If there’s one word that will define travel in 2023, it’s immersion. As we gratefully watch the pandemic receding in the rear-view mirror, taking knee-jerk trends in its wake, like ‘extreme staycations’ (basically just staying at home) and ‘revenge travel’ (a two-fingered travel salute to the last two years), 2023 looks set to be a year of more considered trips.
Forget banal box-ticking in traditional tourist traps: a raft of new research shows that this year, travellers want more immersive experiences – be it immersion in local cuisine, culture or communities.
Professor Ian Pearson, a futurologist specialising in travel and tourism at New Zealand’s University of Wellington, has tracked this trend of moving away from what he calls “the heavily sanitised tourist formula,” of holidaymaking. Instead, he believes, travellers are now evolving towards something that could even be described as “anti tourist”.
New research shows, travellers want more immersive experiences
“Authenticity is going to be a major driver in travel this year,” Professor Pearson told Flash Pack. “It’s about moving beyond the obvious guidebook stuff and paying more attention to detail.”
That ‘detail’, invariably, is grounded in local engagement. It involves seeing the well-worn path and taking the next available fork: exploring new neighbourhoods and meeting new people instead.
Locals are the true experts – and travellers want to make use of them
“One of the really big drivers is going to be making the most of the people who actually live in the area you’re going to,” says Professor Pearson.
“Someone who has lived in a place for years – such as a guide, a local restaurant or artisan – will know a lot more about that place than someone who dropped in for two weeks to write the guidebook”.
“The locals are the true experts”, he adds. “They’re the ones who’ll be able to tell you the best hidden hiking paths, sunset views or secret beaches. They’re also the ones who are going to know those all-important little details, like which café serves the best hot chocolate.”
90% of respondents were keen to experience destinations ‘like a local’
Recent studies back Professor Pearson’s argument. A poll by German company GetYourGuide, found that the vast majority of travellers want to try new or unique activities in 2023, with 90% of respondents keen to experience destinations “like a local”.
Tellingly, two-thirds of respondents in their 30s and 40s said they considered whether their next trip would be an “authentic experience” before booking it.
“Post-Covid, travellers truly want to connect with others on a different, deeper level,” says Jenn Weatherhead, a leading TV travel expert and trendwatcher based in Toronto.
“We want to have real conversations, to get to know each other and feel things in a genuine, authentic way. When travel wasn’t an option, the thing we missed most was other people. That overall feeling of desiring connection has now translated into how we choose our trips. I think it’s made people crave a deeper connection to the places they’re visiting – and the people they’re encountering there.”
70% of respondents said that travelling sustainably mattered
This desire to step away from the shallows of traditional tourism and into the depths of authentic experience has also seen a big rise in demand for sustainable travel.
A recent Virtuoso study found a whopping 70% of respondents said that travelling sustainably enhances their experience – and that means not just treading lightly as you travel, but also supporting and engaging with local communities.
People are aware that they can make a difference – and they want to
“Sustainable travel has grown from a niche idea into a mainstream trend,” says Weatherhead. “People are aware that they can genuinely make a difference – and they want to. It can be as simple as buying local products, or something more committed like a regenerative travel trip – where you leave a location better than you found it. Either way, the desire for sustainable travel is only going to get bigger in 2023 and beyond.”
All of this, and other hot trends that experts have identified for 2023 – from taking a ‘health hiatus’ (wellness-minded career break) to ‘zero-kilometre food’ (seeking ingredients sourced from the immediate area) – raise one important question: where will we be travelling in 2023 to immerse ourselves in all of the above?
We’re all explorers at heart, wanting to find somewhere new
“I like to think that we’re all explorers at heart, and when we’re constantly seeing the same destinations over and over again on social media, there’s a real sense of wanting to find somewhere new,” says Weatherhead.
That doesn’t necessarily mean new countries, of course, just new places within those countries – or new ways of experiencing the old ones.
Dozens of “Where to Visit in 2023” lists have already been published, from newspapers and magazines to airlines and credit card companies. But a handful of destinations appear on nearly all of them.
In 2023, more of us will plan thoughtfully and travel consciously
Portugal and Colombia, for instance, are consensus picks that look set to have a big year ahead. Meanwhile, in Asia, new flights and incredible deals mean Vietnam and Thailand are top of many people’s wishlists.
Professor Pearson sees 2023 as the first true year of post-pandemic travel, when more and more of us will plan thoughtfully and travel consciously, moving away from “travelling through the world as mere spectators, seeing exactly the same things as all the other tourists.”
Instead, the dawn of the thoughtful, engaging anti tourist is here. And holidays – as well as the world itself – will be all the better for it.
This year, Flash Pack’s “Don’t be a Tourist. Be a Flashpacker” campaign aims to encourage travellers in their 30s and 40s to stray away from the expected path – seeking out the road less travelled.
Images shot by Flash Pack photographers Sam Walker, Rachel Sarah & Connor McCracken.