Most Important Travel Trends of 2015
Remember when you actually had to go to an airport check-in counter to get your boarding pass? When calling home from abroad racked up exorbitant fees (hat tip, Skype), or when catching a cab meant waiting forlornly for one to pass? (Thanks, Uber and Lyft).
Every year, the travel industry takes an evolutionary step forward, as companies offer up innovative solutions to the inevitable problems we face on the road. In 2015, we will see the rollout of Boeing’s new overhead Space Bin luggage compartments—promising a faster, easier airplane boarding process—and the rise of even-more-comfortable premium economy cabins to tempt us from the increasingly pinched back of the plane.
Our smartphones, which serve as navigators, translators, itinerary managers, and taxi summoners, will get us into fully booked restaurants and double as our wallets (as if our relationship with them weren’t codependent enough). And our social media profiles will open doors and unlock deals at hotels, and connect us with useful business contacts while we’re traveling. Hotels, meanwhile, will find new ways to help us sleep better.
But the changes ahead for 2015 are more than just improvements. This will also be a year of expanding horizons. We’ll stay in private houses and apartments that feel surprisingly like hotels (and vice versa). We’ll visit resorts and travel with companies where the bottom line is measured by how much goes back into local communities. And we’ll make the world our classroom, attending workshops, salons, and conferences across the globe.
In our annual trends package, Travel + Leisure tracks the biggest changes for the year ahead. Here are our predictions for how you’ll travel in 2015. —Amy Farley
Your Rental Will Look More Like a Hotel
If you're interested in staying at the new Drift San Jose, a stylish eight-room property in Los Cabos, Mexico, that appeals to independent millennials, you won’t be able to book through its website, or any hotel website, for that matter. Rooms are available only through Airbnb. That’s a sign of things to come: since the apartment-rental behemoth enlisted boutique-hotel guru Chip Conley in 2013 to advise hosts on how to improve the guest experience (scented candles, fresh fruit, ambient music), the line between hotels and rentals has become blurred. Airbnb has introduced a range of initiatives to this effect, including a Super Host program that highlights some of the site’s most professional-style listings and a three-day conference that offers tips for aspiring hosts. Other rental services, such as the high-end One Fine Stay and the affordable-minded BeMate, are also stepping into this nebulous middle ground, offering guests cleaning and concierge services. BeMate will even store luggage for you and, in lieu of room service, deliver food from nearby partner hotels.
Airports Will Follow Your Every Move
If your phone starts buzzing the next time you’re in an airport, it could be location-specific alerts enabled by nearby “beacons,” low-frequency Bluetooth sensors that can tell you which currency-exchange counters have the best rates, how long it’ll take to reach your gate, and other useful tips. The technology is already being used in airports from San Francisco to Amsterdam.
You'll Sleep Better on the Road
Las Vegas may be the best place to rest up right now, thanks to an array of sleep-centric tech enhancements—in lighting and furniture design—in 171 rooms (and counting) at the MGM Grand. And that hotel isn’t alone in prioritizing your REM sleep. Fifteen years after introducing the Heavenly Bed, Westin is piloting wearable monitors with a companion sleep-coach app, which it hopes to roll out to hotels in the near future. Crowne Plaza, meanwhile, has unveiled a new headboard that helps cut ambient noise by 30 percent. Here’s a closer look at how hotels are rethinking your bedtime routine.
Stay Well Dawn Simulator: The bedside fixture at the MGM Grand gradually wakes you up with cortisolproducing shades of blue light.
Noise-Reducing Headboards: The next-generation Crowne Plaza room features angled, padded headboards placed slightly away from the wall to minimize ambient sounds.
Healthy Mattress: MGM’s organic-cotton mattress builds in extra posture support to eliminate tossing and turning.
Sleep Monitors: Lark Technologies’ wrist sensors at Westin hotels will track your movements at night and analyze the causes of any restlessness.
You'll Take a New Route Overseas
The latest way to get to Sydney: via a Qantas A380 from Dallas, the longest flight in the world, at 8,500 miles and almost 16 hours door-to-door. It’s just one of the many new flights launched by top-notch international carriers that are making long-haul travel more appealing. Below, we mapped out our favorite additions in 2014 and 2015.
