The pandemic may still be rearing its ugly head, but travel is back in a big way.
While bingeing our favorite shows and working from home, we’ve been plotting our next wanderlust destinations. At the same time, travel and tech companies have been quickly evolving with the times to develop technologies like AI, biometrics, and remote work solutions to enhance or improve the travel experience. That’s setting up 2023 for a big year in travel. Here are some of the top travel tech trends we expect to see in 2023.
1. Airports getting a tech upgrade
Expect to see a whole lot more technology designed to make airport travel easier. From before you even leave your house to baggage claim, new technologies are stepping in to address the headaches that come with flying. Clear now offers a free online tool called Reserve to book your spot in the security line ahead of time. Of course, Clear also hopes you’ll sign up for its paid membership, which offers identity verification and expedited security using biometrics (eye or fingerprint scanning).
The Transportation Security Administration is expanding its biometrics pilot. TSA is testing facial recognition technology in 16 airports for identity verification and plans to expand the program to more airports in the “coming months.”
Once you’re through the security line, your face and hands will be put to work a lot more for buying snacks and magazines, per a 2023 travel trend report from Amadeus. ApplePay and GooglePay already offer payments authorized by facial recognition technology. But this year, your favorite airport store Hudson partnered with Amazon to begin testing its “Just Walk Out” technology, which accepts payment with palm recognition.
We’re all for a hassle-free flying experience, but the use of biometric data and personal item tracking comes with privacy risks. False biometric identification (which is more prevalent amongst people of color and trans and nonbinary people) and data breaches are factors to take into account. Plus, the TSA biometric pilot is currently opt-in, but programs like this often become the norm. “We often see with these biometric programs that they are only optional in the introductory phases — and over time we see them becoming standardized and nationalized and eventually compulsory,” privacy advocate Albert Fox Cahn told the Washington Post.
Ultimately, it’s important to know what you’re getting into — and giving away — for a slightly speedier experience.
2. Airbnb continuing its domination
In 2022, Airbnb turned lemons into lemonade. First, it finally resolved the drama about the surprise cleaning fees that aren’t added on until checkout. Now when you search for an Airbnb, you have the option of seeing the total amount you would pay, with the cleaning fee included. For good measure, Airbnb also had the final say on the growing trend of excessive cleanings requests from hosts: “Guests should not have to do unreasonable checkout tasks such as stripping the beds, doing the laundry, or vacuuming when leaving their Airbnb. But we think it’s reasonable to ask guests to turn off the lights, throw food in the trash, and lock the doors — just like they would when leaving their own home.”
Second, it finally solved the problem of landlords who banned tenants from Airbnbing their apartment. This had been a huge untapped market for Airbnb, but it turns out cutting landlords in on the deal goes a long way. Now, Airbnb has partnered with property management companies across the country to create the “Airbnb-friendly apartments” program. Renters can search the website for apartments that allow Airbnb rentals and see how much they could make as a host — after Airbnb and the landlord gets their cut of the profits. It’s a pretty ingenious solution to help people offset the skyrocketing cost of rent that Airbnb contributed to in the first place.
Like or not, Airbnb is going full speed ahead in 2023. With more transparent pricing and more potential Airbnb hosts, the short-term booking platform is expected to be as prevalent as ever. Plus, with travel and real estate prices on the rise, it’s all win-win for Airbnb.
3. Our favorite streaming shows inspiring us to get off the couch
If you found yourself wanting to book a trip to Sicily while watching Season 2 of The White Lotus, despite all the scamming and murders, you’re not alone. Travel-related searches for the Italian island have skyrocketed since the second season launched. But this phenomenon isn’t just exclusive to The White Lotus. According to Expedia’s 2023 travel trends report, 68 percent of US travelers wanted to visit a destination after seeing it in a streamed show or movie, and 61 percent actually booked a trip.
Paris (Emily in Paris), the United Kingdom (Bridgerton and The Crown), New Zealand (The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power), and both Hawaii and Italy (thanks to the aforementioned The White Lotus, with an assist from Searching for Italy) were all trending destinations in search and flight demand in 2022, with no signs of slowing down in 2023 per Expedia.
