What’s in the travel forecast for 2015? Who better to ask than influencers and insiders in the travel world? We caught up with Tom Marchant, co-founder of bespoke luxury travel company Black Tomato; Shane Green, host of Resort Rescue; Jen Murphy, AFAR editor; and Nevin Martell, a food and travel author, to find out what changes in travel are getting their attention. From experiencing a destination through virtual reality to dining on celebrity-chef cuisine on the go, these travel experts predict how we'll be traveling in 2015.
And don't miss our Travel's Best for 2015 to see what destinations are on our radar.
Warning: All this looking ahead may give you a sudden urge to clear your 2015 calendar, pack your bags and book a plane ticket.
Celebrity-Chef Cuisine On the Go
Jordan Siemens/ Stone/ Getty Images
Hungry travelers won’t have to sacrifice taste to get food on the fly in 2015. Celebrity chefs are making their award-winning dishes more accessible by developing fast-casual concepts all over the country. “Expect to see more high-end chefs turning their talents toward more casual, more affordable eateries,” says food and travel writer Nevin Martell, author of Freak Show Without a Tent. “Now, you won't have to rack up credit-card debt on a trip to try their food.” You’ll also be able to keep your New Year’s resolution to eat more vegetables at James Beard Award winner José Andrés’ new fast-casual restaurant, Beefsteak. Making its debut in Washington, DC, the concept is not solely vegetarian, but it makes meat the side dish in its mission to bring wholesome food to the masses. Nevin says he’s also looking forward to chef Joshua Skenes (from San Francisco's 3-Michelin-starred Saison) pairing up with Umami Burger honcho Adam Fleischman to open Fat Noodle in California. Also, Top Chef: All-Stars runner-up Mike Isabella plans to open more locations of his popular sandwich shop, G.
Destination Marketing With Virtual Reality
Once reserved for gamers, virtual-reality technology is now giving new meaning to armchair travel. Destination British Columbia is leading the charge of using VR for tourism marketing, providing trade and media partners with a new and unique way to experience British Columbia from their desk chairs. Of course, travelers who are booking vacations are the end target. “As the headsets become more widely available to consumers, virtual reality gives them a 360-degree experience — immersing them in the extraordinary travel opportunities that British Columbia offers, from raw wilderness to refined cities,” says Marsha Walden, CEO of Destination British Columbia. While the Destination BC virtual-reality experience was developed for the Oculus Rift headset, it can be transferred to other technologies as they become available. Samsung’s virtual-reality headset, Gear VR, is the first VR headset available to consumers; it costs $200.
Peopleimages.com/ Digital Vision/ Getty Images)
More travel companies are catering to travelers wanting to experience a destination through the eyes of the people who live there by offering unique ways to connect with locals. Black Tomato, a bespoke luxury adventure company, tailors trips to include immersive experiences that connect travelers with local experts, such as arranging a meeting with a bossa nova musician in Brazil or a private tour of the Sydney Opera house with a local vocal coach. “Foreign travel is all about engaging with other people and other cultures,” says Tom Marchant, co-founder of Black Tomato. “Technology once thought to be detrimental to authentic travel experiences is now helping travelers connect and scout out local encounters.” Travel start-ups geared to local experiences are popping up, such as EatWith.com, which connects hosts who love to cook with travelers who want a taste of local cuisine, and OneFineStay.com, which provides travelers with homes abroad so they can truly live like a local while on vacation.
Adventure Travel That Gives Back
As the sustainable travel movement grows, companies are enticing do-gooders with once-in-a-lifetime trips that also give back to the local communities. WHOA Travel (Women High on Adventure) founders Allison Fleece and Danielle Thornton lead women from around the world on life-altering adventures, such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, while connecting with the local women in the countries they visit. Not only have they raisied more than $10,000 to support women’s educational programs in Kenya and Tanzania by climbing the roof of Africa on International Women’s Day, but they used Mount Kilimanjaro’s first local female guide and sponsored 2 local women to climb with them on the unforgettable trek.
Another sustainable travel company, G Adventures, is leading the return of tourism to Haiti — the Caribbean island nation still recovering from a devastating earthquake 5 years ago — with 5 trips in 2015. Using local suppliers in an effort to keep money in the country, G Adventures is one of the pioneering companies that firmly believe tourism can be a force for good in Haiti.
Multigenerational Aspirational Trips
Forget solo travel. The big trend now is to bring the entire family along for an unforgettable adventure. Families are forgoing the family vacations of the past, where quality time was spent parked at the beach, and instead are looking for transformative experiences that the whole family can share. AFAR editor Jen Murphy sees the trend of multigenerational travel growing, with a focus on educational travel experiences. Trips that can bring siblings, parents and grandparents together to get up-close with wildlife on African safaris or Galapagos Island cruises are now in more demand. Jen adds, “I recently heard the term ‘aspirational adventurer’ used to describe people who aspire to ski like Jonny Moseley or summit Mount Everest, but who want lots of comforts to accompany their adventures.” We see these trends being combined — aspirational family adventures that even Grandma can go on (probably not Everest though).
Hotels Embracing Technology
A hotel key might become a thing of the past. Checking in, accessing rooms, ordering drinks and paying hotel bills with a smartphone will all become more common in 2015, says Resort Rescue host and hospitality expert Shane Green. Starwood Hotels & Resorts just launched its SPG Keyless program, which lets guests check in and access their rooms via their phone. By the summer of 2015, Hilton Worldwide plans to introduce a similar keyless service. Hotel companies are also realizing how powerful social media is in highlighting inconsistencies between what a brand promises and what it actually delivers. “Hotels must be focused on their social-media reputation and have a system for getting back to guests who prefer to communicate through online communities and sites,” Shane adds.
Terje Borud/ Visitnorway.com
It’s no surprise that as a TV network, we believe in the power of being inspired by travel on-screen and have been following the pop-culture tourism trends over the years. Whether it’s the Disney blockbuster Frozen, which inspires fans to flock to Norway in search of snow-covered fjords and ice castles, or Game of Thrones fans wanting to see Westeros in real life, movies and TV are playing a big part in where travelers get inspiration for their next vacation. As fandom becomes more ingrained in our culture, we see pop-culture tourism becoming even more prevalent in 2015. We don’t expect pilgrimages to follow the Hobbit Trail in New Zealand to stop anytime soon, and we wouldn’t be surprised if 2015’s Jurassic World inspires dinosaur lovers to book a Hawaiian vacation to see the filming locations on Oahu’s Kualoa Ranch.