2018 travel trends: 8 Things to shape your wanderlust

Want to travel more in 2018? Let's be honest, who doesn't, right?

The best way to realise this dream is to decide where you want to go and how you plan to get there. Once you've narrowed it down to that extent, nothing will make it more real than throwing some of your hard-earned cash behind actual travel dates in the form of a booking. A good place to start would be flight tickets and with more than a couple of months to plan the rest you’re likely to score some good deals.

The rest, as they say, will be your wanderlust-filled year in the making. 

But we understand that the options are indeed endless. Traveller24 has reviewed the year of travel in 2017 to outline a few things shaping travel and tourism in 2018, which we hope will give you a map to navigate the course ahead for one of the largest industries across the globe - Tourism. 

Fortunately, it has been a year of mostly solid growth, with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) stating destinations globally received 901 million international tourist arrivals between January and August 2017. This is close to 60 million more than the same period in 2016, representing approximately seven percent growth and putting 2017 into the ranks of another milestone year.

Here are some of the trends shaping experiences for 2018 - and if this does not help you make up your mind, best you subscribe to our weekly newsletter - a wanderlust-infused planning guide specially focused on you the local traveller. Expect destination and themes both big and small, unpacked in useful detail. 

Trend 1: More flight options and open skies

South Africa's domestic air travel has seen quite a shake-up in the past year - this as Cape Town International prepares for its busiest year yet. The airport says more than a million passengers are expected to pass through its gates this month, with 4 to 6 January expected to be the peak time for the start of 2018, when everyone heads home after the festive season. 

The outcome of the FlySafair and Airlink merger, currently before the competitions committee is highly anticipated, while the shuffling of SAA and Mango flights, as our national carrier grapples with route closures in order to decrease its debt, is also adding a bit of anxiety to those affected. 

A trend that may be a little less expected is that international travel is still popular among South Africans, despite our economic problems.  For some South Africans, a package holiday to the Indian Ocean Islands – Mauritius and the Seychelles, Zanzibar or the Far East has been found to be comparable to  the cost of a local travel escape, which accounts for the continuing interest in foreign travel and the marked decline in domestic travel.

And while there is no clear indication that South Africans can expect air travel to get any cheaper locally, in the coming year more direct flights to Europe for example is something to look forward nevertheless. 

“With the added capacity, we believe that this would introduce competitive pricing and in turn make European destinations more appealing," says Carlos Luis, Supplier Relationship Leader for Flight Centre Travel Group. 

Notable examples are Emirates which offers four daily flights between Dubai and Johannesburg, three between Dubai and Cape Town, and a daily flight between Dubai and Durban.

Turkish Airlines offering flights to a range of destinations via Istanbul, having recently announced that it will extend its 'Stopover' service to South Africans, including free accommodation for long stopovers. The service is offered to passengers flying from South Africa with a stopover in Istanbul that's longer than 20 hours. They have to be flying to either Asia, Far East and Americas (The USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Cuba), the UK, Ireland, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Tunisia. 

There is also a direct flight between Johannesburg and Sao Paulo introduced by LATAM Airlines towards the end of 2016 and the expansion of Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines and Fastjet have also made #AfriTravel far more accessible. 

Lufthansa also increased not only its direct routes capacity from Cape Town but now has 24 weekly flights, serviced by Lufthansa, SWISS, and Edelweiss from Johannesburg and Cape Town to various European destinations through the Lufthansa Group’s Frankfurt, Munich and Zurich hubs. The airline also boasts 5 additional flights per week between Frankfurt and Johannesburg using Boeing 747-8. 

South Africa's largest booking agency says open skies in travel will also set the course for air travel in the coming year.

Open skies is an international policy concept that calls for the liberalisation of the rules and regulations governing the international aviation industry, particularly commercial aviation. Having this type of policy in place will essentially create a free market environment for the airline industry, moving the focus away from travel purely to the world’s most established commercial empires.

"Through promoting increased airlift, an open skies policy has the potential to significantly rejuvenate economies with the additional spin off of increased job creation. It will also work towards eliminating weak competitors, who may not be delivering on service, product and price, says Luis.

Trend 2: More Staycationing as domestic travel lags

Local and global visitors continue to view South Africa as one of the top adventure travel destinations for 2018, so the idea that staycationing or taking a Shot Left is nothing to be snigger at. And road trips very often create some of the best memories.

Keep in mind that Cape Town has once again be named the World's greatest City - for a fifth consecutive year in the 2017 Telegraph Travel award, so if you're not by the means to jet off somewhere overseas, it doesn't hurt to remind yourself that many travellers pay good pounds to visit Mzansi.  

