Reimagining Travel Exploring different ways to travel, not just different destinations
Going away on holiday may have been put on hold for now, but once it’s back on the cards, we’ll be emerging into a changing landscape – a continuing trajectory of semiotic shifts.
Dominant ideas of a successful holiday tend to focus on performance and outcomes: did you visit the right city, get (and Instagram!) the good snaps? Alongside this sense of curation and artifice, a desire for protection – be it an all-inclusive resort or the latest list of pre-approved best things to see and do.
Emergently, focus is on unique experiences and interaction with place and culture. Brown + Hudson, for example, offer luxury concept holidays including The Lives of Others (“Join a neighbourhood book club; train with the local sports team”) and Journey With No Destination (“Tell us how you want to feel after your trip and we’ll guarantee you’ll feel that way”) – coding holidays as a deeply personal, culturally immersive and subjective experience. Interest is also growing in ensuring that these connections are made in a way that builds true cultural exchange. For instance, IN-Spire is a small start-up social enterprise offering trips in Colombia that are “anthropologically designed to generate mutual understanding, genuine conversations and personal growth for travellers and locals”, coding interaction with other cultures as an opportunity for mutual benefit and to counter potential exploitation.
Brown + Hudson
Declining interest in going to the same place as everyone else is also literal in the current circumstances, as we see a shift towards seeking tranquillity in isolation, often including connection with nature. For instance, just before the current restrictions came into force, Kayak were leveraging their car rentals by highlighting UK road trips. Exploring a new landscape while staying mostly within the safety bubble of a car codes holidays as engagement with something new while maintaining the tranquillity of protective distance.
‘Van Life’ – living and travelling in converted vans – has also seen a recent surge in popularity. Coding travel as ultimate freedom and independence, in the current circumstances (or, once restrictions allow) the idea of spending time away in a self-sufficient mobile unit holds a similar appeal to the classic road trip. It is also a trend that intersects with other concepts ever gaining popularity in the emergent space, such as sustainable living and a desire to connect with nature – suggesting that the post-Covid future of holidaying may well hold more self-contained motor getaways.
Whether it’s classic shots of blissed-out holidaymakers lounging on the beach or Las Vegas’ famous “What happens here, stays here” (changed just this year to “What happens here, only happens here”), dominantly, on holiday anything (or nothing) goes.
Emergently, the holiday is becoming an opportunity for more mindfully planned self-care – perhaps learning a new skill or engaging in self-reflection. Recently, Natasha Hinde (HuffPost UK) even described spending quality, intentional time with a friend on a ‘work staycation’, coding the time away as a productive opportunity on a personal level (as well as a professional one). Already an emerging trend before Coronavirus, the multi-generational family holiday also offers an opportunity to use time away to bond with loved ones. With families and friend groups forced to spend more time than usual apart over the course of the pandemic, will the future of holidays also involve more multi-generational travel, or see groups of friends going away together more often?
Similarly, holidays are ever more a means of engagement by consumers with causes that matter to them. Slow travel, increasing awareness around exploitative tourism practices and easy carbon offsetting transport add-ons show the growing importance of these credentials. For example, European Safari Company is a brand dedicated to rewilding holidays and is aptly named to imbue its sustainability mission with some of the joyful adventure traditionally associated with African animal spotting trips, while playfully hinting at a subversion of the tourist gaze.
European Safari Company
Decline of the Destination
Dominantly, location is one of the most important elements of the holiday. Tropical climes are brought to life by imagery of searingly blue sea and sky; we are moved by pictures of the distinctive architecture of someone else’s city. What is most exciting is going somewhere very different from home.
Travel restrictions have led to an acceleration in the already-underway rise of the staycation and appreciation of the (at least relatively) local. The latest issue of Another Escape outdoor lifestyle magazine is tellingly titled ‘The Belonging Volume’, coding connection to surroundings (not refreshing alienation) as central to leisure time.
Another Escape: The Belonging Volume
Before travel was ever restricted though, its increasing accessibility meant that for some consumers, simply going somewhere faraway no longer represented the same dramatic change of scene. Emergently, those seeking excitement are turning to a change in perspective. For instance, srprs.me offers trips to surprise destinations, the details of which are revealed shortly before departure – coding the entire concept of taking the trip (not just the destination) as theatrically thrilling.
Finally, the decline of the physical destination as the climax of the holiday experience, coupled with current limitations on travel, has created an opportunity to reimagine travel altogether. Airbnb, for example, have extended their experiences offering into online options including ‘field trips’ in which locals share knowledge and storytelling in a virtual environment, definitively coding travel as a state of mind.
Airbnb Online Experiences
3 Key takeouts for holiday and travel brands
- Highlight subjectivity and individuality of experience (e.g. through customisability), and embrace authentic connection to people and culture in ways that build mutual benefit and deconstruct exploitative tourism.
- When people can travel again, they will likely want to do so with purpose. Highlight opportunities for personal development (e.g. connection with nature, learning a new skill) as well as ethical/sustainability credentials. Those hoping to use time away to bond with a group of loved ones will be looking for the ideal setting in which to do so (e.g. accommodation and experiences tailored to extended family or friendship groups).
- Meanwhile, are there ways that the holiday could be re-imagined? Consumers are open to and looking for new ways to take a break, e.g. through virtual offerings.
Sophia Lucena Phillips, Semiotician