As the year winds down, we find ourselves facing great uncertainty in 2020. While it’s too early for political predictions, it’s never too early to take action on the issues that will affect us deeply. First and foremost, the climate emergency. Greta Thunberg took the year by storm, shining a desperately needed spotlight on the environment. She famously refused to fly due to the carbon emissions from air travel, giving the flight-shaming movement global attention and accelerating conversations around sustainable tourism. 2019 will be remembered as the year people made the connection between their travel choices and their carbon footprint. As a result, sustainable travel is at the core of the travel trends that will dominate 2020.
Travel Trends in 2020: Footprint, Culture and Community
While still a fuzzy concept for most, sustainable travel is actually an easy concept to embrace. There are three main pillars that can be distilled down to footprint, culture and community. Traveling sustainably simply means supporting local communities; preserving culture and heritage; and doing it all with as light a footprint as possible. Companies like Responsible Travel and Intrepid Travel have been promoting it for years and Travara is the go-to media platform for travelers looking to understand what sustainable travel is and how to do it well.
Shoulder and Off-Season Travel
Crowded beaches, monuments and museums make for long lines, limited interactions with locals and sky high prices. Shoulder and off-season travel offers affordable rates and more authentic connections with locals. While the weather might not be perfect in the off-season, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Traveling during off-peak times spreads the economic impact of tourism throughout the year, enabling locals to have a more stable income. Battling your way through tour groups and throngs of other tourists is no fun for anyone and travelers are increasingly aware of that.
Second City Tourism
Overtourism is a buzzword we’ve been hearing more and more. Crowded scenes from cities such as Venice, Barcelona and Paris highlight the threat of over visiting a destination. A potential solution? Undertourism, or travel to lesser known or off-the-beaten path destination. There’s no denying the positive economic impact of travel, but to be sustainable, it needs to be spread throughout a country.
“Second city” tourism will rise to be one of the most popular travel trends in 2020 as travelers seek new, intimate experiences. What does it look like? Instead of Venice, try visiting the less familiar Italian wine region of Friuli that is less than one hour away. Many people have heard of (and probably been to) Iceland, but how about the Faroe Islands? Visitors will find a warm welcome from rural areas that are often left in the shadows of their more popular neighbors.
The benefits of travel are undeniable. Unfortunately, the carbon footprint produced by air travel, specifically, is also undeniable. Travelers are seeking out ways to decrease their impact by choosing nonstop routes, purchasing carbon offsets and flying airlines that are using biofuels. But unfortunately, this isn’t enough.
The airline industry and governments need to take further action, faster, to make aviation sustainable. Airlines like United are increasing their use of biofuels (all flights out of LAX are using biofuel). Air France is now offsetting 100% of CO2 emissions on all its domestic flights and the country of France will soon begin implementing an eco-tax on all flights departing from France. Ideally, as the demand for air travel decreases in 2020, the sense of urgency to make air travel more sustainable, as quickly as possible, will arise.
More Ground Travel
Twenty years ago, Eurail passes were the norm for young backpackers exploring Europe. The onslaught of budget airlines changed the game, making it much more affordable to hop on and off flights, in less time. 2020 will be the year train and bus travel make a comeback. As young travelers put the planet first, ground travel will see a resurgence across the globe.
Electric trains and comfortable, reliable buses with robust networks (like Flix) will embrace a new generation of travelers who can explore with more flexibility. Roadtrips are also on the rise, enabling journeys to more rural areas and off-the-beaten path destinations. The freedom of driving opens travelers up to a wide range of experiences that are guaranteed to create memories that can’t be curated on a guided tour.
One of the leaders in sustainable hotel design is 1 Hotels. Founder Barry Sternlicht wanted to capture the beauty of nature in a hotel and use it as a platform for change. At their flagship Brooklyn property, loyal guests love the use of reclaimed materials, the community garden wall and the way nature is present in every room. The brand recently launched a sister property, The Treehouse, in London, providing a more affordable option when it comes to sustainable luxury. In Botswana, the eco chic Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge was built sustainably from the ground up, to the point that if ever dismantled, it would leave the landscape completely untouched.
While green design is paramount, there are other crucial elements of sustainability that are becoming top of mind for hotel owners and operators. Saira Hospitality and the Cayuga Collection are great examples of community-based hospitality management, where locals are given the tools and skills necessary to succeed in the industry. Education for Employment also trains young adults in the Middle East and North Africa to work in hospitality. By training locals to staff hotels, it provides economic stability for the whole community. And as young travelers sort through accommodation options, these are the types of core values and initiatives that will set hotels apart.
Social media has made the world a whole lot smaller and seemingly more accessible. While it serves as a source of inspiration through drool-worthy imagery, it has also fueled a generation of drive-by tourists who visit a destination just to get the ‘gram.
Ticking a location off your list with a photograph might impress one’s followers, but moving through a place too quickly prevents one from truly immersing themselves into the real culture. More and more travelers are opting for slower travel, visiting less destinations and staying put longer. Renting an apartment from a local, visiting the neighborhood markets and learning about daily life from a shop owner or taxi driver are some of the best ways to connect and absorb the essence of a locale.
Any global development expert can cite data demonstrating that the economic empowerment of women is one of the best ways to alleviate poverty. We know that when women earn an income, they invest in their families and communities, creating a ripple effect which lifts others out of poverty.
Female-centric travel companies like Wild Terrains are curating trips that are for women, while also supporting women-owned businesses in the destinations they visit. Girls Trip Tours take groups of women to Africa, where activities are focused on female empowerment. At Travara, a portion of revenue is dedicated to training women in underserved communities how to launch and scale their own sustainable tourism businesses. Women love to support other women, so it’s no surprise that this will be one of the stronger travel trends of 2020.