Cathay Pacific: Boston to Hong Kong
Emirates: Chicago to Dubai; Boston to Dubai
Etihad: San Francisco to Abu Dhabi; Los Angeles to Abu Dhabi; Dallas-Fort Worth to Abu Dhabi
Finair: Miami to Helsinki
Hainan Airlines: Boston to Beijing
Icelandair: Portland to Reykjavík
Japan Airlines: Los Angeles to Osaka
Korean Air: Houston to Seoul
Qantas: Dallas-Fort Worth to Sydney
Qatar Airways: Miami to Doha; Dallas-Fort Worth to Doha; Philadelphia to Doha
Turkish Airlines: San Francisco to Istanbul
Your Phone Will Become Your Wallet
Championed by Google and cemented by Apple Pay, mobile transactions are about to become the new normal. Sync your credit and debit cards with Google Wallet (for Android) or Apple’s Passbook (iOS), and you’ll be able to buy things simply by placing your phone in front of a sensor at checkout. Taking a page from Uber, an increasing number of travel apps, such as Airbnb and OpenTable, now offer digital transactions that link to your card.
You'll Take Your Networking to New Heights
You'll Give Back on Vacation
Many travel companies have sister foundations that will put your donations to good use; now an increasing number are taking it a step further and committing all profits to such projects. Cambodia focused tour operator AboutAsia, for example, gives 100 percent of its net proceeds to schools and education initiatives around Siem Reap. A new breed of nonprofit hotels is also emerging, among them Fogo Island Inn, off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, which functions almost as a heritage foundation for its small island, and Nihiwatu resort, which supports numerous projects on Sumba island in Indonesia. Closer to home, California’s legendary Golden Door spa has just relaunched with new rooms and a commitment to donate its profits to charities, including a children’s health center in Ethiopia. Wherever you’re heading, check if your hotel has a relationship with Pack for a Purpose. The organization works with hotels that have identified development goals in local communities and encourages guests to bring necessary supplies in their suitcases.
You'll Discover That Million-Dollar Idea
First there were the C-suite summits of Bohemian Grove and Davos. Then came the intelligentsiafests of TED and South by Southwest. Now these sorts of niche gatherings— which once drew mostly industry insiders with cultlike devotion—are gaining mainstream appeal. Just count the number of times someone drops “South by” into a conversation, and witness the proliferation of big-name, big-ticket conferences and meetings like Tina Brown’s Women in the World. Hotels are also getting in on the action. Properties like the Quin, in New York City, and Andaz hotels offer cultural programming and on-site salons. At the new Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa, in Colorado, owner John Hendricks is leveraging his connections as the Discovery Channel founder to produce Curiosity Retreats, which feature time with physicists, technologists, and foreign-policy experts. And if you can’t get to TED, the TEDx franchise has given rise to mini events in resorts from Santa Barbara to Tulum, Mexico. Look for them at ted.com.
You'll Be Tempted By a New Class of Seats
In a sign that premium economy is here to stay, Singapore Airlines—which set a high bar with its first and business classes—has confirmed that it will introduce this so-called fourth class of seating later this year. Lufthansa and Finnair recently debuted their own, while Japan Airlines completely revamped its version. It’s easy to see the appeal: friendlier fares paired with business-style perks and amenities, including greater seat pitch, better meals, privacy dividers, and airport lounge access.
Boarding a Plane Will Get Easier
Boeing is leading the charge on streamlining the boarding process with its new overhead Space Bins for 737s, which will appear on Alaska Airlines flights later this year. The bins hold up to 174 carry-ons—a whopping 49 percent increase from current capacity—and hang two inches lower, so bags don’t need to be lifted as high.
You'll Get Into a Fully Booked Restaurant
New apps are helping to open doors at the busiest hot spots, even at the last minute—either by blocking off high-demand inventory at partner restaurants or by reselling reservations. In San Francisco and Los Angeles, there’s Table8; New York City has Killer Rezzy, Resy, and I Know the Chef; and TableSavvy has set up shop in Chicago. All work approximately the same way—they charge you a fee (generally less than $25) for same-day seats—and all have big plans for expansion.