And with SA's wide range of adventure offerings such as canopy tours, bungee jumping, animal interactions such as shark cage diving and wildlife safaris, quad biking and hot air ballooning - unique and off the beaten track experiences are yours for the picking. 

And when it comes to holidaying at home, value and service continue to remain high up on the agenda for South Africans. This speaks to both corporate and leisure travel trends, according to Avukile Mabombo of Protea Hotels by Marriott.

He says, "The poor economic conditions in South Africa are clearly impacting travel among South Africans, but there are some unexpected trends arising from this situation too. There is still plenty happening in the local tourist space. South Africans are choosing to reserve accommodation for shorter periods of time than in the past.

"Family holidays are continuing but there appears to be a shift to hotel stays that are budget-conscious", as in that locals appear to be booking in a less luxurious hotel than may have been the case previously. 

Mabombo says "With money being tight for many South Africans, Protea Hotels by Marriott launched a summer special specifically geared to cater for the local traveller. If one books at least 25 days in advance of your stay, you will pay 30% less, with the offer limited to bookings made by 31 January."

Trend 3: Responsible tourism and the effects of overtourism

Sustainable and responsible Travel has been a major focus for travel and tourism throughout 2017 and will no doubt continue to do so into 2018. 

South African operators and organisations have set major responsible tourism precedents over the past year, with South African Tourism's clamp down on lion cub petting and the removal of content advocating unethical animal interactions from its website being a prime example. We even managed to outrank the US when it comes to being a globally sustainable tourism destination.   

Locally, the I Do Tourism campaign is also aiming to help both local and international travellers to be more safe and aware of the impact their actions may have on destinations they visit. Yet responsible travel has moved beyond just protecting the environment to include protecting communities and cultures 

According to TrekkSoft's 2018 analysis, the summer crowds of 2017 which sent locals in Barcelona and Venice marching in the streets to protest overtourism is a prime example of this. 

AP reports that hotel reservations in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia and one of Europe's most visited cities, for the Christmas and New Year's period are down by 15 percent compared to last year. This follows the tourism impact of the crisis sparked by Catalonia's banned independence referendum on October 1 which was marred by violence and "concentrated almost exclusively" in Barcelona. Catalonia is Spain's most visited region and tourism accounts for 12 percent of its economic output. 

While not quite suffering from overtourism, the need for sustainability for the industry is on the agenda for SA's National Department of Tourism.

SA's Minister of Tourism, Tokozile Xasa says challenges being experienced in Cape Town in respect of water give "impetus to the need for tourism to truly consider future generations as it consumes resources to offer the tourism experience".

"The 1996 White Paper on the Development of Tourism highlights being responsible as an approach to tourism which was further emphasised by the Tourism Act 2014. Strides have already been made towards mainstreaming Responsible Tourism as we aim to be among the Top Responsible Tourism Destinations as we move towards 2026." 

Xasa says further actions will be identified on an annual basis as implementation continues and modifications are identified in close interaction with all sector stakeholders.

"Responsible Tourism is about a sustainable approach to tourism. It is an approach that requires the efficient management of resources that are integral to the tourism offering (e.g. water and energy) and the respect of host communities in respect of the cultures so that the negative impacts of tourism can be mitigated."  

Many initiatives have been put in place to raise awareness around water-saving measures.  

While 2017's conversations about sustainable tourism or the lack of it have seen more and more travellers becoming aware of how overtourism is ruining certain destinations, travellers should be looking to lesser-known destinations to satisfy their wanderlust. In fact, this Fodor's No List 2018 is a good guide of places probably best avoided in the year ahead - it include the likes of Galapagos, Machu Piche and Mount Everest. 

According to Wouter Geerts, a Senior Travel Analyst at Euromonitor International, the "win-win situation of sustainable development is unlikely to go far enough".

He says it is "unhealthy to think, however, that if everyone in the industry would become a little more efficient, all problems would be solved and the negative impacts of the tourism industry would disappear". 

Being sustainable comes at a cost. 

"While some destinations are able to market themselves as more sustainable (and expensive) destinations which would benefit their economy while at the same time reducing the actual number of visitors, not every destination can do this. Some tough decisions might need to be made to keep destinations sustainable, " says Geerts. 

Trend 4: Experience-rich travel, collecting memories not things

A group that seems to be driving the need for experiences rather than merely ticking off well-known tourist spots is made up by the millennial traveller. 

Many brands have seen that these individuals are seeking new and authentic travel experiences, and that they are wanting to go beyond visiting only popular destinations. Flight Centre data marginally correlates to this, with millennials including places such as with Cuba, Iceland, Croatia at the top of their travel lists, says the booking agent. All destinations that have inched considerably up the must-do list.

