Travelers Looked for Greener Destinations in 2023, in More Ways Than One

The travel sector is (almost) as strong as it’s ever been, with demand in 2023 set to reach more than three-quarters of pre-pandemic levels, according to a new WTM Global Travel Report. However, while the number of leisure trips is bouncing back, the types of vacation people are taking seem to have changed for good – in more ways than one.

Home Is the New Holiday

One of the major travel trends to come out of the pandemic was an increase in domestic tourism, and despite a rebound in international travel, people were still holidaying closer to home in 2023. “Domestic travel’s share of total travel demand [is] still elevated today relative to the pre-pandemic trend,” WTM Global Travel Report reveals, and this is expected to continue in the year ahead. While this trend was kickstarted by the pandemic, its continuation could also be influenced by an increasing awareness of social and environmental issues among consumers.

 A desire for more “sustainable” travel could contribute to a drop in long-haul trips in favour of closer destinations, according to the report. This shift in consumer outlook is also expected to see an increase in “slow travel,” whereby people take longer but less frequent trips.

A Changing Climate

This spike in environmental and social awareness has not come out of a vacuum – 2023 saw some of the clearest impacts of climate change to date, with unpredictable and extreme weather around the world. The summer of 2023 was the hottest on record by “a large margin,” according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, “with an average temperature of 16.77°C, 0.66°C above average.”

These changes in weather have had a direct impact on where people are choosing to visit, with the WTM report highlighting data from the European Travel Commission (ETC) that shows the popularity of Mediterranean destinations dropping by 10% in 2023 compared with 2022. This was in part influenced by people’s perception of the weather in the region, according to the report.

These heatwaves could also account for another travel trend that has continued well past its pandemic peak: nature-based getaways.

Cities act as urban heat islands making rural areas more appealing to domestic travellers.

Looking to Greener Pastures

Along with vacationing more locally, the pandemic also saw a rise in the number of nature-based trips as people looked to leave cities and other densely populated areas. At the time, this was to avoid people, but in a changing climate, it could be to escape the heat. Cities act as “urban heat islands,” with far greater temperatures than their rural surroundings. This discrepancy could well help promote the trend for nature-based destinations that the industry saw continue throughout last year.

Another driver of this trend is the wealth of experiences that rural destinations offer – something that has become increasingly important as consumers turn their back on more traditional holiday activities. In 2023 “experiential activities such as wellness, nature, and food tourism increased by over 10% compared with 2019,” according to the WTM report, while pastimes like sunbathing slumped. This trend is really reflected in where travelers are putting their money, with spending on experiences in March 2023 up by 65% compared with 2019, according to the WTM report.

Similarly, individuals are looking to these nature-based trips as a way to reconnect with people and place: “In an increasingly digital world, opportunities to reconnect with people and in-person experiences could serve a more important need for modern consumers.”

Travellers are looking for more permanent, year-round structures.

What Does it Mean for Glamping?

Glamping is very well-positioned to cater to these wider industry trends, with most sites delivering low-impact, rural getaways that are accessible enough for short domestic trips.

One of the aspects that will likely set some sites apart is their auxiliary offerings. Glamping is a form of experiential travel in itself, but having other nature-based activities available for travelers will help operators make the most of the uptick in demand for authentic experiences.

Operators may also want to consider the types of structures they’re choosing to invest in. A new report by Canopy and Stars notes that while the post-COVID boom led to a proliferation of glamping offerings, consumers are likely to be more discerning in the coming year. This means focusing on quality over quantity and looking for unique structures that offer comfort and character.

The focus on unique spaces has also meant a “massive strengthening of the trend for permanent, year-round, solid structures,” according to the report. With “more sophisticated builds like treehouses and cabins” now representing a significant portion of the market.

Furthermore, operators should make clear and decisive steps to become more sustainable destinations. Glamping is already one of the lower-impact forms of accommodation, but sites should double down on their commitment to greener, more sustainable tourism to support consumer choices.

As Canopy and Stars noted in their report, “Easy but ineffective activities like offsetting are no longer acceptable to a well-informed community, and responsible travel companies should be aiming for Net Zero.”

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