Most Important Travel Trends of 2013
What’s in the cards for the new year? T+L taps our network of experts to predict the trends that will impact your travels.
The millennials are coming! Or rather, they’re going, hitting the road in increasing numbers. And travel companies have been positioning themselves to take advantage of these independent-minded, digital-savvy twenty- and thirtysomethings eager to see the world after tightening the belts on their (collective) skinny-leg jeans. In 2013, we’ll see the results in a series of shifts that benefit all travelers.
Traditional luxury tour operators, including Butterfield & Robinson and Abercrombie & Kent, for instance, are rolling out more affordable and casual lines of trips. These riffs on their standard itineraries reprioritize authenticity over high thread counts and Michelin stars.
In the meantime, the peer-to-peer model pioneered by millennials gets a new twist as transportation-sharing services multiply, from cabs to bikes to hourly car rentals—now even more convenient thanks to Car2go, which lets you locate and drive a nearby vehicle without a reservation.
The hotel industry is also embracing some changes, notably the here-today-gone-tomorrow pop-up phenomenon that started out with stores and restaurants. For a literally once-in-a-lifetime travel experience, reserve a room at the yoga ashrams popping up in Italy and Bali, Indonesia, for just two months in Spring 2013.
All this isn’t to say that luxury travel is dead; rather, it’s taking cues from the upstarts. Airbnb’s remarkable transition from a couch-surfing resource into a polished online house-rental behemoth has opened the door for even more sophisticated web-based rental services such as Inspirato and Portico. The difference? These new companies limit your risks by vetting every single property, along with providing maid and concierge service, and charging hefty initiation fees.
Connectivity is a major theme in this year’s travel innovations, among them: better mobile maps (yes, even you, Apple); the pioneering electronic wallet app, Passbook (yes, we’re talking about you again, Apple); and ubiquitous in-flight Wi-Fi. And the device we’ll all soon be connecting with? The “laplet,” an innovative hybrid that combines touchscreen computing with full laptop capability.
Of course, one thing in travel remains constant year after year: the quest for new horizons. In 2013, cruise lines will deliver by setting sail in the Far East, with voyages through Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, and beyond.
Read on for more glimpses of the year ahead.
Cruising: You Will Sail Through Uncharted Waters
Traditionally, cruise lines have focused on the Western Hemisphere, but increasingly they’re setting their course for the Far East. Burma has popped up on itineraries from lines including Silversea and Azamara Club Cruises. Orient-Express is adding a second ship on the Irrawaddy River: the 50-guest Orcaella was designed for the shallower river reaches north of Mandalay. Ships from Uniworld, Viking, and, in 2014, Aqua Expeditions will sail through Vietnam and Cambodia on the Mekong River, with visits to Ho Chi Minh City and the temples of Angkor Wat. Crystal Cruises will offer sailings to the lush Malaysian island of Langkawi, and SeaDream Yacht Club will visit southern Thailand and Java, Indonesia.
Mobile: Paper Tickets Will Become Passé
One of the most underrated elements of Apple’s iOS6 launch last fall was the debut of its new Passbook app. An “electronic wallet,” it manages everything from hotel and flight reservations to loyalty and gift cards, and makes it easy to access related electronic documents (boarding passes; tickets; coupons). Passbook has already been embraced by airlines including United, American, and Lufthansa and hotel groups such as Starwood. Given Apple’s extraordinary reach, it won’t be long before other companies join in, transforming the way we travel.
Transportation: You Will Share a Ride
To the delight of kindergarten teachers around the globe, travelers will embrace the idea of sharing this year—at least when it comes to getting around.
By Bike: Ten thousand short-term rental bikes will hit New York City this March—joining 477 other bike-share programs from Seattle to Seoul. Track them with Google’s Bike Sharing World Map (pictured).
By Car: The hourly car rental gets even more convenient with Car2go, which lets you locate and drive a nearby vehicle without a reservation—and park it in any legal space of your choosing. The service is available in 17 cities worldwide.
By Private Plane: Offering a new twist on fractional jet ownership, Share-a-Jet Exchange lets members hitch a ride on someone else’s jet—potentially halving the cost of a private flight.
Outfitters: Luxury Tours Will Become More Affordable
That high-end guided trip can be more than just a once-in-a-lifetime event now that luxury operators are rolling out more casual trips to appeal to a broader range of travelers.
Butterfield & Robinson recently launched the Bistro collection, which trades luxe hotels for cozy inns and Michelin-starred restaurants for family-run spots in Provence, Tuscany, Ireland, and elsewhere in Europe.
The new Connections line from Abercrombie & Kent includes 17 multiple-departure itineraries that visit 22 countries; expect slightly larger groups and more low-key lodgings, but the same unique private experiences.
The Escorted Discover Group Journeys series from Cox & Kings goes to more than 30 countries and includes stays at four-star boutique hotels and lodges. Group size is capped at 25.
Natural Habitat Adventures has a three-month-old Expeditions line that features smaller-scale hotels, mom-and-pop restaurants, and such activities as kayaking and hiking on trips all over the world, from Kenya to the Galápagos Islands.
Responsible Travel: You Will Travel Green
September marked the opening of the 600-room ITC Grand Chola hotel, in Chennai, India, which is poised to join the ranks of 157 other properties worldwide that have received LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The airports in San Francisco; San Jose, California; and Chattanooga, Tennessee, also now have LEED-certified facilities. Airlines around the globe, meanwhile, are testing biofuels and flying more efficiently by reducing cabin weight and rethinking their routes. More than a dozen cities, including San Francisco and Paris, are using hybrid taxis, and London will debut its first all-electric mini-fleet later this year. Your travel footprint is lightening—whether you know it or not.