However, Flight Centre says "this continued interest in ‘experiences’ and 'Instagram-worthy moments' leads to ongoing growth of adventure tours," of which they've seen a considerable uptake of their Youth & Adventure offering.

Skift reports a new study conducted by Signature Travel Network and The Center for Generational Kinetics shows that whether millennials or baby boomers — travellers are open to turning to travel consultants to help them plan, "as long as the price is right and their experiences can still be one of a kind". 

Their research obviously shows that that the bulk of the travel planning still beginning online - yet surprisingly they say millennials are twice as likely as those of other generations to contact a travel consultant as the first step in their research process. Fourteen percent of millennials, compared to 6 percent of baby boomers and 7 percent of Gen Xers involved in the study said that "contacting a travel consultant is the first step they take toward gathering information about a leisure trip".

So from recharging in nature, to learning about a destination's culture, to seeking an adventure of a lifetime, Jon Fauver, TrekkSoft's co-founder says "travel providers need to remember that at the heart of the guest experience is the experience part".

Fauver says their analysis has found that the 30s - 50s crowd is more interested in a relaxing getaway while the 65+ are interested in adventure and opportunities to socialise.

"In 2018, expect to meet adventurous Baby Boomers, well-travelled Gen Xers and Millennials and curious and tech savvy Gen Zs coming to their own.  Everyone is on the hunt for a life-changing experience while they travel and it's up to travel providers to create tours and activities that appeal to their lifestyles rather than to a specific age group."

Added to this the study shows that often overlooked, "Gen Xers might not be the largest (or coolest) market out there, but they're the generation with the most money and time to spend on travel. In an international survey conducted in China, Germany and the US, 68% of Gen Xers are the chief shoppers when it comes to big purchases such as travel and activities". 

Trend 5: More ease of travel

In 2017 the South Africa's passport power declined somewhat and South Africans should not hold their breath on being exempt from Schengen visa-free travel any time soon - with the EU directing the Department of Home Affairs to apply to each member state directly. 

There have been a few considerable strides made for #AfriTravel nevertheless, with issues that limit the ability of potential international and domestic tourists to travel to and within South Africa are also firmly on the radar for the national department of tourism. 

"Even with the best branding, marketing ang product, the growth of the sector will be impacted if restrictive conditions are maintained in the regulatory environment. If there is improved ease of access, tourism numbers will increase," says Xasa.

"Overall, regulations are a necessity to provide guidelines for business practices; however, their unintended consequences could become a barrier. Therefore, it is imperative that the sector provides inputs in the development and review of regulatory instruments with an impact on tourism from inception on a regular basis.

Xasa says the design and implementation of an Accredited Tourism Company Programme (ATCP) for markets is a further part of the NTSS.

"Measures already in place have resulted in a rapid positive response in visitor numbers. While the role for industry partners is largely confined to ensuring visa, requirements are correctly communicated to all travel partners to facilitate travel, it also involves monitoring and communicating problems in respect of visa processing capacities and turn-around times.  The industry, together with the NDT will ensure that the system to accredit such companies is well understood, supported and that there is proper compliance."

And while ease of access remains a crucial pillar, not much has been revealed about the anticipated roll-out of the African Union passport, with Xasa saying the department would be "guided by the country position on the AU passport".

"Lead departments are DIRCO and Home Affairs, with which the department already works closely. Tourism inputs are channelled through inter-governmental structures in which the Department participates." 

Travelling to Angola is now an effortless experience for South Africans as citizens from both countries are able to enter for a period of 90 days per year, since 1 December -  provided that each visit does not exceed 30 days in total.

Similarly, Namibia is working towards providing visa-free travel to African passport holders - South Africans however only require a passport that is valid for six months during their visit but no visa. Holiday or tourist visas are valid for three months.

Rwanda also recently joined the ranks of African countries that are easier to visit. From 01 January 2018, nationals of all countries will be able to get visas upon arrival without prior application. South Africans will have to pay $30 (R423.61 @R14.12/$) for a visa on arrival. 

Trend 6: Share-economy honeymoon phase over?

What initially started out as collaborative consumption for the likes of hitchhikers and backpackers and now propelled through rapid tech and ease of access rather than ownership, has since resulted in one of the fast-growing segment of the travel industry.

There is no doubt that the likes of two of the most prolific businesses in this sector, Airbnb and Uber will continue to thrive in the year ahead. However the honeymoon phase for these disruptor travel and tourism offerings is well and truly over as calls for tighter regulation bring to bear the safety loopholes and concerns.

