Pauline Frommer interviews top travel experts to get their take on what the trends will be for vacations in 2020.
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The Top Travel Trends for 2020

What are the trends that will affect your 2020 vacation? In many ways, they are evolutions of ones that affected travel in 2019, so I strongly encourage you to read last year’s predictions. Those included the growing influence of certain markets (solos, women, Chinese nationals, digital nomads); rising obsessions in travel (foodie experiences, long hiking trails); the problems of overtourism; and more.

But since I don’t like to repeat myself—a statement that’s true even if my children disagree—what follows are the newest trends, each of which will likely impact how travelers research, book, and enjoy travel.
2020 Top Travel Trends: Climate Change Awareness Affecting Decisions
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Climate Change Awareness Affecting More Decisions
Not everyone can travel by sailboat like TIME's Person of the Year Greta Thunberg. Or can they? According to Kate Kalamaga, owner of Tropicalboat Luxury Yacht Charters & Rentals, an ever-growing percentage of her customers is asking for ships that are masted in order to reduce their carbon footprint. “I’m also increasingly being asked about the use of plastics onboard, 'Does the crew recycle? Is the food locally sourced?'” Kalamaga says.

She’s not alone. As it becomes clearer that humanity must address a looming disaster, travelers are factoring sustainability and carbon emissions into their plans. According to the annual Portrait of American Travelers study by the world's largest travel industry marketing specialist, MMGY Global, 60% of American travelers say their concerns over climate change will likely inform where they go in the next 5 to 10 years. That being said, a later MMGY Global study (calledtravelhorizons) dug into the details of planning and revealed that travelers aren’t as proactive as they could be. While some 44% of people said they’d be willing to use less single-use plastic while on the road, only 28% said that they would go out of their way to book “environmentally friendly tour companies and hotels,” and only 9% were willing to purchase carbon offsets. In that way, Americans may be behind Europeans. There’s some evidence that the “flight shaming” movement that began in Sweden is now impacting how people vacation across the pond. How much, though, isn’t yet apparent.

The obstacle to real action? Chris Davidson, an executive vice president of MMGY, says, “A theme seems to be that people are [only] willing to do things that are relatively easy.”


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2020 Top Travel Trends: Sustainability Concerns Informing the Industry
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Sustainability Concerns Informing the Industry
Whatever the level of activism by travelers, it’s clear that major industry players are taking the crisis seriously. Amtrak recently announced it has committed to reducing carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions by over 20,000 metric tons in 2020, even as its ridership increases. Etihad Airways flew the world's first flight that used fuel made from plants grown in salt water. Youth tour company Contiki is planting one tree for every one of its clients who opts for paperless e-documents, as well as offering carbon offsets for purchase. African countries such as Kenya and Tanzania have banned single-use plastic bags and are informing all international guests to observe the new law. And we’re seeing some search sites (including Kayak) adding bus and train options in their results, thus giving travelers greener transportation options. These are just a few examples of the many new attempts to go green—but there's a long way to go.
2020 Top Travel Trends: Hometown Holidays
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Hometown Holidays
The well-known trend of “staycations” refers to people vacationing in their own homes. What we’re seeing more of instead is a marked uptick in the number of travelers choosing to rent a house or a hotel room in their hometown. “When we looked at bookings in major urban markets across the country, almost all showed that the people booking those rentals often lived in those same cities,” says Melanie Fish, travel expert for home rental company VRBO. “Families are frequently booking vacation homes to celebrate things like birthdays, anniversaries, and weddings, and people are likely booking a vacation home to accommodate out-of-town guests.” 

