Key travel trends that will dominate 2021

Kristine Tarbert
·Senior Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
·7-min read

The events of the last year changed the landscape of the travel industry - from how tourism businesses operate, to what travellers prioritise when planning a holiday.

But while travel will continue to look a little different for some time to come, Aussies haven’t quite lost their wanderlust despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

travelling
What will travel look like in 2021. Photo: Getty

According to Tourism Australia, 2021 will see us focusing on destinations closer to home, but also giving back or doing something positive with our travel.

“Demand for sustainable tourism practices is also increasing as more and more people acknowledge travel as a positive force for good,” managing director of Tourism Australia Phillipa Harrison said.

“Based on COVID-19 and what we saw following the summer bushfires, we anticipate that the wellbeing of people, and our natural environment will be key considerations for many travellers in 2021.”

Here are the travel trends that are expected to dominate 2021.

Naturally wide-open and remote destinations deemed safer

With people craving wide-open spaces, fresh air and nature more than ever, Australia’s natural paradises will be more desirable in 2021.

Tourism Australia’s most recent consumer research, called the Consumer Demand Project (CDP), demonstrates that destinations boasting wide-open spaces feel safer for travellers - and, after spending more time at home last year than ever before, people are developing a new appreciation for being out in nature.

Couple exploring in the lush Lamington National Park, Queensland, Australia
Nature and wide open spaces are the biggest 2021 travel trend. Photo: Getty

Australian road trip renaissance

As the desire for wide-open spaces grows, so does self-drive travel. A trip on the open road offers travellers freedom and independence. Cars are a reliable, safe and hygienic way to travel and Australia’s vast landscapes provide endless opportunities to hit the road and discover something new.

Consumer research by Tourism Australia in October 2020 revealed that 55% of Australian travellers are intending to take an interstate road trip in the next 12 months, of which 27% would now choose to travel by road that otherwise wouldn’t have, due to COVID-19. Research in September 2020 showed that the most desired road trip experiences included; visiting regional areas and small towns, outdoor adventure activities and visiting new destinations to participate in food and wine experiences.

As travel restrictions eased in 2020, Aussies were quick to jump behind the wheel and use their vehicle as a safe and private way to explore. The latest National Visitor Survey showed that the transport used for domestic overnight trips changed significantly in the June quarter 2020. Travel by self-drive vehicle accounted for over 90% (9.2 million) of all domestic overnight trips. This was up from 73% in the June quarter 2019 - highlighting with it that the great Australian road trip is very much back in fashion.

Young woman in a car reads a road map, Fraser Island.
The great Australian road trip is back. Photo: Getty

Travel as a force for good

Today’s travellers are increasingly seeking out brands and experiences that are not only good for them, but good for the world around them. This can take many forms: as simple as supporting local businesses by shopping big at a local winery, bakery or butcher, to getting hands-on with bushfire restoration efforts via recovery tours and experiences such as planting a tree to help re-establish koala habitats in affected areas. Tourism Australia’s consumer research supports this ‘force for good’ trend, showing that 91% like to travel to become more open-minded and knowledgeable about the world, and 74% are actively seeking out travel experiences that allow them to give back to a destination (CDP, April 2020).

Australia was recently recognised in the space by Lonely Planet, winning the ‘Community Restoration’ award in the annual Best In Travel Awards. The award recognised the recovery efforts at both a local and national level to rebuild communities and preserve Australia’s unique wildlife – in which tourism operators play an important role - following the 2019/20 summer bushfires.

Booking.com’s Future of Travel Report showed that 41% of Australian travellers want to travel more sustainably in the future, with COVID-19 increasing consumer’s awareness about responsible choices. Two-thirds (62%) expect the travel industry to offer more sustainable travel options and more than half (52%) of travellers will consider reducing waste and/or recycling their plastic when traveling again.

Indigenous experiences on the rise

Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a rich, living culture stretching at least 60,000 years. Year on year, more and more travellers actively seek out and discover Indigenous tourism experiences throughout the country that allow them to connect with, and learn more about Australia’s First Nations People. Warm, welcoming and extremely generous of spirit, they offer a means of connecting with Australian places and cultures quite unlike anything else.

According to the National Visitor Survey, approximately one million Australian travellers (975,000) took part in an Indigenous tourism experience in 2019, a figure that has climbed each year over the past few. In 2018, 761,000 trips involved participation in an Indigenous experience (+28% from 2018 to 2019).

indigenous tourism
Experiences to learn and connect are on the rise. Photos: Getty/Destination NSW

Travel to regenerate

Following the turbulence of 2020, the desire to use travel as a moment to reconnect and regenerate will dominate in 2021. Soft adventure experiences like multi-day walks and wellness travel (i.e. spa holidays, yoga retreats) have been growing in popularity over the past few years, and the pandemic has only amplified the desire for this style of holiday. Destinations and experiences that leave travellers feeling calm and rejuvenated - whether it's an all-inclusive multi-day hike or an off-grid eco-cabin stay - are expected to be popular with travellers.

Booking.com’s Future of Travel Report supported this trend showing that ‘relaxing trips’ will be high on the travel agenda in the ‘new normal’, with more than half (51%) of travellers saying this was their preferred type of trip followed by beach breaks (40%) and city trips (29%). Searches for hiking (94%), nature (44%) and relaxation (33%) on Booking.com also increased since the start of the pandemic.

woman jogging Perth 2017
Travel focusing on health and wellness with be popular. Photo: Getty

Local produce taking centre stage

The rise of agritourism gives visitors an authentic taste of a place and an insight into the culture of the destination, with everything from intimate wine tastings to luxury helicopter charters. Australia has long been renowned for its top quality food and drink, but new agritourism experiences are raising the bar and giving visitors the opportunity to experience a whole new side of Australia’s flourishing culinary scene.

Whether this is visiting farms, overnight farm stays, tasting local produce, experiencing country life and interacting with animals, agritourism is more popular than ever. In fact, it was found that Aussie families in particular are increasingly looking to agritourism to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life in the city.

Hillbilly Cider is a popular stop in Bilpin, NSW. Photo: Destination NSW
Hillbilly Cider is a popular stop in Bilpin, NSW. Photo: Destination NSW

Experiences and Aussie icons

Domestic holiday choices are set to be largely driven by experiences, rather than making a decision solely based on a specific state or region. With international travel off the cards for the time being, Aussie travellers have a unique opportunity this year to look at their bucket list and actively seek out iconic Australian experiences they might have previously put off in place of an international holiday - from climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, to visiting Uluru or the Great Barrier Reef.

Although the latest National Visitor Survey shows that trips involving travel activities were down in June quarter 2020, Australians are being encouraged to ‘holiday like a tourist’ this summer by not just visiting a destination, but actively experiencing it. For example, trying out a few local tourism activities such as a surf lesson, walking tour, winery tasting or museum visit on their next trip. That way, those local tourism operators that desperately need the support really do benefit from domestic tourism.

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