One should approach the task of forecasting travel trends with some humility. For one thing, there’s the utter unknowability of the future, which is not only a central fact of the human condition but a big reason why it’s so hard to plan a vacation.
Let’s say the smart set heads off to Portugal (as they did in 2023). Then, the Tik-Tokers descend on it with all their needy, ignorant misbehavior, and by the time you get there, the whole vibe at Belem Tower is wrecked.
Say you lock down a visit to San Francisco because you hear it’s making a comeback, but suddenly the luxe magazines send you packing to Detroit. The Middle East is proclaimed a rising destination on October 4 (this actually happened), and by October 7, all hell breaks loose.
Travel is about fresh adventures and you want to know about the places, activities, and offerings ahead. So let’s ignore the rear-view mirror, stand on the hood, and take a peek over the horizon at travel trends of 2024.
I talked to nearly 20 people whose livelihoods depend on their ability to forecast travelers’ preferences, behaviors, and moods. I interviewed industry analysts, travel advisors, trip packagers, PR pros, travel journalists, and various people that somehow seem to travel for a living (I want that job).
And I’ve got some guidance for the year ahead.
So place your tray tables in the locked and upright position, stow your personal items under the seat in front of you (say, is that the Travelpro Maxlite 5 that was so hot in ‘23?), and let’s get you to 2024 on time.
But please keep your seatbelt securely fastened, even after the captain has turned off the seatbelt sign. We expect a bit of turbulence.
Hottest Destination Of 2024: Elsewhere
In 2024, Venice, Italy, will become the first city in the world to implement a fee just to enter. The crowds during peak season swamp the city of canals, creating stifling throngs at St. Mark’s, long lines at restaurants, and grumpy gondoliers. The mayor of Venice says the new 5-euro charge is an attempt to “protect the city from mass tourism.”
Nearly everyone I talked to factored into their 2024 travel forecasts the impact of over-tourism. The trend hit a tipping point in 2023, powered in part by a wave of post-pandemic “revenge travel.” Bucket-listers looking to make up lost time before they actually kick the bucket contributed too.
After COVID, “people realized life is short, and if I don’t travel now, then when?” said David Swanson, who has been a travel writer for over 30 years.
“People realized life is short, and if I don’t travel now, then when?”
Speaking of trends, social media influencers are also to blame for excessive visitation. Tik Tokers create thousands of videos at iconic tourism locations. Their hordes of followers soon do the same. Beloved places at risk of being beloved to death by influencers include the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the ruins at Machu Picchu.
In response to all of this, some destinations are upping fees or blocking access. A Vermont town closed a road after influencers — some of whom brought portable wardrobe changing rooms — overran one of the state’s most popular leaf-peeping spots. They trampled vegetation and even defecated in the woods.
Three national parks — including Glacier, Arches, and Rocky Mountain — will introduce timed entry passes in 2024.
Vivek Neb, managing director of travel and tourism for consulting firm Escalent, says some destinations subject to over-tourism are approving fewer tourist visas. They’re also micro-marketing to wealthy travelers to keep revenue up as visitor numbers decline.
Meanwhile, Swanson is skeptical that Venice’s 5-euro fee will do much good. “Why is admission to one of the world’s greatest and most endangered architectural miracles priced less than a bus ride?” he asks. Swanson would up it to 100 euros for a week-long pass.
Don’t Go There
Luckily, every trend carries the seeds of its counter-trend.
And for the first time, American Express’s annual Trending Destinations report focuses not on the hot, hip, and happenin’ spots, but on places to go instead.
Thinking of Sapporo, Japan? Amex suggests the less-visited Niseko. Planning to hit Sedona? No, head to Santa Fe.
Expedia is on-trend too, providing for 2024 travelers the following “dupe” sites (they borrow the “dupe” term from a popular Tik Tok hashtag): Taipei, Taiwan, instead of Seoul, South Korea; Paros, Greece, instead of Santorini; Perth, Australia, instead of Sydney.
Some 2024 travelers are already getting ahead of trend-spotters. At travelinsurance.com, an online broker of travel insurance policies, company co-founder Stan Sandberg says he’s already seeing off-the-beaten-path travel increasing for 2024, with bookings to 25 more countries than last year. Andorra, Palau, and Grenada are newly popular.
Additional off-the-beaten-path places cited by our sources:
- Everett Potter — a tour guide for National Geographic Expeditions, travel columnist for Forbes, and publisher of Everett Potter’s Travel Report — sees new buzz around Norway, Slovenia, and Romania.