Locally there have been violent and fatal run-ins between taxi drivers and the Uber drivers, with Uber receiving an outright ban in London.

Added to this Airbnb compliance regulation has also been a big issue in the past year - with the incident in which a local artist found herself endangered in an alleged racist incident due to a late check-out topping the list of safety and accountability concerns. 

With that said, Airbnb will continue to change the dynamic of the accommodation model as its booking data for the first half of 2018 shows it is in store for "a record year". 

"We’re forecasting the biggest year yet for Airbnb with more homes, Experiences and intriguing destinations to explore," says the share-economy online booking site. It says key trends coming through for 2018 include non-traditional homes and unique food experiences.

And while its footprint on the leisure market is firm, it is also interesting to note that the slow uptake for the corporate traveller. 

This is supported by Skift data which shows growth in both the use of these services by travelers and the acceptance of their increased use by travel managers.

Quoted in the report, Jeanne Liu, vice president of research at the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) says, “I think what we’re seeing is what we’re calling the consumerization of business travelers. It’s what you do in your regular consumer life. If you use ride-sharing and home-sharing, or if there are certain apps you like to use, it’s going to go into how you plan and how you pick your options in business travel as well.”  

GBTA data at the beginning of 2017 found that "half of companies now allow Uber or Lyft, an increase from 44 percent in mid-2016. It also discovered that 30 percent of policies allow business travelers to book accommodations on Airbnb". 

Trend 7: Mobile bookings

This will be the default in 2018, rather than the exception. This is according to Dave O'Kelly, CEO of SANDEMANs NEW Europe in a 2-18  TrekkSoft Trends report.

“Over 50% of our bookings are taken on mobile and typically within the two weeks pre-arrival into the destination. That provides a whole wealth of opportunities for us... We can facilitate easier, more exciting, and more interesting interactions pre-trip, during a trip and post-trip and own as much of the guest experience as possible”.

Bookings are made online and on mobile, and this shift towards mobile will continue to grow in 2018.

Drawing on TrekkSoft's data, some 82% of bookings were made through a tour or activity operator's own website, and of those bookings, almost half (49%) are made on mobile.

It says that while the completion rate of mobile bookings is lower than that of other industries, this behaviour on mobile has "grown significantly compared to 2016, which was at 31%".

Despite all of the hype around mobile commerce, Skift reports that mobile bookings are still "hampered by legacy platforms, cumbersome processes and designs that aren’t optimized for the small screen or on the go use cases. The conversion rate is considerably lower for travel products than mobile commerce in general" - especially when you keep in mind that mobile’s share of global internet traffic is at 15 percent and rising, according to Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, a venture capital firm.

It shows that "there are already 1.5 billion smartphone users in the world, a 31 percent rise from 2012". 

In 2016, consumers making purchases on smartphones represented 81.2 percent of all mobile travel bookers. "More mobile users are researching trips on mobile, as well; in 2017 140.3 million U.S. consumers are expected to research travel online and 101.4 million of them, about 72 percent, will do so on mobile," says eMarketer

By 2021 computer and mobile booking volumes are expected to be neck-and-neck .  

According to Skift analysis there are some intrinsic reasons why customers frequently begin their travel planning on a mobile phone or tablet, but choose to use a computer or telephone to make the purchase such as poor design, as sites either load too slowly or are poorly designed. Added to this the lack of seamless payment processes also make consumers skittish in completing the booking on their handheld devices.   

Trending Destinations to keep an eye on for 2018

In the current challenging economic environment and as the trends show many South Africans have a mixed bag when it comes to their 2018 must-do travel lists - weighing the costs considerably between staying close to home or opting to venture to some place exotic.  

"We’ve seen a definite increase in interest to locales such as Zanzibar, Botswana and Mozambique, all of which, remain relatively affordable. Destinations such as Thailand and Bali continue to be popular as the east is considered reasonable as the rand still gets you relatively far, " says Flight Centre's Luis.

Similarly Marriott's Mabombo says South Africans are certainly not ruling out international travel, which "remains popular despite our economic problems".  

"For some South Africans, a package holiday to the Indian Ocean Islands – Mauritius and the Seychelles, Zanzibar or the Far East - may be comparable in cost to local travel, which also accounts for the continuing interest in foreign travel."

With South African Airways announcing that they are looking to "rationalise" their routes, Flight Centre believes that other African and European carriers will announce their interest to fly into South Africa to capture the market that SAA will no longer be servicing in the New Year.

"Maldives should also become more popular with the introduction of a direct flight towards the end of the first quarter of 2018."