It’s always hard to pin down a ‘trend’, especially in a fast-moving industry like travel. By the time one trend has peaked over here, it’s dying out over there, being replaced by a new one that came from way over there. But when you travel as often as we do and talk to as many savvy folks as we try to, you can get a general idea of the tendencies and inclinations that seem to be popular at any one time.
While browsing a recently published study of travel trends for 2017, we noticed a few that popped out at us. Like we said, it’s hard to define a trend, but these three things were definitely something that we’ve seen more and more of as we travel around the region.
Cities are emerging as destinations in their own right
Low-cost airlines are the big drivers behind this, especially in Asia, where you can fly from country A to country B for around $60, if you catch a sale. And while plenty of people still enjoy a mountain resort or a beach getaway, more and more people are flying into a city and giving it a thorough shakedown before heading back home, no add-ons or extensions necessary. With cities as vast and densely packed as some of the Asian giants, even ambitious travelers will have a hard time fitting everything in.
Places like Bangkok, Hanoi, and even the long-forgotten Yangon can offer every type of trip imaginable. Want to stay in a dorm and move with a pack of like-minded folks while you see the sights together? Not a problem. Feel like a five-star luxury room with a private chef, chauffeur, and Michelin dining? That can be done too (with a bit of advance notice, of course).
In fact, one survey by Sainsbury’s Travel Insurance found that city breaks were now more popular than beach holidays with British travelers, 53% to 38% – quite a spread! It also found that the number of people willing to visit a country they’ve never been to before has doubled to 18% over the 9% that was reported last year, which is good news for those who want to really sink their teeth into a single destination.
Technology continues to transform the travel experience
Technology is a transformative force, which is easy to see when you travel. Sure, you can still see dog-eared copies of the perennial Lonely Planet travel bible, but they won’t be around forever. Nowadays you’ll commonly see travelers on a beach with a smartphone in one hand and a coconut in the other, and that’s just the beginning. Even before a trip starts, you’re able to get your bearings with Google Street View. Some apps even let you put in a few details and plan your itinerary for you (although to be honest, we think that’s taking the fun out of it). The truly cutting-edge traveler can even put on a pair of VR (virtual reality) goggles and “visit” the places they’re about to visit, although again… this seems a bit pointless. But hey, so did the internet at one point.
Gone are the days when a trip to a far-flung corner of a far-flung region meant radio silence and being cut off from the world. Modern technology means that trips no longer have to be tightly planned around work or personal commitments (unless you want to – see below), giving travelers the freedom to add a few days to either end of their vacations.
The most recent example of technology busting into the travel space for Smiling Albino is that we now take bitcoin payments. As our intrepid director of business development recently said, “Our core clients are leaders in their fields and innovators. By adapting early to cryptocurrency we hope to facilitate, for some of our clients, easy payments for on-the-fly bookings or add-ons during their trips.”
And of course don’t forget all the amazing apps available that let you book a hotel, learn a language, edit photographs, and buy train tickets – all while sipping a drink poolside.
Combining business and travel
While modern trends see travelers freeing themselves from the strict shackles of calendars, some take it a step further and plan work into their trip. Ten years ago this would have been difficult – if not impossible – but these days, it’s simple. Co-working spaces are popping up in Bangkok, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, and especially Chiang Mai, Thailand, long seen as a home base for digital nomads. Do you really have to be at next week’s meeting in person? If not – how about doing a FaceTime call from your private office for the morning?
Indeed, some companies are even incentivizing employees to travel more, giving rise to the somewhat torturous term of ‘bleisure travel’. Businesses have begun to realize that work can be done from pretty much anywhere these days, so family trips, cultural immersion vacations, and ‘open schedules’ are becoming the norm. One example of this is Automattic, the parent company of tech giant WordPress. They recently let the lease expire on their primo San Francisco HQ because hardly anyone was coming into the office anymore. And Elastic, a software company mentioned in the same story, has never had an office, despite having 500 employees around the world.
And surveys show that line between business and pleasure continues to be blurred. One used the term “workation” (only slightly less torturous than ‘bleisure’) and found that 23% planned on taking a work vacation simply for a change of scenery.
As a company based in one of the prettiest places on Earth, we think that’s a fine idea.