- Henley Vazquez — co-founder of travel agency Fora Travel — says she’s seeing a jump in 2024 bookings for Bhutan, the Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas, as well as the Spanish island of Majorca.
- David Swanson — the veteran journalist — says Greenland is starting to draw more interest, especially from expedition cruisers.
- VBT — a long-tenured biking, walking, and multi-sport touring company — says its hottest destination for 2024 is Croatia.
Fares: Up In The Air For 2024
The bad news is, in 2024, you shouldn’t expect relief from the trend of airlines quoting very low fares then charging you to pick a seat or bring a carry-on.
“People hate sitting in the middle seat,” says Robert Cole, senior analyst for hospitality and leisure travel for Phocuswright, a travel research firm. “Airlines know they’ll pay money to avoid it. So they’re not going to stop charging.”
In fact, Cole sees the nickel-and-diming trend spreading to hotels, cruises, and maybe rental cars.
Peter Greenberg — travel editor for CBS News and host of the PBS show Travel Detective with Peter Greenberg — explains that the fees are a sly tax play by airlines; air fares are subject to the 7.5 percent federal excise tax, which increases costs for passengers. Fees are not taxed, allowing airlines to pocket most of them as profits.
Greenberg sees relief coming in 2024 only in the form of “greater transparency” for add-on fees, rather than a reduction.
The benefit of upcharges is the expansion in availability of “comfort class” on most airlines — seats with extra legroom and the ability to board earlier. “You might pay $19 or $54 more, but that’s so worth it to many people,” says Everett Potter.
More good news for 2024 is that you’re probably less likely to fall victim to the kind of cancellation nightmares thousands of travelers dealt with in 2022 and early 2023, says Katy Nastro, travel expert for airfare deals service Going.com.
Cancellation rates in 2023 were less than half of 2022’s, says Nastro, and are trending better into 2024. “Airlines have made some operational improvements and investments” that make “mass shambolic” cancellation events less likely, she says.
Airlines have an economic incentive to avoid that problem, says Greenberg.
“Southwest set the expectation by paying not only for hotels and rental cars for stranded passengers, but meals and things like pet and child care,” he continued. “They and other airlines will feel pressure to do the same in future mass cancellation events.”
As for ticket costs, “prices have kind of normalized” after the wild swings driven by low demand during the pandemic and huge demand afterwards, says Nastro. Ticket prices sit at 2006 levels when adjusted for inflation and Nastro is hopeful for 2024.
Greenberg points out that in the fall of 2023, fares to Europe from U.S. gateways were as low as the mid-$300s, as airlines shifted planes from domestic to international routes, increasing capacity.
The losers in 2024 are some U.S. cities whose routes have been stripped. “If you live in Toledo, you may have to drive to Detroit to fly,” continues Greenberg.
When Hot Spots Overheat
Many sources mentioned the impacts of global warming on travel. Specifically the way it’s making some places unbearable in the summer.
In 2023, tourists in Rome suffered temperatures of up to 107 degrees Fahrenheit. In Greece, officials closed the Acropolis to protect people from the sun. Europe was so hot, they actually named the heatwave Cerberus, which in Greek mythology is the multi-headed Hound of Hell.
Travelers’ plans are changing.
“In the past, I’ve had a hard time getting clients to consider Switzerland in the summer,” says Fora Travel’s Henley Vazquez. “Now they go, and they absolutely love it.”
Several other sources suggest 2024 might be a good time to change your latitude.
Of the many rising and perennial destinations mentioned by the people I talked to, choices to avoid summer heat include: Copenhagen (average summer temperature 68–71); Quebec (71–77); Dublin (65–68); Oslo (71–73); Portland, Maine (73–78); and Iceland (a chilly 50–55).
Meanwhile, Orlando will be shimmering at 92, Bangkok steaming at 93, and Phoenix afire at 104.
You can avoid both the heat and the crowds with a strategic approach to your itinerary, suggests Chantal Gouveia of Kensington Tours. “Change the where and the when,” she says. Choose a secondary destination to avoid the throngs and visit sometime other than the summer for relief from punishing temperatures.
Pickleball Mania Travels Everywhere
You had to know this one was coming. Tourism around pickleball — the wildly popular sport that mixes ping-pong and tennis — is a thing for 2024.
Courts are multiplying in resorts, hotels, and cruise ships (including river cruises). Lessons and friendly tournaments are scheduled for guests.
