Travel experts share their predictions for 2023’s best bets

Photo (c) Ken Wiedemann - Getty Images

This could be the biggest year for travel since before the pandemic

Consumers are making their 2023 travel plans like there’s no tomorrow. Various reports show that everything from car rentals to domestic flights to international travel are taking advantage of Americans' desire to get back out and enjoy the post-pandemic world.

But in surveying a panel of travel experts, ConsumerAffairs found that travelers aren’t interested in simply going to the Grand Canyon or the Caribbean anymore – they want something bigger and full of life they haven’t witnessed before.

Here’s what we found, including the confidence level the experts have for their predictions.

Prices Should Continue to Come Down 

As predicted, airfare prices have come down, but there's even more good news: even though the travel volume continues to increase, hotels and other travel providers aren’t trying to take advantage of the opportunity and charge consumers more, either.

According to Tim Wheatcroft, Emburse's vice president of Corporate Communications, the average daily spend on hotels saw a slight drop in Q4 from Q3, as did the average domestic airline ticket price.

“One quarter isn't enough to confirm a trend, but should we see continued declines in Q1 2023, it could point to travelers looking for more affordable options, such as lower-grade hotels, in order to conserve travel budgets,” he told ConsumerAffairs.

Go Pacific!

Scott’s Cheap Flights (now known as Co-founder and Chief Flight Expert Scott Keyes thinks that one super consideration travelers should make is going to Asia.

“With China—the last major country with Covid travel restrictions—reopening, I’m anticipating a huge uptick in transpacific flights, which are currently down 50% compared to 2019. More competition equals cheaper fares,” he said. “The average cheap flight to Asia soared to $775 in 2022; it’ll fall this year.”

And with Japan now fully reopened to Americans, Keyes says he’s expecting far more cheap Tokyo fares this year, too.

Paul Melhus, founder & CEO of ToursByLocals, thinks there are other places in the Pacific Ocean worth considering, too. He said that besides Japan (7% of his company’s bookings for far this year), 3% are for New Zealand and 2.5% for Australia, putting these countries as second, 15th and 16th places globally in terms of popular destinations. 

And there are others in the region that Tim Hentschel, CEO and co-founder of HotelPlanner, thinks are worth considering. In addition to Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, he suggests The Maldives, Bali, The Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and Fiji.

Confidence Level: Keyes-80%; Melhus-90%

Multi-Country Trips Are Making A Comeback

From his perspective, Adam Armstrong, CEO at Contiki, thinks that in places like Europe or Southeast Asia where countries are clustered together, travelers can double-down on their experiences in one trip.

“Multi-country trips, where travelers often visit eight to nine countries in two weeks, have increased in popularity. During the pandemic, people were more cautious about crossing borders. Now that it’s easy to cross borders, multi-country trips are rock-and-rolling again,” he said.

Travel Perks to Sweeten Job Satisfaction – and Work from Anywhere

Orestes Fintiklis, vice chairman of Mondee, says that more employers will offer discounted leisure travel to employees as a benefit to increase the possibility of keeping people on the job longer and happier.

“Businesses are looking for additional ways to provide value to their employees and increase overall job satisfaction -- which reflects in overall retention rates,” he told ConsumerAffairs.

And, workers want to be able to do their job from anywhere, too.

“COVID left people craving experiential things. They are over buying big TV's and Peloton and want to ‘live,’” Beth Tofel, president of FootprintID, added. “As well as with remote work people can work from anywhere. So they can travel and work simultaneously."

Confidence level: Fintiklis-90%; Tofel-80%

Increased Train Travel – Especially for Gen Z’ers

“We saw this toward the second half of 2022 on TikTok with train journeys going viral on the platform regularly, showing the sights you miss when you fly,” Giacomo Piva, travel industry analyst and co-founder of global luggage network Radical Storage, said.

