2019 Trend Report: Trans-formational travel, and are those followers real people, or just bots?

2019 Trend Report: Transformational travel, and are those real followers, or just bots?

This story originally ran in the January 10th, 2019 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.

TORONTO — The Canadian travel industry is fuelled year after year by huge volumes of ITC package sales to sun and sand destinations. So does that mean we’re immune to 2019’s travel trends? Not at all.

Sun sells and so do all-inclusives. For the Canadian travel industry, these aren’t so much trends as iron-clad guarantees.

But after years of fly n’ flop vacations, Mr. and Mrs. All-In might opt for a Mediterranean culinary vacation instead. They saw pics on Instagram and now they want to try it for themselves.

A couple with two children and an annual booking for Florida can now afford that safari trip in Kenya since the kids left the nest.

And an older luxury client who always gravitated to five-star hotels in Anguilla and St. Bart’s now finds herself travelling solo, and looking for a trip that offers something more, something inspirational.

Beyond the beach, beyond the swim-up bars, there are major travel trends shaping the Canadian travel industry for 2019.

Solo travel and women-only travel continue to be big, as is bleisure travel, as Millennials especially look to optimize their business trips with vacation days pre or post.

And the very biggest factors shaping travel in 2019 are the desire for transformational travel, the overwhelming influence of social media and access as the new luxury.


The quest for life-changing travel continues unabated and for 2019 the industry has taken the years-long trend for experiential travel to the next level with transformational travel.

“Travel with experiences at its core was one of 2018’s major travel trends, but 2019 will take it even further,” say the researchers at Booking.com. “‘Doing’ will weigh equally with ‘going’, if not more, when it comes to travel reflection. For more than half of travellers (52%), experiences are now valued higher than material possessions.”

Representing a new type of currency and means of personal fulfillment, 2019 will see travellers focus even more on adding purpose to their trips.

Ulla Hefel Böhler, CEO of Insight Vacations, says Insight has drilled down on emphasizing transformational travel, enhancing many of its experiences on its journeys. “Whether this means connecting clients with local characters who really bring a destination to life or taking them to areas where they can see what sustainable development looks like, we proudly provide the value these experiences deserve,” says Hefel Böhler.

At the UNWTO’s 7th Global Summit on Urban Tourism in October of this year, “memorable experiences” were brought up and positioned as a major shift in motivation for travellers, she adds.

For CLIA, experiential travel has also evolved into ‘achievement travel’ as vacationers are looking for immersive, cultural experiences beyond sightseeing. Bucket lists have become more goal-oriented and cruise lines are meeting these demands, says CLIA, noting that cruise passengers can conquer Machu Picchu or complete culinary workshops hosted by Le Cordon Bleu chefs while sailing the high seas.

All of this makes travel in 2019 sound very earnest and grown up, and while that may be the goal for many, it’s not what some vacationers have in mind for their getaway.

According to Booking.com’s research, 31% of travellers say they plan to visit a destination that makes them feel like a kid again. “We’ll see properties looking to add more childlike and playful touches such as ball pits and bouncy castles for adults to cater for a Millennial and Gen Z audience, who are the biggest groups who travel to feel like a child again.”


Instagram posts are driving interest in travel around the world, so much so that on an average day, there can be close to 351 million posts with the tag #travel, says CLIA.

“The impact that social media, especially Instagram, has on consumers and their decision-making process when looking to book travel and deciding on what destinations to visit is immense,” notes Insight’s Hefel Böhler.

Social media cachet has become such a motivator for travel, it’s the number one trend cited in Virtuoso’s annual Luxe Report.

Tim Morgan, Virtuoso’s Director, Business Strategy, Canada, says social media’s influence is unmistakable, as it drives travellers’ desire to find the most captivating backdrops and the best time of day for snapping images. It’s even impacting booking requests for Virtuoso advisers. “Clients are requesting on-site photography sessions to create Instagram-worthy content, including replicating shots they admired online. Virtuoso advisors are arranging themed photoshoots characteristic of destinations, such as wearing traditional geisha attire in Kyoto or ball gowns in Venice.”

Anything that drives exploration and inspires travel bookings is a good thing, but it’s tough to truly connect with a destination when all you’re doing is uploading selfies and compulsively checking your social media feeds. No wonder there’s also an upswing in ‘unplugged’ travel, and news of tourism boards like Vienna, who cheekily pushed back on the selfie obsession with an anti-Instagram marketing campaign last fall.

Peter J. Bates, President of Strategic Vision, says any company using influencers to promote their products and services needs to do their due diligence.

Influencers now command high fees and their travel costs covered to share content with their followers, who may number in the millions, says Bates. “The drawback? There’s little visibility into what and who the influencer brings to the table. Unlike traditional publishers, influencers rarely provide useful data on their audience other than its size. Are they real travel consumers who are likely to book your product? Are they even real people or just bots? We need more transparency from influencers and less credulity from the people hiring them.”


Access is the new luxury, says CLIA. Travellers are setting their sights on destinations that were previously out of reach, some only accessible now by cruise ship: “They want to be among the first of their peers to experience destinations such as the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica.”

People also want to explore their passions through hard-to-get bucket-list experiences, building on a years-long trend that shows no sign of slowing down, says Virtuoso’s Morgan. “Sports fans are asking for tickets to major events such as the Olympics, Super Bowl and Wimbledon. Art aficionados are inquiring about private tours of locales like the Vatican after hours,” says Morgan, who adds that requests are also on the rise from the company’s high-end clientele for private helicopter transfers to and from airports as well as from one city or resort island to another.

That’s the upper end of the market. What about everyone else?

No matter what the budget, off-peak season travel is rising in popularity too. Ignoring the fact that they too are part of the crowd, travellers are bemoaning the proliferation of – gasp! – other travellers in their destination, much to the bemusement of the travel industry.

That beach that looked so secluded and private in the brochure may not be so private after all, and in their desire to create a more unique and customized travel experience, many world wanderers are going to great lengths to guarantee themselves a more crowd-free holiday, including opting in for off-peak getaways.

Tourism boards have been promoting off-peak travel for years, and as concerns (and frustrations) about overtourism climb, travellers are increasingly willing to book around the high season crowds.


And finally, what are the hottest destinations for 2019? Japan, Patagonia and Jordan are on G Adventures’ list. Lonely Planet names Sri Lanka, Germany, Zimbabwe, Copenhagen and Serbia’s youth and culture capital, Novi Sad. Top global destinations in the Canadian edition of the 2019 Virtuoso Luxe Report include Italy, South Africa and Australia. Meanwhile Slovenia and Colombia make the top 10 list of emerging destinations.

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