It may sound like April Fool’s, but one resort — the Tryall Club in Montego Bay, Jamaica — employs a pickleball concierge. The staffer will provide paddles, balls, and athletic wear, help reserve a court or a lesson, and coordinate with the chef to provide a pickleball post-game meal.
Shoulder Season Is So Over
Everett Potter was in Italy’s Lake Como area in October. “I couldn’t believe how crowded it was,” he says. “I didn’t get elbowed in the eye by someone taking a selfie, but it was nearly that bad.”
Deals during shoulder season — the months before and after high season, long preferred by bargain-seekers and travelers without school-age kids — have been “eradicated” in many destinations, he says.
Vazquez agrees that for 2024, shoulder-season discounts are vanishing as occupancies rise in what had been the off months.
Eat The World
According to Hilton’s most recent travel trend report, culinary experiences are the top focus for more than half of travelers. Of those travelers, 86 percent are looking for authentic local or regional cuisine.
The problem is that authentic cuisine drawn from local ingredients by a chef who knows the culture isn’t easy to find. Online reviews take you only so far.
The James Beard Foundation is making it easier to find independent, local, and chef-driven places around the country. Its 2023 awards included restaurants in Kansas City, Missouri; Madison, Wisconsin; and Boise, Idaho. (Find nominees and winners in any city using the awards search feature on its website.)
“What’s happening in food in every little pocket of this country right now is very exciting,” says Kris Moon, president of the Beard Foundation. He cites the small Ozarks town of Bentonville, Arkansas, a rising tourism destination that has seen three recent Beard semi-finalists.
Many destinations are stitching together food “trails” to make it easier to identify and enjoy local cuisine. And in 2024, there will be more food trails than ever. There’s the Salsa Trail in Arizona, the Chocolate Trail in Connecticut, and the A to Z Foodie Trail in Iowa.
In 2024, you’ll be among the earliest travelers to the Ground Steak Trail in Surry, North Carolina.
For over 20 years, airlines, destinations, hotels, and tour operators have been cleaning up their operations to reduce environmental impacts. Booking.com and Expedia display icons to designate a property’s sustainability performance. They offer data on airlines’ green-ery, but will they actually drive travelers’ choices in 2024?
“I see those notes about this flight having lower emissions than this one,” says David Swanson. “I’ve never made a decision based on that.”
If traveling green sounds a bit dowdy and earnest, it doesn’t have to be. A favorite of Henley Vazquez is 1 Hotel Group, which has what she calls “hip and hot” hotels in places like South Beach and West Hollywood. They also happen to hit many highlights of the sustainability checklist.
Terika Haynes — founder of Dynamite Travel, a small luxury travel agency — likes small properties like Rancho Santana in Nicaragua. It offers the usual villas and spas and culinary experiences you find at higher-end properties. The resort serves food from its own organic farm, composts leftovers to feed the garden, and uses local craftspeople to build furniture and finishings.
Perhaps the biggest impact you can have this year, regardless of where you travel, comes from doing small things likely to lead to the best experiences anyway.
“By going to restaurants that are locally owned and operated, your dollars directly support families and small businesses,” says Kaitlyn Brajcich, senior manager of communications & training at Sustainable Travel International.
“You can make choices that will result in your dollars going directly into local communities,” she continues. But this is no small thing. The UN Tourism Organization reports that in the Caribbean, less than 20 percent of travel dollars stay with local economies.
Talking About My Multigeneration
The peak year of mid-century births was 1957, meaning the bulk of boomers will be around 67 in 2024. That’s old enough for them to have kids and for their kids to have kids. And so, sources say multigenerational travel — where the whole messy clan travels together — is booming.
Patty Monahan, founder of Our Whole Village, says the post-pandemic trend of multigenerational travel is extending into 2024 bookings. The key to a great multi-gen trip, she says, is “balancing the multiple needs and interests” of groups that span grandparents through grandkids.
Villas, cruises, dude ranches, or resorts where you have a “home base” and can access a range of activities work well, she says. The grandparents do a cooking class while the grandkids and parents go rafting, for instance. “They don’t need to do everything together, every day.”
This plays out across price points.
Family travel “makes us rethink what ‘luxury’ means,” says Marisa Ship of Kensington Tours, which creates bespoke trips for high-end travelers. For families, it’s “less about five-star accommodations and more about helping create memories that stay with them forever,” she says.
