Last year was one of highs and lows for the tourism industry. It was full of optimism for the post-pandemic travel boom, but plagued by wide-scale disruption and uncertainty as the sector scrabbled to adjust after a two-year hiatus. But while there are still plenty of lessons to learn and service improvements to make, the great travel comeback gave us plenty to look forward to in 2023. Because if last year taught us anything, it’s that people value their freedom to travel and enjoy leisure experiences. We expect the energy and enthusiasm for enriching travel adventures to continue this year, but despite their desire to get away, many are going to have to take extra financial, emotional and practical considerations into account when planning and booking their trips and leisure getaways.
BehaviorSMART Chief Behavior Officer, Milena Nikolova, offers an expert outlook on what the industry can expect from travelers in 2023 and reveals the five most influential travel behaviours we’ll be watching this year.
1) Seeking smart-leisure breaks
People will seek smart ways to enjoy the benefits of travel and leisure, without adding to mounting financial pressures caused by the cost of living.
We expect that uncertainty and the rising cost of living will sober many who indulged last year in post-COVID-19 'revenge travel'. In 2023, we expect that travellers will become comparably more conservative when it comes to leisure spending. But there is a nuance that makes this downturn different – the recent pandemic offered us all a renewed appreciation of the benefits of travel, solidifying the importance we assign to leisure experiences and their contribution to our overall health and wellbeing. Border closures and restrictions gave us a chance to learn that these joys of leisure time might be found much closer and without flying to dream destinations. We expect that despite the squeeze on their finances, many will retain their strong appetite for leisure experiences but will seek to satisfy it through smart-leisure breaks—taking shorter escapes to places that are closer to home but that still offer relaxation and rejuvenation, exploration and fun.
We saw this behaviour take hold last year, with the rise of micro-vacations; one or two-night stays in hotels, cottages and resorts just a short journey from home. These low-effort escapes promise a truly relaxing slow-down without the stress of potential cancellations, delays and long journeys. A recent survey of 5,000 Europeans found that 28.5% were planning a domestic holiday in the next 6 months, while 35.5% of them were planning a holiday in a neighbouring European country, so our expectation for 2023 is that smart-leisure escapes will increasingly fulfill travel desires without unwanted costs and hassle.
2) Relocating to reduce costs and maximise enjoyment
Digital nomads with flexible situations and working arrangements will discover the benefits of relocating to budget-friendly, sun-drenched destinations to save money and maximise travel opportunities.
The cost-of-living crisis shows little sign of waning in 2023, especially in colder parts of Europe, where energy bills are soaring and grocery shopping is costly, impacting people’s quality of life across the continent. We expect that this will power another visible travel behaviour pattern. The spread of the digital nomad culture, combined with the growing acceptance of the work-from-anywhere culture for professions that do not require permanent physical presence at the office, is likely to fuel smart escapes from higher bills. Young professionals without the commitments of families or location-specific responsibilities are becoming increasingly savvy to the benefits of relocating to spend a few months on a Greek island or a small town along the Portuguese coast. Temporary escapes to warmer parts of Europe or elsewhere around the world would allow them to combine lower cost of living with all the joys of an extended getaway — new gourmet experiences, a change of scenery, immersion in local culture, a milder climate and no tourist crowds!
We expect that this emerging travel pattern will create new market opportunities for sunnier destinations and businesses that are based there, especially if they move fast to meet the demands of this audience. From offering co-working or other flexible work setups to packaging cost-effective accommodation, food service and tour offerings for extended stays, businesses who tap into the specific needs of digital nomads will benefit from their spending power.
3) Expecting sustainability as the norm
Travelers have good intentions when it comes to having a positive impact on the places they visit, but they find it hard to take on the responsibility for that and will increasingly expect travel companies to take the lead in making sustainability effortless.
