9 Travel Trends to Watch in 2017 and 2018

From multigenerational travel to millennial cruises, here are top industry game-changers.

By Gwen Pratesi, ContributorSept. 13, 2017
By Gwen Pratesi, ContributorSept. 13, 2017, at 10:07 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

9 Travel Trends to Watch in 2017 and 2018

Young woman with backpack sitting on an edge of cliff and looking to the sky.

Extreme trips, volunteer vacations and sustainable travel initiatives are taking off. (Getty Images)

After initially investing in Expedia in the '90s, Bill Gates publicly advised everyone to throw away their travel agent's phone number as the future of travel planning would be self-service through the internet. It seemed like a fair prediction with successful online publications such as Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor enabling travelers to research and book their own vacations, but today vacation planning is changing and travel advisers are once again in high demand.

Tired of planning their own trips and searching for memorable, unexpected and out-of-the-ordinary experiences, travelers want trusted and reliable resources to curate extraordinary vacations. In addition to planning customized trips, travel advisers are privy to hot new properties, up-and-coming destinations around the globe and the latest travel trends. The reality is the travel adviser is not a thing of the past, but rather the gateway to unique and rewarding future travel experiences.

With that in mind, here are the hottest new travel trends to watch, according to leading luxury travel experts who attended the recent Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas.

Transformational Travel

People want to come back informed, enlightened and changed after their vacations. Matthew D. Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso, a network of luxury travel advisers, says, "We tend to talk about luxury travel, adventure, family... all these different travel niches. When it comes down to it though, it's the transformative nature of travel that is the single biggest motivator. When you travel, it pushes you out of your comfort zone, and it fundamentally changes your perception of yourself, your place in the world, of others. It fosters greater understanding and awareness because travel is all about celebrating the differences and recognizing what makes us all similar," he explains. Plus, immersive travel enables people to become more informed and open-minded global citizens. "People love their kids all over the world, they take pride in their heritage [and] they enjoy a good meal. It's in those moments of discovery that you make genuine human connections; that you're transformed because of your travels. And in that sense, as well as many others, travel is a force for good," Upchurch adds.

The Rise of Sustainable Tourism

Another emerging trend, according to Upchurch, is sustainable travel. "When it comes to the future of travel, sustainable tourism principles and practices will increasingly become part of the travel mainstream. When people think about sustainability in travel they often only think about the green footprint aspect, but it goes much deeper than that to also embrace support for the protection of cultural and natural heritage, along with social and economic benefits for local people in destinations throughout the world," he explains. "Sustainable tourism is not a trend, it is a travel transformation," he adds. To make this topic even more relevant, the United Nations declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Volunteer Vacations

Voluntourism, where travelers want to make a difference with hands-on experience helping out in the community, is also expected to increase in the wake of recent disasters. "Between two massive hurricanes and now the largest earthquake Mexico has seen in 100 years, I think we're going to see a resurgence in voluntourism," says Misty Ewing Belles, the managing director of global public relations for Virtuoso. "The need is apparent and as people look for ways to help, volunteer vacations will likely see a rise," she adds.

Extreme Trips

Industry experts are also seeing piqued interest in traveling to rapidly changing destinations impacted by spikes in tourism and the threat of global warming. This includes places like Cuba, Antarctica, Venice and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Epic adventures, such as African safaris or over-the-top experiences, like a private tour of the Grand Canyon, and extreme experiences to go where few have gone before, are also at the top of the list and include destinations like South Africa, the Galápagos Islands, Costa Rica and New Zealand.

Extended Vacations Overseas

Known as "sojourns" for the baby-boomer generation, Brownell Travel has launched this concept of extended three-month stays at apartments. The trips are designed to recapture the reasons why people fell in love with travel in the first place (think: reliving a first summer abroad in France). More than just a vacation, these immersive experiences offer people who are able to work anywhere virtually, access to co-working spaces like WeWork. Oftentimes, family members will come and visit during the stay.

Multigenerational Vacations

Multigenerational travel continues to be a leading industry-wide trend. By traveling together with younger and older relatives, families are able to reconnect. "Skip-gen" trips, where grandparents take grandchildren on a special adventure, leaving the parents behind to experience their own time off, are also becoming more popular.

River Cruising for the Younger Set

While river cruising remains popular for senior travelers, millennials have also become a target market. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises' new U by Uniworld brand will launch next year with amenities and services geared toward 21- to 45-year-olds. Focused on experiential travel, Uniworld's two luxury ships will cruise European waterways and feature DJs, rooftop lounges, yoga classes and adventure excursions, from rock climbing to whitewater rafting.

New Cruise Amenities

On the high seas, an increasing number of lines are introducing innovative technology and state-of-the-art features. Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Cruise Line's newest ship debuting next summer, will be home to the world's largest at-sea race track. With two levels and almost 1,000 feet of track, the ship will enable cruisers to navigate electric cars through hairpin turns and reach speeds up to 35 mph at 18 stories above the sea. Hoping to take the guest experience to an all new level, in November, Princess Cruises will launch Ocean Medallion Vacations. Developed by their chief experience and innovation officer, John Padgett, who was formerly with the Walt Disney Company, the Ocean Medallion, a quarter-size wearable piece, with similar technology to Disney's FastPass+ and MagicBand, will personalize everything from embarkation to ordering meals and booking excursions, creating an inventive onboard experience.

Emerging Destinations

Whether you're traveling for personal enrichment, volunteering for a good cause or in search of new and exciting destination, you might ask yourself: Where are the hottest places to travel right now? Virtuoso's Ewing Belles thinks South Korea is an up-and-coming destination. "With the 2018 Winter Olympics just five months away, South Korea is about to be thrust into the spotlight. East Asia will likely see an influx of visitors who will use Seoul as a launch pad to visit the region," she says. Other top global destinations include Italy, South Africa, France, Iceland and Australia, with Japan emerging as an untraditional multigenerational family travel destination. And for those wishing to stay closer to home, New York City, Maui, Hawaii, Napa Valley and Sonoma, California, Las Vegas and Miami are rising tourism destinations across the country.


8 Ethical Travel Destinations to Visit in 2017

8 Ethical Travel Destinations to Visit in 2017

Smiling volunteer planting tree in woods.

Gwen Pratesi, Contributor

Gwen Pratesi is a James Beard Finalist in Journalism, award-winning food and travel writer, ...  Read more

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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