Kensington has a partnership with Ancestry.com, which deepens the possibilities of family travel across generations. Even before you pick a destination, you can work with a genealogist to identify ancestors and plan a visit around places that connect with them. This can include graveyards, churches, family homes, or other heritage sites.
“If you want to visit the bar where your grandfather drank beer, we can do that,” Ship says.
E-Bike On Your Left
E-bikes, regular bikes with small electric motors that provide a gentle assist, will merge into mainstream travel in 2024. For example, they’re drawing bike-touring people beyond the spandex-and-clunky-shoe crowd that has been at the heart of the market for years. The trips are especially popular with 50-plus travelers who are not, strictly speaking, “bikers.”
“We believe e-bikes have brought new active travelers who were reluctant to commit to a bike trip in the past,” says Bob Greeneisen, assistant director of operations for Backroads, a high-end bike-tour company. Backroads began its transition to e-bikes in 2013 with 150 bikes and enters 2024 with a fleet of 4,500. Bike touring company VBT says e-bikes now comprise “a large majority” of its fleet.
E-bikes are getting integrated into surprising travel niches. On all its luxe Rhine and Danube River tours, Scenic Cruises offers independent or guided e-biking, allowing side trips to castles, vineyards, and small towns that provide fresh air and no van rides necessary.
Expect e-options on your next city visit too, as urban bike providers rush to transition to e-bikes. In San Antonio, I recently spent a wonderful half-day touring the four Spanish missions located along a well-paved, 10-mile path riding an e-bike and I didn’t break a sweat.
Rail Inches Along In 2024
We know you’re hoping to hear that high-speed rail will finally be coming to America in 2024.
Amtrak will introduce next-generation, high-speed trains along its D.C.-to-Boston Acela route. The new trains travel precisely 10 miles per hour faster — up to 160 miles per hour — than the old ones. But dated tracks prevent the trains from actually hitting that speed.
A few changes coming to domestic rail travel in 2024:
- Amtrak will add capacity from its Chicago-to-St. Paul route, which skims along Lake Michigan and stops at some popular travel destinations, including Wisconsin Dells and Milwaukee.
- Long-awaited service from Mobile, Alabama, to New Orleans, dubbed the Mardi Gras Express, debuts.
- Amtrak’s new “Night Owl” fares along the Northeast Corridor are so low they look like a misprint. From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., a trip from Washington, D.C. to New York is $10. Boston to New Haven costs $5. The company promises “room to stretch out or curl up,” “no middle seats ever,” and access to quiet cars.
Going To Pot
As states and countries continue to legalize recreational pot, cannabis tourism is likely to grow in 2024. Travel Agent Central reports that 29 percent of travelers express interest in pot-related travel.
Typical marijuana tourism options include “bud and breakfast” visits and “high-dining” venues. One cannabis tourism agency, Cannabis Tours, can book you in a “420-friendly hotel” (the number is a kind of in-joke among smokers with its provenance uncertain) and related activities, like painting watercolors while high.
The Washington Post rounded up tips for pot travelers. Visit only licensed dispensaries, carry cash, and consult with staff about the punch that individual products can pack.
Artificial Intelligence Meets Real Travel
You may have heard about the spate of travel guidebooks generated by artificial intelligence (or A.I.). Some are hysterically bad.
One guide to Washington, D.C., identified by Washingtonian magazine, features a photo of Sacramento’s capitol building on the cover. It directs kayakers to Rock Creek Lake, which doesn’t exist. It recommends a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the National Arboretum, which is 3 miles from the memorial’s actual location on the National Mall.
This suggests 2024 may be a good year to get your guidance from trusted publishing brands. (Might we recommend TravelAwaits? Because A.I. did not write this story.)
But A.I. is likely to improve some consumer experiences for travelers very soon, says Vivek Neb. By consuming vast amounts of data about both you and the world, A.I.-powered tools will eventually become “like your friend who knows you and can tell you places you might like.”
Lydia Schrandt, president of the Society of American Travel Writers with a master’s in data science, says she’d be “very surprised” if by the end of 2024 most online travel companies weren’t doing things like automatically “spinning up personalized itineraries” via A.I.
“The more information they have about your preferences, the better they can customize an itinerary based on what you’re likely to want to do,” she says.
Robert Cole of Phocuswright sees great potential for A.I. in customer service. For example, if your flight is delayed and you’re likely to miss a connection, you now have to call or stand in line. “But with A.I., airlines can be proactive,” he says. You might just get a text saying that you’ve been rebooked on a later connecting flight. Expect only incremental progress toward that in 2024, he says.