Sure, these are mainstay favorites on the top travel destinations, but the report also says streamed TV shows and movies are now the top sources of travel inspiration, so it’s hardly a coincidence.
4. Digital nomads are officially mainstream
Digital nomads have been around for a while, but the surge of remote work during the pandemic has rocketed this lifestyle into the mainstream. Research shows that hybrid and remote employees have better work-life balance and are more productive, which has fueled more companies offering these policies.
Now that many workers are no longer location-dependent, they’re taking full advantage of the digital nomad lifestyle. And the remote work trend is expected to increase. According to Upwork, 36.2 million Americans will work remotely by 2025, which is double the amount from pre-pandemic times (16.8 million). In fact, Nomad List, a membership platform for digital nomads, predicts by 2035 one billion people will be working remotely at least part of the year. Last year, the platform reported over 4,000,000 users.
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Early on, digital nomadism was considered only for privileged, twenty-something dreamers. “You not only need a relatively powerful passport that makes tourist visas seamless to attain, but also a knowledge economy job and access to the technology and devices that make remote working possible,” declared The Guardian back in 2015. But broadband continued to improve globally, flights continued to get cheaper, countries began offering remote work-friendly visas, and there was enough critical mass for digital nomad hubs and co-working spaces to start popping up.
Today, according to Nomad List stats, digital nomads are 44 percent women, 40 percent non-white, an average of 33 years old, and work a variety of jobs, including marketing, UI/UX design, product management, and yes, software development.
Suffice to say, being a digital nomad has never been more attainable.
5. Virtual and augmented reality boosts IRL travel
The pandemic brought travel and tourism to screeching halt, which forced companies to get creative using virtual and augmented reality. “Coming out the other side, the same absorbing technology will be employed to enhance the visitor experience rather than replicate it,” said Euronews in its 2023 travel report.
VR/AR was quickly adopted to give sheltered-in-place consumers the virtual travel experience they were craving. Without leaving your house, you could visit museums and explore sites like Machu Picchu And now, it’s also being used to help travelers research their next vacation spots, as a way to “try before your buy” when choosing hotels and tours, and even a way to book them. As VR/AR becomes increasingly more mainstream thanks to Meta’s Quest lineup and Sony’s PlayStation 5 (and maybe soon Apple?) offering consumer-friendly VR headsets, expect to see more travel and tourism companies offering VR tours.
Hotel companies like Marriott, Shangri-La, and Holiday Inn are offering virtual tours of their rooms, and companies like Beeyonder and Weezy have cropped up to offer immersive virtual travel experiences. Ultimately, VR/AR for travel is being integrated into every step of the customer journey. Whether you’re at home or visiting the real deal, expect VR/AR to cross your path.
6. Getting back to nature in wild new ways (beekeeping!)
If you’re sick of all of this tech talk, you’re not alone. People want to unplug and recharge — without their devices. After the past few years, it’s no surprise that travelers are prioritizing wellness. But they’re not just looking for a visit to the spa. According to Hotels.com (which is owned by Expedia) 53 percent of US travelers in search of wellness activities want something exciting and new. “The trend here is that the same old yoga retreat is out. People are looking for what we’re calling a new wave of wellness,” said Melanie Fish Head of Global PR, Expedia Group Brands, at Expedia’s event revealing its 2023 travel trends.
If you’re looking for a wellness escape, expect to see more hotels and tours offering activities like forest bathing (also known as sylvotherapy), foraging, fruit harvesting, and even beekeeping. Alternative wellness destinations are cropping up all over the world. Apparently the US is the top destination for millennials, but Gen Z seems to be more adventurous, preferring Norway, Turkey, Switzerland, Iceland, and Sri Lanka.
Whether you’re a digital nomad who has made globe-trotting a way of life or an everyday traveler getting back in the swing of things after a break, these tech trends will be hard at work behind the scenes wherever you are.