Tourism is undergoing a fundamental shift as travelers rethink where they want to go and why.
With a return to travel on the distant horizon as vaccinations slowly begin rolling out, travelers are reconsidering what they want out of a trip. After a year of heightened isolation and loneliness, they’re not just looking to get away; they’re looking for meaningful connection and opportunities for self-reflection.
As a result, where people choose to go and why is dramatically shifting. “[Travelers] are not yearning to go to Times Square; what they’re yearning to do is see their friends and their family,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said at the Reuters Next virtual forum in January. “Mass travel is going to be replaced by meaningful travel…and I think this is a semipermanent shift.”
The company is throwing their weight behind this prediction with a new report, titled “2021 Will Be the Year of Meaningful Travel,” which was released on January 28. The report draws from a survey conducted among 1,000 Americans from December 2020 to January 2021, which reveals that while people are looking forward to traveling again—travel for pleasure is reportedly the out-of-home activity Americans have missed the most, over going to restaurants and bars or attending sporting and other live events—the motivations for travel have changed. Seeing friends and family is the highest ranked reason for wanting to travel: 51% say the first people they will visit are immediate family and 41% say that travel to visit friends and family has become “much more” important to them. And over a third (37%) said their definition of “meaningful” travel has changed to focus more on time with loved ones.
“Travel will be viewed as an antidote to isolation and disconnection. People don’t generally miss landmarks, crowded shuttles, and lines and lobbies packed with tourists,” Chesky wrote in the report. “What people want from travel now is what they’ve been deprived of—spending meaningful time with their family and friends.”
Beyond social connection, travel is also being elevated as an opportunity for introspection and growth. “Social distancing demands have fed trips of self-reflection,” the New York Times reported in January. The article, titled “Traveling With a Purpose: For Some, It’s a 2021 Resolution,” quoted travelers who are planning trips to their birthplaces or their parents’ birthplaces to learn more about their identity and heritage.
Philippe Brown, travel consultant and author of Revisit: The New Art of Luxury Travel, agrees with the New York Times‘ assertion. He believes that travel will not only offer meaningful connection, but will evolve into an instrument for healing and growth. “As over-tourism, climate change and COVID converge, they’ll become catalysts for deeper reflection on the purpose, value and risks of travel,” he tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. “Expect a greater focus on travel as a therapeutic tool, with travel advisors going beyond the product and a quick sell to share insights in new realms like wellbeing, happiness, flow, creativity, play and transformation.”
For more on new travel formats, see Multigenerational travel (trend #22) in The Future 100: 2021.