Security: Airports Will Get (Even) More Clubby
If you want to avoid long lines, you’d better get yourself into the right club.
The U.S. Customs & Border Protection’s Global Entry, which allows travelers who have submitted to background checks to simply swipe their passports at a kiosk and speed through customs, has now spread to 39 airports worldwide.
TSA’s PreCheck can eliminate the need to remove shoes, laptops, and liquids at nearly three dozen airports. The program taps travelers from Global Entry, domestic airlines’ frequent-flier clubs, and now the Loews Hotels & Resorts loyalty program.
The biometrics-based airport-security program from Clear, which went bankrupt back in 2009, was resurrected last year. For an annual fee of $179, members get to jump to the front of the security lines in the Denver, Dallas, and San Francisco airports—with more U.S. hubs in the pipeline.
Villa Rentals: You Will Sleep in Someone Else’s Dream House
No longer just a resource for practical-minded travelers, online villa- and apartment-rental services are now focusing on fulfilling travel fantasies. Airbnb.com has transitioned from a sleep-on-my-couch site to one that offers curated collections of rentals (many of them high-end) that appeal to travelers’ interests and passions, from design to gardening. Portico and Inspirato, two recent additions, have introduced a club-style model for rentals. You have to pay steep membership fees: for Portico, a one-time charge of $2,500 plus $2,500 annually; at Inspirato, $15,000 up front and $2,500 yearly. But in return, you get exclusive access to private houses and hotel villas around the world for below-market rates—in our tests, they were as much as 45 percent lower than what the hotels themselves were offering. What’s more, all the rentals have been visited and vetted, and each comes with concierge and maid service.
Gadgets: Your Tablet and PC Will Be One and the Same
From hybrid notebooks with detachable touch screens to tablets with full laptop capability, “laplets” are the next big thing.
The Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T ($1,200) is both a powerful laptop that runs the full version of Windows 8 and a touch-screen device that detaches from the keyboard for a true tablet feel.
The Lenovo Yoga 13 Series ($1,200) has a 13-inch screen that folds back for tablet-style use. Its i7 Intel Core processor and long-lasting battery are great for multitasking on long-haul flights.
Microsoft’s sleek, ultra-slim Surface (pictured; $500) runs on the tablet-optimized Windows RT and features Microsoft Office and a three-millimeter-thick detachable keyboard that doubles as a cover.
Navigation: Your Maps Will Become Even Smarter
The “mapocalypse” frenzy surrounding Apple’s iOS6 launch last fall revealed just how sophisticated our navigation tools have actually become. Google Maps remains the app to beat, with its comprehensive Street View integration, unparalleled turn-by-turn directions, and compass mode, but a slew of competing apps are touting other innovations, from crowdsourced construction updates to adventure-oriented mapping. Expect Apple to strike back with something even bigger and better before year’s end. The map war rages on.
Airlines: You Will Cheat on Your Airline
Though loyalty is more important than ever when it comes to avoiding fees and getting a good seat, it will be tested again this year. Airfares are predicted to continue rising—by as much as four percent in 2013—while seats remain scarce because of reduced schedules. Fuller planes also make it difficult to claim award seats—on domestic flights, at least. A recent study by aviation consultancy Ideaworks found that travelers on Delta, US Airways, and American Airlines have a less than 50 percent chance of booking basic-level award tickets. (You’ll have an easier time redeeming miles on international alliance partners, says Gary Leff, founder of bookyouraward.com.) Meanwhile, some airlines—including Southwest and American—have made it harder to manage your account via mileage-tracking sites. It’s enough to tempt previously loyal fliers to shop around.
Hotels: Your Vacation Will Be One-of-a-kind
The pop-up phenomenon started with restaurants, spread to stores, and is now catching on with hotels. Design Hotels, which opened pop-ups in Tulum, Mexico, and Mykonos, Greece, is bringing yoga ashrams to Italy and Bali, Indonesia, for two months this spring. And England has two companies devoted to here-today-gone-tomorrow rooms: Pop-Up Hotel and Snoozebox.
Air Travel: Airports Will Be More Fun
If there’s anything satisfying about flying this year, you’re more apt to find it on the ground than in the air. For that you can thank the nation’s many airports, which are becoming more entertaining as they expand. This summer, San Diego will complete $1 billion in improvements, adding a public New Media Lounge with overhead lamps bearing flight information tailored to individual passengers, while in Los Angeles, a $1.5 billion expansion to the international terminal will add a 150,000-square-foot shopping-and-dining hall. Las Vegas opened a 2 million-square-foot terminal in June with free Wi-Fi and close to 300 slot machines. On the East Coast, Atlanta introduced a new intuitive layout that makes signage almost unnecessary. For directions at other airports, including JFK, Dulles, and Logan, just ask the holographic avatars.
Tech: You Will Stay Connected at 35,000 Feet
In-flight Wi-Fi pioneer Gogo is now available on 1,500 planes flown by nine North American carriers, while Singapore is the latest international carrier to begin a fleet-wide rollout using OnAir technology. Up next: faster connectivity, led by JetBlue, which is launching free service early this year—a refreshing change, now that some domestic carriers charge as much as $40 per flight. And there are more innovations in the works, as American, Delta, and a handful of other airlines adopt video-streaming in-flight entertainment.