3 Emerging Travel Trends (and How They'll Impact Business This Year)

By Cliff Johnson

In the first quarter of the new year, businesses are thinking about how industry trends will affect their culture, their teams and their bottom lines. As co-founder and chief development officer at a fast-growing travel company, I'm especially interested in how travel and hospitality trends will impact businesses this year. Here are a few developments in our industry that could affect those in yours:

The Death of the Big Brand

The influence of well-known brands will be less and less important to travelers in 2017. Instead of gravitating toward widely recognized brands, travelers will continue to rely on marketplaces and reviews when deciding where to spend their money. According to a recent survey conducted by BrightLocal, 84 percent of people now trust online reviews as much as they would a personal recommendation. 

As travelers move away from relying on the generic offerings of big brands, they'll gravitate more toward customized travel experiences, which provide specialized experiences and amenities. Rather than depending on brand recognition alone, companies should cultivate their reputations on sites like Yelp, Glassdoor and TripAdvisor, where user-generated content drives decision-making.

On a similar note, rather than delivering a blandly consistent experience for customers, businesses should look for ways to differentiate their offerings based on users' patterns and preferences. For example, Netflix does a stellar job of tailoring recommendations to individual users, rather than showing everybody the same lineup.

Going Virtual

Speaking of getting exactly what you're looking for, virtual reality will become more ubiquitous (and more in demand) this year. In our industry, this means travelers will seek out virtual tours that give them detailed insight into the quality, feature, and amenities of their vacation rental, hotel room or airplane cabin.

Just this year, Airbnb began testing live streaming on its social platforms to market its rentals to users.

Businesses across the board can use virtual reality to appeal to end-users. Virtual reality is already in use in industries like cognitive behavioral therapy, treatment for amputees, automotive design, education and training, law enforcement, and of course entertainment. As virtual reality becomes increasingly ubiquitous, businesses should be thinking about how they can leverage it to create innovative marketing campaigns, improve customer satisfaction and increase market share.

A New Kind of Customer

In 2016, direct flights to unexpected locations like Reykjavík and Dubai became more affordable than ever, helping to push travelers out of their comfort zones. This year, we can expect countries that were once considered off-limits for travel, like Cuba and Colombia, to be popular destinations in 2017.

Budget-conscious young travelers will take advantage of these offerings to pursue spur-of-the-moment adventures in undiscovered countries. According to Hospitality Net, adventure-driven millennials can be expected to dominate travel over the coming year. In fact, millennials, who are now the largest living demographic, will change the way businesses in every sector design and market their products.

The increasing ubiquity of remote work opportunities will make it easier for people to book longer stays that blend work with leisure. For businesses interested in recruiting and catering to millennials -- which should be all businesses, given the enormous size and influence of this demographic -- extending a remote work option or creating tools that make it easier and more efficient to work away from the office will be key. Industry players that neglect the attitudes of millennials will be leaving money on the table.

This year, we can expect customers in all sectors to expect user-generated and customized content that's super relevant to them. They'll look to technology to give them intense, immersive user experiences. And lastly, they'll expect employers and tools to empower them to work from anywhere. Companies that incorporate the best aspects of the sharing economy and leverage technology to market their offerings to tech-savvy millennials will be in the strongest position to take advantage of these developments.

In 2009, Cliff Johnson co-founded Vacasa, a technology-enabled vacation rental management firm.