which takes place next fall, and I’m extremely excited about it.
2. Slow Travel
A second trend is slow travel. The restrictions of this year have taught us just how much travel means to us, how precious it is. As a result of this, I believe that when we travel again, we will want to slow down to savor every moment and every encounter in full. We are going to travel more mindfully and measuredly, to delve more deeply into a place.
For me, one of the silver linings of the pandemic has been to make me reappreciate the wonders that are close to home, on a slow, attentive walk through my neighborhood or on a day-long immersion in a nearby destination such as Muir Woods. When we start to roam widely again, I think we will bring that same awareness and goal to the larger world.
GeoEx just arranged a trip that’s a good example of one aspect of this: We sent a traveler to an extraordinary resort in the Maldive Islands. Rather than move from island to island, her plan was to stay on one island for all of her eight-day trip, and to explore all the options that island had to offer, from beachcombing to sightseeing by boat to lazing under softly swaying palms. Sounds heavenly, doesn’t it?
As she enthusiastically told me after her return, it truly was heavenly. “One big highlight was that I felt totally relaxed,” she said. “I wasn’t nervous about anything. After the stress of living in a big city in the US, it was so wonderful to wake up in the morning and just feel normal.” These words resonated with me, and I suspect that many tired and traumatized travelers will be yearning for similarly slow-paced getaways.
3. The Wonders of the Wild
A third trend will be a new focus on wilderness and wildlife. Post-pandemic, people who have been sheltering in place too long will yearn for wide open spaces and wild places; they will want to reconnect with the healing, restoring, inspiring power of nature. I expect adventure trips will surge in popularity – safaris, hiking and trekking adventures, excursions into the remote reaches of places from Alaska and Antarctica to Patagonia and Mongolia. The beauty and balm of pristine nature will be prized more than ever.
4. Off-the-Beaten-Path Adventures
A fourth trend will be off-the-beaten-path travel. I believe that people will want to set their travel sights on lesser-known destinations, areas where they can immerse themselves in the local culture away from groups of other travelers. This trend will marry the search for cultural and experiential authenticity with the desire to avoid large crowds. One trip that GeoEx has just launched, Algeria’s Shifting Sands, is a great example of this. The trip begins by tracing the Mediterranean coast, then travels inland through the Tell Atlas Mountains into the heart of the Sahara Desert. Along the way, the group visits five magnificent off-the-radar UNESCO sites and enjoys rare insider experiences such as a Tuareg cooking demonstration and a private meeting with a local Imam.
5. Bucket List Trips
The fifth trend will be bucket list travel, the once-in-a-lifetime dream trip. Having been denied travel for a year or longer, and having been made aware of the fragile nature of our world, many travelers are going to opt to take that once-in-a-lifetime dream trip now rather than postpone it to a precarious future. We are already seeing this phenomenon at GeoEx, with many of our more ambitious, bucket list-type journeys selling swiftly; these include venturing to the North Pole and Antarctica, riding the Trans-Siberian Express, and tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans. A number of our travelers have contacted us recently wanting to create private, customized journeys, saying they are ready to make that dream trip come true, now.
6. Travel with a Purpose
I believe the pandemic has underlined for many of us how intricately interrelated our world is, and has made us more aware of the social, economic, and environmental impacts of our travels. In recognition of this, I think the sixth defining trend will be travel with a purpose—travel that combines relaxation and education with some form of community service or other “giving back” activity, such as wildlife conservation, preserving the environment, archaeological research, and village restoration. GeoEx’s Congo & Central African Republic: Wild Heart of Africa is one such trip. While exploring the remote rain forests and wild savannahs of the rarely visited Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, travelers will also participate in a pioneering eco-tourism project involving tracking Western lowland gorillas.
These are six trends that I think will emerge as hallmarks of travel in the future. Of course, at this moment, we still don’t know exactly what path this recovery will follow, but we do know one thing: For many of us, one of the most profound lessons of 2020 has been just how important travel is to us, how exploring, celebrating, and engaging with the diverse wonders of our planet reinvigorates our spirits and nourishes our souls. When we begin to travel again, I believe our wanderlust will be even keener than before, and more deeply cognizant of the precious possibilities the wide world holds in store.