Climate and sustainability are increasingly top of mind for our societies and all of us as individuals. But with so much pressure to reduce the footprint of everyday living, many will seek to escape sustainability anxiety during holidays. This will lead to growing frustration that suppliers of hospitality and leisure services don’t take environmental considerations and responsibilities seriously and do not make responsible consumption effortless for their clients. Companies and service providers who are smart about this growing demand for change will begin realigning their operations to make responsible consumption easier. Designing out plastics where possible, relying on local suppliers where possible, pointing to healthier options where possible; all efforts to introduce smart changes in the design of holiday and leisure experiences will be appreciated by travellers who are increasingly sustainability-conscious, but desire some peace of mind.
Travel tech has an especially big role to play here. With the digitalisation of so many hospitality and leisure services – from ordering food to planning our holidays – technology players have the power to scale responsible consumption without extra cost or hardship. If travel tech companies prioritise effortless sustainability they can become catalysts of the faster (and much needed) transition to sustainability as a norm. We foresee that those who lead in this will gain more consumer appeciation while those who wait will fall victim to the growing pressure from a frustrated clientele.
4) Attracted by creative circularity
People are interested in smart creative solutions embracing circular principles without the need for dramatic transformations.
Growing sustainability awareness leads us to understand that endless growth isn’t compatible with healthy human populations and a healthy planet. There are many systems in our societies that are inefficient and unsustainable by design. Their transformation or replacement will take time but there is growing understanding that even in the existing realities much can be improved by smart changes in our behaviour. In some societies, we are already seeing consumer patterns shift away from outright consumerism in favour of smart ways to align everyday living with the principles of circularity. From pre-loved fashion to micro-mobility rental platforms, globally, 72% of people are looking to adopt circular practices and contribute to efficient use of existing resources. This year, people will continue to embrace smart solutions that enable them to be active, to travel and experience the joys of leisure and optimise their footprint while doing so.
Destinations and travel businesses will benefit from finding creative ways to align with circular principles within existing infrastructure. What does this mean? For one, access to and availability of on-demand services must remain a priority; from rental bikes, scooters and other forms of transport, these services help tourists who already participate in these schemes and services at home feel like they are enjoying destinations in a low-impact way like the locals. Smart menu designs that minimise food waste are another example of how circularity can be embraced in ways that can even help cut costs. Similarly, hotels can source second-hand furniture as a means of reducing their impact and promoting the avoidance of unnecessary extraction of raw materials. Such smart circularity tactics will be appreciated by a conscious travel audience while offering companies opportunities for co-creation with local communities and cultures.
5) Choosing to take it back-to-basics
After a tumultuous few years, people are seeking to reconnect with themselves, other people and Mother Nature, by shedding the baggage of modern life and taking it back-to-basics.
Awareness of the importance of wellbeing will grow as people deal with the post-pandemic realities, the pressures of climate anxiety and the sobering reality that peace is not a given even in the 21st century. The need to rebalance their lives will drive further demand for experiences that present the opportunity to reconnect with nature, and benefit from its power to rejuvenate them as people and to restore harmony with their inner selves, and each other. Short leisure escapes and longer holiday trips will increasingly be seen as opportunities for many to take it back-to-basics; 55% of travellers surveyed said they want to take an off-grid holiday in 2023 and 58% said they wanted to learn survival skills like lighting fires without matches and sourcing drinking water.
This interest in simple living and outdoor activities in nature offers many destinations the opportunity to attract travellers with their natural landscapes and wilderness, while tourism businesses can further develop nature or adventure-based experiences that tap into the growing desire to explore, learn, connect and reflect away from the daily grind in harmony with Mother Nature.
BehaviorSMART is a new-generation knowledge- and data-driven company that makes sustainability actually work. We enable travel enterprises and destinations to make sustainability effortless, non-negotiable and profitable by using insights about how people think, decide and act.
We are a team of experts drawing on knowledge in tourism, sustainability, data, economic and behavioural sciences to offer human-led insights and solutions to the travel sector’s biggest challenge, supporting global sustainable development. Led by Milena Nikolova, who is the author of the first book that applies behavioural economics to travel, we are the leaders in applying behavioural knowledge to the travel and tourism sector to make sustainability actually work.