That may be the case for rental homes, but why is this happening for hotel rooms, too, as booking app Hotel Tonight has found? It reports that residents of Chicago (pictured), New York City, Detroit, Houston, and Phoenix, in particular, are booking an increasing number of stays near home. Is this all a response to climate change, with people trying to cut their carbon emissions by staying close to home for vacation? Or is there a massive boom of people conducting secret affairs?
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2020 Top Travel Trends: More travel with pets
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A Longer Leash for Fido (and His Owners)
Here's a truism in travel: Dogs will be happy even if you pick the wrong hotel or can't get a reservation at that coveted restaurant. Dogs can have fun anywhere. Is it any wonder that more vacationers are bringing their four-legged best friends? According to the most recent National Pet Owners Survey, 68% of American households own a pet, and of those, 37% plan to travel with it (and that's up from just 19% a decade ago). Booking.com, the online accommodations agency, found even more avid animal lovers in its late 2019 survey: 42% of respondents said they were more likely to choose destinations that are pooch-friendly, and 49% were willing to pay more for hotels that welcome dogs. “We see people including pets in more and more aspects of their lives, and that includes vacations,” confirms Sarah Tatone of vacation rental company Vacasa—which also found similar levels of puppy love in its own 2019 survey.
2020 Top Travel Trends: Data-Driven Tour Creation
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Data-Driven Tours
Since its founding in 2009, GetYourGuide has sold 40 million tickets to travel experiences (museums, tours, outdoor adventures, and workshops like cooking classes). Having done so online, it also collected a truckload of data about what customers want. Recently, GYG began mining that data to partner with local companies and create ideal tours. “We have a lot of info on what it takes to make the perfect Cold War tour in Berlin, or the perfect pizza tour in Rome,” says Will Gluckin, the company's Communications Lead. "We used artificial intelligence to look for patterns on everything from the content of tours to the meeting place to the length. For example, if we see 'too long' too often in reviews, or see that people are looking for a different starting time for a tour than we’re actually offering, we’ve opened up those insights to [our partners] …so that they can enhance their itineraries.”

At this point, GYG has created 23 “GetYourGuide: Originals” tours with these partners and based on its findings, that will grow—as will, undoubtedly, the number of data-driven tours throughout the industry.
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2020 Top Travel Trends: The Rise of Vegan Travelers
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The Rise of Vegan Travelers
One of the most hotly anticipated debuts in 2020 will be Virgin Voyages Cruise Line. The new brand from Sir Richard Branson's empire will bring some cultural touch points to sea for the first time, including a tattoo parlor, headliner DJs at its dance clubs, and perhaps most tellingly, a restaurant that thoroughly caters to vegans and vegetarians.

It’s a savvy move: According to The Economist, a quarter of 25-to 34-year-old Americans now say they are vegan or vegetarian. Compare that to 2015, when only 3% indicated they were vegetarian, and just 1% were vegan. And Google Trends reports that in the past five years, searches for the word vegan have grown by 500%.

“We’re seeing more and more interest in vegan travel,” says Esther Ardagh-Ptolomey, founder of Kindred Traveller, a tour operator and travel agency for vegans. “[These are people who are] thinking about the impact they have on the world, they’re thinking about ethics, and they’re getting out in the world to share those values.”
2020 Top Travel Trends: Adventure Travel for Seniors
Wild Frontiers
Adventure Travel for Seniors
"We're not summiting Everest, but we are doing pretty intense experiences,” Andrea Ross, U.S. Director of tour company Wild Frontiers, told me. “We go to offbeat destinations: Ethiopia, Madagascar, Southeast Asia, and some of our trips involve hiking and other active activities. I remember my grandparents in their 70s, and back then you expected life in the BarcaLounger. But many of our customers today are in their 60s and 70s and they’re engaging in the same kinds of activities that our younger clients do.”

Let’s hear it for the YOLD Generation, a term coined by The Economist to describe the “young old.” As Americans live longer and retire later, they’re staying fit and, as many companies are finding, that means adventure travel is no longer just for the under-40 set.
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2020 Top Travel Trends: Novel destination weddings
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Here Comes the Bride (But Where Is She?)
Destination weddings aren’t new, but they're growing briskly according to those in that segment of the industry. Lauren Gretch, an adjunct professor of hospitality at New York University and CEO of LLG Agency, says that has to do with who's getting hitched these days. “Millennials care about experiences," she says. "They don’t want to get married in a ballroom anymore. They want to be outside, in the elements, engaging the five senses. They’re pushing the 'marry in a cool place' trend big time."

