Whether it’s ‘revenge travel’ or ‘GOAT’ (greatest of all trips), post-pandemic travel trends have all been about going farther and longer, making up for lost time. From business and leisure to ‘bleisure’ and ‘workation’, everyone seems to be on the move.
In November 2023, Mumbai’s CSMIA (international airport) witnessed its highest-ever monthly passenger traffic, reaching 4.46 million, reflecting a growth of 13 per cent over the previous year — and that’s just one airport in one city. 2024 will likely continue along this trajectory, but there are a few noticeable differences with travellers prioritising slower journeys, deeper experiences, and meaningful self-care. Here are some key trends that will define the future of travel in 2024.
1: Screen shot
The influence of pop culture on travel has set off the trend of ‘set-jetting’ or travelling to destinations where movies and TV series were shot. Remember the Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara-fuelled spike in tourism to Spain a few years ago or the more recent mad rush to Paris à la Emily in Paris? Subhash Motwani, director of Mumbai-based luxury and experiential travel company Namaste Tourism (namastetourism.com) attributes this to the rise of OTT content consumption. “We curated a Downton Abbey-centric trip to England for an Ahmedabad-based family while another customer requested to reserve a table at the Kyoto pizza restaurant Monk after watching Chef’s Table,” he says.
Adds Loveleen Arun, founder-director of Panache World (panacheworld.com), a Bengaluru-based travel company that curates niche experiences for its customers: “It is interesting to see how luxury travellers are responding to these influences. The White Lotus is a good example — not satisfied with just checking into the two hotels featured in seasons 1 & 2 (Four Seasons Resort Maui and Four Seasons San Domenico Palace, Sicily respectively), people want to pre-empt season 3 (set in Thailand) and stay ahead of the game.” Arun has organised several Game of Thrones-inspired trips in Croatia and Northern Ireland and even planned a 3-day Greece itinerary based on the Percy Jackson books for a family with a 10-year-old.
2: Event horizon
It’s not uncommon for people to plan trips around sports events like Wimbledon and the cricket world cup, or major music festivals like Glastonbury and Coachella, or cultural festivals like Oktoberfest or the Rio Carnival. Taylor Swift’s blockbuster The Eras Tour that commenced in March 2023 has had a staggering impact on the travel and tourism sector with hotels reporting record-breaking occupancy. The tour will continue through this year, no doubt providing further impetus to travel to concert destinations.
The 2024 Summer Olympics to be held in Paris in July-August is also expected to draw in record numbers of enthusiasts, travelling not just for the sporting spectacle but for the undeniable charms of the French capital. Motwani also sees a shift from travelling for spectator sport to actually participating in a sporting activity. “Marathons are really big right now and there’s a certain brag value to it. We have organised many trips for individuals and small groups who want to participate in them, ranging from the Berlin Marathon (which turns 50 in 2024) to Ladakh Marathon, which is the highest marathon in the world,” he adds.
3: Custom made
Mass tourism of the Europe-in-10-days variety will not go away in a hurry; these group tours offer convenience and comfort particularly for first-time travellers. However, there’s a decided shift towards customisation and private travel, especially in the luxury bracket. “There’s a rising trend among Indian outbound travellers wanting to avail concierge services to enhance their travel experiences with unique offerings,” says Ruchi Kohli, chief of experience at Away&Co (awayandco.com), a Delhi-based bespoke travel curator that focuses on insider access.
These include the likes of a private visit inside the pyramids of Giza with an Egyptologist or a Michelin dining experience with a geisha in Kyoto or a seabound farming experience with a fourth-generation oyster farming family in France. Motwani agrees, adding that client approach is changing. “Earlier, customers would say, I have 10 days and I want to ‘do’ this destination; now, they are more specific.” For example, Namaste Tourism recently organised a winter trip to France for a family who asked for snow, wine, and activities for their young children. “So, we sent them skiing in Chamonix, which also has an alpine zoo (The Merlet Animal Park) for the kids, followed by wine-tasting in Burgundy for the adults,” he says.
4: Intelligent tech
New technology has always revolutionised travel, whether it’s the jet engine of the 1950s that drastically cut down travel times or the 1990s dot-com boom that ushered in tech-enabled travel as we know it today. The current era is defined by artificial intelligence (AI), which is already disrupting every industry. The travel industry is not immune, of course, and everything from planning to booking to experiencing travel is now powered by AI. Think chatbots that answer customer queries, digital concierges that help you plan your itinerary, and back-end data analytics that’s helping travel companies to develop customised products and market them better.
Travellers are also experimenting with generative AI like ChatGPT to get recommendations and itineraries. However, it does have limitations in its current form because it relies on dated information (up to 2021) and is also unable to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information on the internet (resulting in incorrect output). “Travel-related data can change dynamically like airline schedules, the weather, attraction or hotel/restaurant closures, etc. Only your travel planner or someone who has local access can help here; travel still needs that human connect,” says Motwani.
5: Slow motion
The revival of train travel is another emerging trend — climate concerns coupled with rising airfares has powered this shift towards a more eco-friendly and slower way of travelling. Luxury train journeys with high-end amenities are gaining traction; in India, The Deccan Odyssey (deccan-odyssey-india.com) is back after a pandemic-induced hiatus in a newly refurbished avatar with more luxurious interiors and services.
The storied Orient Express (orient-express.com) will bring back the golden age of Italian design and glamour with the La Dolce Vita train offering six itineraries that blend panoramic views with exclusive cultural, historical, and gastronomic experiences. River cruising is another form of slow travel that’s gaining popularity, particularly in Europe — options range between large companies like Uniworld or Viking and smaller, family-run businesses like Barge Lady Cruises (bargeladycruises.com); the latter offers intimate cruise experiences aboard luxuriously outfitted barges. In India, boutique cruises by Antara River Cruises (antaracruises.com) include 3 nights in and around Odisha’s Bhitarkanika National Park, a 7-night roundtrip from Kolkata exploring Bengal’s heritage artisans, and more.
6: Self-care retreat
Wellness retreats have really taken off in the wake of the pandemic. However, these are not just about spa breaks any more — travellers are seeking holidays that offer holistic wellness benefits, whether it’s yoga and meditation or outdoors adventures and boot camps or even biohacking and longevity-focused treatments. For example, the Soneva Soul Time Rewind Programme at Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani in the Maldives (soneva.com) is designed to reclaim youthful vigour through innovative treatments like Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, Prolozone Regenerative Medicine Injection, NAD IV Therapy, and more.
When it comes to self-care, travellers are also looking to invest in quality sleep. A recent Hilton trends report found that the top reason people want to travel in 2024 is to rest and recharge. “While rest can mean getting away from work on a leisure vacation, guests more broadly today define ‘rest’ as getting good sleep, regardless of their travel occasion,” says Matt Schuyler, Hilton’s chief brand officer. Worldwide, rooms at Tempo by Hilton hotels are designed with an enveloping sleep environment and feature several ‘Power Down’ amenities. Closer home, ITC’s Luxury Collection hotels (itchotels.com) offer rooms with sound-proofed windows, a ‘Sleep TV’ channel with specially commissioned music, and a bedside ‘Sleep Box’ with earplugs and essential oil pillow sprays — all to help you sleep better.