“Gen Z especially are far more eco-conscious than other generations and are happy to spend the extra time to enjoy the journey and not just the destination. With some employers offering extra vacation days purely for more sustainable travel like trains/coaches, expect this to boom and see the growth all over social media.”

A rise in the popularity of travel by rail is also expected by Annie Morris of  Made in CA.

“I think that the availability of cheap flights has made people more inclined to go everywhere for any reason at all, but once they start traveling more often—even if it's only within their own country—they start to realize just how much there is left to see,” she said. “And even if they don't want to travel overseas, they might want to explore their own backyard a little bit more than they have in the past. It takes longer and allows you to see more than just what's right outside your window.

Confidence level: Piva-90%; Morris-75%

Small Ship Cruising Will Continue to Become More Popular

One of the travel categories that got hit the hardest by the pandemic was the cruise industry. But Covid’s gone and cruisers are back and packing cruise ships. However, the nuance here is that more clients are focusing on small and luxury. 

And now -- what's called Wave Season, between January and March -- is the absolute best time to book cruise for the summer when they're at their lowest discounted rates.

“One of the main reasons for this is that smaller expedition ships offer the opportunity to get up close to the beauty of each destination and a more intimate cultural experience,” said Scott Kertes, President of Vacations by Design

Kertes said that he’s finding that because travelers had no seas to sail for nearly two years, they built up savings and are more than happy to spend that money on a better cruise experience with higher-end cruise lines, including Viking, Explora, and Regent with destinations such as Antarctica becoming more in demand than ever before. 

Kertes adds that river cruising has also exploded as travelers are looking to avoid larger crowds while also seeking an experience that allows them to enjoy luxury accommodations and service while experiencing the panoramas of natural, historical and cultural splendor sailing by.

Confidence level: 70%

More Service Requests, More Space, More Luxury, More Experiences

Travelers showed some early signs in 2022 that they’re expecting more from the companies they do business with. With that, travelers should go all-in in 2023, demanding service that makes the rates they’re paying for things like hotels worth their investment.

“In line with increased occupancy and travelers booking “bucket list” trips, the travel industry will also expect to see travelers using more concierge services,” Mokhtar Jabli, founder and CEO of The Nightfall Group, told ConsumerAffairs.

“As travelers are booking properties and experiences with our luxury travel company, more of them are adding on concierge services including private chefs, chauffeurs, spa and beauty services, personal trainers, butlers, and more. Travelers want to ensure they are getting the most out of their trips by upgrading to bespoke experiences, and this is a trend we will continue to see as more trips are booked this year.

“That trend is only continuing to grow based on what we are seeing with client requests,” added  Helen Giontsis, President of Kensington Tours. “They want the ultimate privacy in the form of a luxury villa along with full service and in-destination unique experiences such as private guided tours, yacht charters and private jet services.”

Lance Zaal - who owns and operates businesses in the tourism sector including Junket and US Ghost Adventures – said that his crystal ball is showing that travelers want all the high-touch experiences they lost because of Covid back in their lives.

“The great outdoors is still attractive, but people's thirst for concerts and activities prohibited by covid will not be quenched in 2023. Expect to see more desire for interactions in travel experiences.

Confidence level: Jabli-100%; Giontsis-90%; Zaal-60%

Luxury Pet-Friendly Hotels Will Up Their Game

Another area where personalization will be key is when guests travel with a pet. “As post-covid demand for luxury travel involves pets, hotels will anticipate their every need – from the basics like a cozy bed, adequate water and food bowls, treats, toys, accessories and a choice of food – to easy access to a veterinarian, a pet spa, grooming, pet-sitting and walking services,” Diana Vicheva, travel expert and editorial manager at Expo Travel Group, told ConsumerAffairs.

As an example, Vicheva said that a cat-friendly hotel room will include features like stylish scratching posts, a cat cave or a cabinet providing a safe hideaway, a concealed litter tray and floating shelves that can be used for climbing and naps.

Confidence level: 90%

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