The number of places hosting these weddings is also expanding as fears of Zika steer some couples away from the Caribbean. According to Gretch's research, increasingly popular destinations for nuptials include Tahiti, Greece, Mexico, Dubai, Bermuda, Switzerland, and Spain. In countries with a residency requirement for marriage licenses, couples are holding symbolic ceremonies on the road and making it legal with an appearance at their home marriage bureau.
2020 Top Travel Trends: Last-Minute Planning on the Rise
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Last-Minute Planning Is on the Rise...
...And we can thank mobile phones. As technology improves and as roaming charges decrease (particularly for European Union citizens traveling among E.U. countries), more people are booking tickets for museums, places on walking tours, entry to theme parks, and lots more on the fly and at the last minute. According to Simone Semprini of TourScanner, the world’s largest search engine for travel activities, only about 5% of travelers booked same-day activities 5 years ago; today, that rate is at 50%.

There are limits to how far this trend can go. I must caution that this strategy won’t work at all attractions, particularly the most popular ones. Increasingly, at iconic sights such as Amsterdam's Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum, those who don’t book tickets weeks in advance find themselves turned away.
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2020 Top Travel Trends: Smartphones Follow Us onto Cruises
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Smartphones Follow Us Onto Cruises
Until recently, cruise passengers knew to switch off their phones upon embarkation or get slammed with outrageous rates. But in just the last year, the Carnival Corporation family of ships (Carnival, Princess, Holland America, Seabourne, Cunard) instituted onboard text messaging services which, while not free, are far less expensive than roaming charges would be and also allow cruisers to get in touch with their fellow passengers. “People love them because they can text and communicate across the ship without having to find each other,” says Pat Webb, owner of GalaxSea Cruises & Tours. Internet service at sea is approaching speeds you'd find on land, and ships are also installing their own cell signal transmitters. None of it is particularly inexpensive to use, but it's transforming connectivity. “Passengers used to have to wait until they were in port to make calls, but now you could be in the middle of the Pacific, between Hawaii and Easter Island, and your call will get through,” says Webb. Smartphones are also increasingly being integrated into cruisers' day-to-day needs such as making dining reservations, navigating the decks, and booking shore excursions.
2020 Top Travel Trends: In Cruise Ships, Smaller Gets Sexier
Viking Cruises
In Cruise Ships, Smaller Gets Sexier

"When you talk about the ships that have 4,000 people, you hear a groan over the phone [from many would-be passengers]," says GalaxSea's Webb. "More experienced cruisers care less about what’s aboard a ship and more about waking up to an interesting, new experience in port. And that’s hard with a monolithic ship, as it won’t fit at many docks." Because of this, the longstanding arms race among cruise lines to build bigger boats seems to be reversing somewhat. Recently, Norwegian Cruise Lines announced that its next class of vessels would be smaller than the current one. Royal Caribbean, too, which operates the largest titans in the cruise business, also now has a smaller ship coming out. One of the hottest lines afloat, according to Webb, is Viking Ocean Cruises. Its seven ships (such as the Viking Sea, pictured) carry “just” 930 passengers. And they're a smashing success. “Those ships sell out nine months in advance,” says Webb.

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2020 Top Travel Trends: Adult Children Traveling With Their Parents
Backroads/Robert Houser
Adult Children Traveling With Their Parents

All those millennials and Gen Zers who moved back in with their parents? A lot of them are also vacationing with them. “We’re seeing serious growth in that segment,” reports Melissa Schmidt, Program & Positioning Manager for tour operator Backroads. “In fact, the tours we’ve created [specifically for people in their 20s traveling with their parents] are outperforming all of our other segments. So many more people are signing up than we anticipated [that] we started converting other departures to this sort of trip to feed the demand.” Rival tour operators including Butterfield & Robinson are also offering new products for this "multi-generational" vacation market.

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