2020 travel marketing forecast: 5 trends you need to start following now

January 9, 2020


2019’s leading travel trends aren’t going anywhere. Don’t expect millennials to abandon their quest for the experiential and authentic. Do expect that technological innovation and big data will further disrupt established business models.

Beyond more of the same, however, what will DMOs and CVBs see even more of in 2020? And what actionable insights will most help them engage their customers at every step of their journey?

Here are five trends our /Explore experts believe will profoundly influence travel marketing strategy in the coming year.

#1: Undertourism

2019 saw many popular destinations, such as Venice and Barcelona, scrambling to mitigate the consequences of overtourism. By contrast, 2020 promises to be a year of emerging destinations — “hidden gems” traditionally overshadowed by their more iconic neighbors yet rife with opportunities for discovery.

Travel marketers would be wise to lean into vacationers’ concerns about overtourism. Don’t be afraid to develop messaging campaigns that speak explicitly to your customers’ pain points: both the little inconveniences and the potentially harmful (e.g., environmental) ripple effects of modern travel. This is true even for popular destinations, which can avoid turning away visitors (and revenue) entirely by investing in a tourism management plan.

You can further support your customers by keeping them informed about destinations and businesses that align with their ethics and politics — as well as those that don’t. The key? To highlight how your brand is part of the solution.

#2: Slow travel

Backlash against the exhausting pace of the traditional vacation has given birth to the slow travel movement. Like slow cooking or slow television, this approach is all about immersion. That means it usually entails an extended stay in a single locale or region rather than a whirlwind tour of an entire country.

Slow travelers value spontaneity and independence to packed itineraries, guided tours, and what they perceive as the artificiality of the all-inclusive resort. Consequently, they often skip hotels in favor of locally-owned establishments or properties listed on Airbnb, VRBO, or even the barter-based Home Exchange.

Slow travelers also prefer alternative forms of transportation (think: bicycles or trains) that allow them to experience the landscape rather than blazing past it. Above all, they want to feel like they are part of something that can only be experienced offline — or at least something that hasn’t already been tagged in thousands of Instagram feeds.

Any destination looking to capitalize on this trend should think holistically about its identity. Putting aside the usual activities and attractions, what defines and differentiates your culture? How can you attract travelers interested in bookings lasting weeks rather than days? Most importantly, how can your brand provide travelers with experiences that allow them to continue their journey even though they’ve arrived at their destination?

#3: Tech-guided travel

For many travelers, that journey begins with the thrill of planning the perfect trip and hunting for deals. And they increasingly expect the latest technology to assist in that process.

AI-powered automation — from chatbots that can answer pressing questions faster and more reliably than humans to algorithms that can instantly calculate the cheapest flights between multiple destinations within a given set of dates — is now a common feature of the travel experience. But predictive analysis lies just over the horizon.

Imagine being able to take everything you know about your customers, including the trips they’ve taken or plan to take, to issue them hyper-personalized, powerfully incentivized offers. After all, 91 percent of consumers prefer to do business with companies that regularly present them with relevant offers and recommendations. Impersonal shopping experiences, on the other hand, are identified as a source of frustration by more than 71 percent of consumers.

Travel brands need to keep these elevated customer expectations in mind. In 2020 and beyond, consumers will only continue to adopt tech that facilitates connected experiences (or integrates the online and the offline). Revolut, a “cashless” app that offers swipe-and-tap currency exchanges, is just one example of a mobile-first approach to removing the friction commonly associated with international travel.

At a minimum, your brand needs to support or work well with today’s digital travel tools. Meanwhile, always be mindful that tomorrow’s platforms of choice may not yet have been invented. To future-proof your business, continue investing in channel-agnostic best practices to enhance customer service and cultivate customer engagement.

#4: New takes on the family vacation

The combination of strengthened interest in travel and increased desire for meaningful experiences is leading more people to travel with friends and family. More importantly, this trend does not respect demography. So, while it may be tempting to pour all your resources into the travel-happy millennial generation, you cannot forget about more mature audiences.

For example, financially stable grandparents are funding family trips, often around the holidays. They are the ones with the disposable income, and they care most about sharing quality time with loved ones — not to mention having a professional photographer take a family portrait to commemorate the experience.

“DNA trips” are a related experiential travel trend to watch in 2020. Thanks to the popularity of DNA testing kits that literally map out their results, tourism has surged in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Germany. No matter how historic your destination may be, appreciate that travelers may feel a sense of profound connection to places of ancestral significance.

As travelers look for ways to reconnect with their roots, consider how you might guide them. Doing so could be as simple as tapping into the nostalgia they feel for the kinds of travel experiences they enjoyed when they were younger.

#5: Bleisure travel

The way we work is changing. More and more jobs can be handled remotely, and predictions claim that, by 2027, over half of the U.S. workforce will consist of freelancers.

This trend is already impacting the travel industry. Long-distance employees fly in for sprints and conferences. Self-employed workers take their jobs with them as they see the world. And a sizable majority of business travelers, especially those under 35, are extending their business trips into cost-effective mini-vacations.

To attract this growing class of business-leisure — or bleisure — travelers, destinations must support their 9-to-5 needs, even when they are ostensibly off the clock. Efficient service, free wi-fi, and smart, networked IoT devices are now as essential as your concierge services. And, as there’s more overlap between business and leisure travelers than ever before, 2020 is also the year to rethink your targeting.

Modern travel satisfies timeless human cravings: for meaning, purpose, adventure, and knowledge. Above all, travelers are looking for connection: connection between the real and the virtual, the past and the present, the self and others. Offer them a bridge, and there’s a good chance they’ll cross it.

Topics:travel tech