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The Experts Have Their Say (Pt.1)

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How has travel changed in the past 18 months? And how will our post-pandemic psyche affect how we travel in 2022. I talk to some of the leading industry experts to find out.

A NEW SENSE OF CARING

In Hilton’s new travel trends report, ‘The 2022 Traveler: Emerging Trends and the Redefined Traveler’, the hotel brand looks at the impact that Covid has had on travel. The report highlights many ways that travel has evolved – from new cleanliness protocols to contactless experiences; from the search for holistic wellness solutions to more approachable and comfortable travel and dining experiences (think: where travelers will leave their ‘tuxedos at home’). 

Interestingly, one major trend which the report highlights is the rise in awareness of the environment and our impact on local communities. “Beyond their inner circles, travellers are expected to care more about sustainability and community efforts – and are looking to remain loyal to brands, companies and organizations that align with their values.”

Erica Gordon, senior vice president and global head of Public Affairs and ESG at Hilton, says: “We recognise that we have a critical holistic responsibility to protect local communities and the planet, so that the destinations where we operate can remain vibrant and resilient for generations to come. Travel with Purpose is our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategy to drive responsible travel and tourism globally. In 2018, we set 2030 goals to double our investment in social impact and cut our environmental footprint in half, beginning a journey to redefine sustainable travel.”

New initiatives across Hilton’s properties, which align with this approach, include the launch of a vegan suite at Hilton London Bankside and more than 23 waste streams and community partnerships at Hilton Brisbane. At Hilton Garden Inn Faroe Islands, meanwhile, the property embraces the archipelago’s own sustainable tourism strategy with a top-to-bottom environmentally-aware ethos. It has a ‘green’ roof covered in grass, allowing for ultra-efficient insulation and a building that seamlessly blends into the local environment.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

Based on research from its clients, Audley Travel says the travel trends it has identified for 2022 include growing group sizes and increased spend as clients ensure their return to travel is special.

One main growth area is the interest in travel by train, with 81 per cent of people surveyed by Audley earlier this year saying that they were likely consider rail travel for their next trip.

New opportunities to travel by luxury rail include Vietnam’s Vietage train, which takes you between Danang and Quy Nhon. In Europe, the routing of Belmond’s Orient Express now includes Florence and Rome giving more options for adventures. The Rocky Mountaineer in the USA, meanwhile, now includes a two-day routing from Denver to Moab, allowing travelers to enjoy the views through oversized glass-dome windows.

In Russia, Audley has revealed that bookings on the luxury Golden Eagle train, which travels along the Trans-Siberian Railway, had already increased four-fold before the pandemic. This is set to continue with strong interest for 2022 thanks to the train’s off-the-beaten-track routing and luxury experience.

Launching a new collection entitled ‘Travel Less, Travel Better’ to encourage its clients to make a positive change in the way we explore the world, Original Travel has also highlighted the rising interest in rail travel.

“With 32% planning to swap the skies for the rails, Original Travel will continue to build on its collection of rail-only itineraries, going north into Scandinavia and east to Romania,” says Tom Barber, founder of Original Travel. “Our Transylvanian train trip visits Munich and Budapest en route to beautiful Transylvania where you’ll visit fortified Saxon villages, hike in glorious national parks and learn about the complex history of this beguiling region.”

TRAVEL LESS, TRAVEL BETTER

The new – and aforementioned –  ‘Travel Less, Travel Better’ collection of itineraries from Original Travel signifies a new way of travelling. The company is intending to focus on philanthropic holidays, responsible travel, slow travel, rail and road trips and sabbatical itineraries, all shaped by research that the luxury tour operator undertook of its current client base.

Founder Tom Barber says: “In ordinary times, you wouldn’t expect to see a tour operator telling people to travel less, but these are no longer ordinary times – and besides, the ‘Travel Less, Travel Better’ concept shouldn’t be an alarming one for the tourism sector. Fewer trips can still equal a buoyant industry, particularly if those trips are longer, better-planned and more meaningful. In fact, for the trade this can represent a huge opportunity because it means that when we do travel, we’re going to want it to be absolutely perfect. That means speaking to people who really know their destinations, such as tour operators like us, who invest a great deal of money every year in research trips for our expert consultants. 

“As for the ‘travel better’ bit, that’s the challenge we will really relish because our very raison d’etre is to help people to do exactly that. This speaks to the same instincts that have seen us champion sabbaticals, off-the-beaten-track destinations (to encourage undertourism), eco-friendly holidays and slow travel – after all, we were the first UK tour operator to launch luxury rail-only holidays. It suggests that Brits will largely want to travel in the direction that we as a company were already heading.”

An example is the company’s philanthropic holidays – or ‘philantourism’ as it is calling them. These new itineraries are all about travel as a force for good and represent a natural evolution of voluntourism, but are less of a commitment; you don’t need to do anything after you arrive, other than enjoy the culture, buy local and put your spending money into the tourism economy. 

The company offers a 14-night trip to Sri Lanka, for example, where the focus is on staying at family-owned guesthouses, using local guides, eating street food and fully immersing yourself in the country’s local culture and traditions. Activities include learning the art of traditional drumming, visiting a fishing community to learn how to cast the traditional way, exploring the ancient sites of Anuradhapura and Sigiriya, taking a cookery class at a local home and visiting a school in the tea hills.

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