2023 travel trends

As long haul leisure travel continues to pick up, what does 2023 hold in store for clients with wanderlust? Charlotte Flach explores some of the most likely trends

As travel continues its recovery, many in the industry are keen to discover what’s going to be trending in 2023. Despite a summer of overwhelmed airports, flight cancellations and now a cost of living crisis, clients seem to be determined to plan their next holiday. 

In fact, recent research from Virtuoso shows that 76% of travellers have accepted a “new normal”, with many having “made peace” with all the uncertainty and volatility. 

Tour operators are echoing this sentiment. “We have seen a great recovery in the travel sector in recent months, with many postponed trips able to go ahead at last,” says Alex Bentley, Head of Product at Audley Travel. “We expect to see this continue, with client confidence growing in terms of the type of destinations chosen.”

With bookings for travel in 2023 pacing 47% higher than 2019, according to Virtuoso, agents should brush up on what’s hot for next year so they can capitalise on the renewed appetite for holidays. 

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In it for the long haul

“As consumer confidence grows we’re seeing further afield destinations such as Australia and New Zealand become more popular,” says James Treacy, Senior PR & Communications Manager at Abercrombie & Kent. “This means that people may reduce the number of holidays a year or make their choices on destinations more carefully.”

He also points to the rise in single-centre touring and the popularity of smaller, more compact, destinations such as Cuba. “We’ve had to pivot our product slightly – introducing single centre group tours. Our Spotlight tours were created so that clients didn’t have to move around so much on a tour.”

Clients are “expecting value” even on their long-haul trips. “Over half of our agent network say 57% of customers seek value,” says PATA UK & Ireland Chairman, Chris Crampton. “For the budget conscious there are some great-value flight options, with new low-cost carriers making Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam more attractive. 

“Asia in particular offers a great long- haul holiday option whether travellers are seeking relaxing beach breaks or adventurous multicentre itineraries.”

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Cost of living concerns 

With many clients feeling the pinch of rising living costs, budget-friendly holidays or those with added extras will be a popular choice in 2023. 

“Our clients continue to set aside budget for their travel plans in order to make up for lost time since the pandemic but, due to costs rising everywhere, many are keeping a closer eye on their spending than they perhaps did in the past,” says Audley’s Bentley.

“As a result, they are making some different decisions – such as taking advantage of the greater availability (and competitive rates) for city accommodation.”

Agents who aren’t seeing the effects of this yet, should be aware that cost could be a big factor later down the line. “We have yet to see the full impact of the ongoing cost of living crisis, and we’ve even seen a 30% increase in average booking values in 2022. However we know the crisis will have an impact and we all have to look at our value propositions versus our price,” says Abercrombie & Kent’s Treacey. 

Tighter purse strings means that all-inclusive is on the rise, with an increasing number of high-end properties now embracing luxury all-inclusive stays. 

Resorts are reinventing the format to cater to a new generation of discerning travellers who don’t just want a traditional fly-and-flop experience. In particular, the value of all-inclusive is making waves with a younger crowd. 

Travelling with purpose 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, travelling with purpose will be increasingly relevant in 2023. In particular, families and couples will be keen to celebrate a milestone by taking a trip, and bucket list experiences will also be high on the agenda.

“For our clients, celebratory travel is set to be a key motivator for travel in 2023, with 63% of Audley’s in-house sales specialists naming missed milestone celebrations as a top reason for booking trips in 2023,” says Bentley. “Many clients are also determined to take a much-awaited bucket list trip, which 72% listed as a top motivation driving bookings.”

More clients are also aware of the looming spectre of climate change, so are seeking out greener holidays. “There is definitely a greater shift towards more environmentally friendly and meaningful travel as consumers seek enriching experiences,” says Crampton.

Virtuoso research backs this up, showing that sustainable travel is top-of-mind, especially among Gen Z and Millennials. In fact, over 55% would pay more for eco-friendly tourism practices and travel that preserves natural and cultural heritage.

Operators are responding with no-fly options among other initiatives, says Treacey. “We’re launching our first non-flight trip, an art trip to Paris by train.”

Rising stars 

“Popular destinations for 2023 include Australia, Maldives and the likes of Japan and Bhutan, which have recently reopened their borders again,” says Crampton. 

Bentley adds Canada, India, Costa Rica and USA to the list while Virtuoso predicts that cruising will lead the luxury market with heavy bookings in 2023. 

Research from Booking.com, which polled 24,000 travellers, revealed that 57% are looking for ‘off-grid’ style holidays in destinations that have a culture polar to their own. With this in mind Brazil, Cuba, India and Mexico are top contenders. 

In a complete contrast, it also named the UK as a trending destination for 2023. Top locations include Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham and Newcastle upon Tyne. Shearings has a dedicated ‘Discover the very best of the UK’, with 64 tours. These  include a new five-night Capital Edinburgh – Castle, Stirling and Trossachs tour.

Where to book it

Abercrombie & Kent has a 12-night Cuba Awakened escorted tour including three-days in Havana. Priced from £5,115pp, it departs February 5, April 10 and November 13, 2023. abercrombiekent.co.uk