The Biggest Travel Trends to Watch in 2017

Pros share their predictions for the year ahead.

By Liz Weiss, Staff WriterDec. 1, 2016
By Liz Weiss, Staff WriterDec. 1, 2016, at 3:54 p.m.
U.S. News & World Report

The Biggest Travel Trends to Watch in 2017

Blurred travelers pulling their suitcases along a hallway in an airport.

Here's what to expect in 2017.(Getty Images)

In 2017, innovative travel companies, apps and products will change travel as we know it. Eco-friendly initiatives and sustainable travel will be a top industry trend, says Rebecca Warren, managing editor at Lonely Planet. With the United Nations declaring 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism, you can expect industrywide efforts to reduce carbon emissions, she says. But the upcoming year is about more than just responsible travel. From inventive tools that allow you to snap high-quality travel photos or map out your trip with an artificial intelligence platform to evolving alternative accommodation platforms, there are plenty of groundbreaking changes on the horizon.

To help you stay attuned to the latest travel trends (as well as those fads on their way out) U.S. News got the inside scoop from top travel experts.

Artificial Intelligence Tools Are Improving and Expanding

Travel sites have long been toying with the idea of implementing real-time messaging platforms and personalized automation technology. "Artificial intelligence is finally becoming a reality," says Jason Clampet, co-founder and editor in chief of travel site Skift. Today, you can use Google's AI personal assistance or Siri to book your travel plans, he explains. "That has the potential to really change how people search for travel on the booking side," Clampet says. In the past, companies were geared toward desktop and mobile search. "Now the search box is going away," Clampet says. With artificial intelligence through voice-activated platforms, the lines are getting redrawn, he says. Other artificial intelligence tools to watch include Lola, an on-demand travel app that lets you research or book your travel plans on the go, and Expedia, which is planning to launch an AI platform for personal messaging and customer assistance.

You'll Go Green

With a rising consumer and industry interest in ecotourism, hotels, tour operators and outfitters will incorporate responsible practices and encourage travelers to plan low-impact getaways, Warren says. Traveling shorter distances is an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint, she explains. "One trans-Atlantic flight equals a year's worth of driving, so consider planning an adventure closer to home," she says, highlighting Canada as an ideal place for a green getaway. "Another way to bring sustainability to the forefront of your travels is to chose hotels and restaurants that are eco-minded in their practices. And perhaps one of the most immediate ways to help is by choosing to visit destinations that will benefit the most from your tourist dollars," she adds, pointing to destinations like Nepal as a place that's benefited from tourism money getting funneled into the local economy.

You'll Likely Want to Visit Vanishing Destinations

Destinations at risk of disappearing will also see a rise in tourist traffic, explains Everett Potter, a columnist for USA Today and author of "Everett Potter's Travel Report." There's an urgency to "see places before they are completely changed," he says, highlighting places such as the Arctic and Antarctic as popular destinations affected by climate change. Another top destination is the Great Barrier Reef in Australia for adventure travelers yearning to see the coral "before it's gone or completely changed," he adds.

Attraction Bookings Are Going Digital

Aside from travel accommodations, a rising number of restaurant reservations, tours and activities are getting booked via online distributors. With Airbnb's recent debut of its Trips app – which aims to help travelers book experiences, activities and even restaurant reservations on the fly in destinations across the globe – major vacation attraction companies have growing competition in the digital space. "Most tourism activities are small-scale businesses," Clampet explains, pointing out that the majority of tourism companies are reluctant to transition into the digital space. But with Airbnb's extensive technology and distribution, it's likely Airbnb's move will inspire competitors to up their game, Clampet adds.

There Will Be More River Cruising Options and Itineraries

With a growing number of itineraries and ships, the river cruising boom is not fading anytime soon, Potter says. Boomers are looking to take bucket-list sailings in exotic, far-off destinations, he says. Beyond iconic itineraries on the Danube and Rhine rivers in Europe, in 2017 travelers can enjoy sailings in southern Africa along the Chobe River with CroisiEurope or explore tucked-away wine regions across Bordeaux, France, with luxury cruise line Crystal Cruises. Plus, there are plenty of river ships debuting in 2017 and 2018. Crystal Cruises recently launched the Crystal Mozart, its first-ever river cruise along the Danube, with four additional river ships set to debut next year.

High-Paying Loyalists Will Be Rewarded

With frequent-flier program changes among all three legacy carriers (Delta, United and American) that reward travelers based on price paid rather than distance flown, travelers are starting to realize that "when airlines say loyal, they mean spend money," Clampet says. Another interesting trend is a brewing battle between legacy carriers and low-cost airlines such as Spirit and Frontier airlines. With bare-bones fares like United's new Basic Economy option, which allows travelers to book discounted tickets but sacrifice the opportunity to use overhead storage space or select a seat prior to check-in, airlines are "catering to people buying on price," Clampet says. However, elite frequent fliers who participate in the program will have the privilege of placing large bags into overhead bins, though they will not earn elite-qualifying miles with basic fares.

Cuba Tourism Will Continue to Soar

While it remains to be seen what President-elect Donald Trump's policy will be toward Cuba, you'll likely continue to see heightened tourism in the country, Potter says. After all, the first U.S. commercial aircraft in more than 50 years touched down in Havana on Nov. 28. And with the other legacy airlines selling routes to the country and major industry players such as Marriott and Carnival offering accommodations and the chance to cruise to Cuba, experts agree that it's unlikely the recent positive trend in diplomatic relations will be reversed.

Taking Trip Photos on Your Smartphone Will Be a Cinch

Snapping the perfect vacation photos on your smartphone will get easier thanks to a host of sophisticated and tech-savvy smartphone apps. "As the technology of mobile devices and photography apps improve, the ability to capture professional-quality images on your phone makes everyone capable of creating magazine-worthy images," Warren says. From retouching apps to editing apps such as Snapseed and VSCO, you'll have plenty of tools to take better (and enhanced) vacation photos.

Liz Weiss, Staff Writer

Liz Weiss is a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report. With more than six years of ...  Read more

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