15 Travel trends that will define 2023

Hikers on top of Schneibstein in the German Alps, Aug. 26, 2016, Berchtesgaden, Germany. (Rainer Klotz/Dreamstime/TNS)
Hikers on top of Schneibstein in the German Alps, Aug. 26, 2016, Berchtesgaden, Germany. (Rainer Klotz/Dreamstime/TNS)

After two years of near paralysis amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 2022 marked the worldwide return of travel. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the past 12 months have been all about recovery with international tourist arrivals nearly tripling between January and July of 2022 -- up 172 percent compared to the same period for 2021.

Translation: The travel industry has recovered almost 60 percent of its prepandemic levels, according to the UNWTO.

And while 2022 was the year of recovery, 2023 is poised to be the year of reinvention. A separate report, this one from from Booking.com, predicts the coming 12 months will be a time of "creatively reimagining" travel amid all of the chaos the world is facing.

What will reimagined travel look like exactly?

We asked some of the leading voices in the travel industry to share their predictions for 2023 and the answers ranged from exciting and intriguing to truly inspiring. From transformational adventures and new age wellness retreats to immersive slow travel, the year ahead promises to be full of dynamic offerings. Here are 15 of the most interesting trends to watch for in 2023.

1. Multi-generational travel continues to grow in popularity

While multi-generational travel has been around for more than a few years now, this trend has taken on renewed meaning and momentum after the isolation requirements of a global pandemic.

2. Beach vacations will rule

Data from Travelzoo's October survey of its 15 million members revealed that 57 percent of travelers are interested in beach vacations in 2023, followed by 53 percent who are eyeing cultural and historical getaways and 44 percent who are looking forward to a road trip in the coming year.

3. Transformational adventures

Transformational experiences that allow participants to make deeper connections to both their inner and outer journey are on the rise at the moment as well, Spatz said. As part of this trend, Global Family Travels has created new Regenerative wellness retreats. The company's immersive, 10-day Bali regenerative wellness itinerary, for instance, focuses on aligning the participant's seven Chakras and sparking mental clarity, while GFT's seven-day Greater Seattle: Restore & Reconnect journey focuses on regenerative wellness for women amid the beautiful surroundings of the Pacific Northwest.

4. High-end sustainable travel

The luxury tourism market is booming. And at the same time, the threat of climate change is an increasingly dire issue, says Matt Berna, president of Intrepid Travel, North America. In the year ahead, there will be increased focus on a combined response to these two developments.

New for 2023, there's a 10-day Premium Alaska itinerary featuring lower emission train travel, conservation tours and a stay at the sustainably built Talkeetna Lodge. Similarly, Intrepid's 9-day Premium Costa Rica journey includes a visit designed support the country's Chorotegan Indigenous people and a stay at the Mawamba Lodge in Tortugero, which operates with a biodigester and renewable energy sources.

5. 2023 becomes Asia's big revival year

The first region to close its borders in 2020 amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, Asia will have its big breakout in 2023, predicted Berna. In anticipation of that reality, Intrepid has been focused on reviving and launching trips across Asia.

There will also be a few brand-new trips from Intrepid for 2023 including an 11-day Hike Trans Bhutan Trail and a 15-day Tibet: Beijing to Kathmandu Overland trip, during which travelers spend two days on the highest railway in the world.

6. Set-jetters

The experts at Expedia recently coined the term "Set-Jetting" in response to an unexpected travel trend that's emerging for 2023. That trend is 61 percent of travelers saying they've booked a trip inspired by binging on a television show. (And to be honest, who hasn't wanted to jet off to Sicily after watching White Lotus?)

"Research shows that TV shows are now the top sources of travel inspiration, outpacing the influence of social media," said Melanie Fish, travel expert and head of global public relations for Expedia Brands. "The top destinations include New Zealand -- with its landscapes featured this year in a major fantasy epic -- and Great Britain, which was the backdrop for several historical dramas including 'Bridgerton' and 'House of Dragon.'"

Additional hotspots include the cosmopolitan cities of Paris and New York, thanks to the hit shows "Emily in Paris" and "Inventing Anna."

7. Climate change education itineraries

With our warming climate becoming increasingly dire and just a few years left to act, travelers are becoming more conscientious and asking how they can be more mindful about traveling and reduce or offset their carbon emissions, said Spatz of Global Family Travels.

Travel brands are responding to this demand in many different ways. For Global Family Travels that has included developing educational adventures meant to inspire climate action among participants. Most notably, the company recently launched a groundbreaking transformational adventure to Iceland. The uniquely designed trip, which is carbon-neutral, includes witnessing first-hand the dramatic changes taking place in Iceland as a result of climate change and immersing participants in living science.

8. Authentic, immersive, slow travel

versus tourism

Jetting from place to place to capture your Instagram selfie in an iconic locale is one way to travel. More recently, however, there's been growing demand for purposeful and meaningful travel experiences, particularly among families seeking to use travel as an educational tool.

Unique new itineraries such as GFT's 12-day Global Classroom Adventure in Bali, for instance, offers travelers an extraordinary opportunity to tackle some of the fragile destination's most significant challenges including examining the environmentally devastating effects of plastics on marine life, as well as the island's looming water crisis. The Bali adventure is just one example of itineraries that are increasingly being designed to give travelers a chance to have a positive impact during a visit or learn first-hand about global issues.

9. Cruises continue to rebound

As part of Travelzoo's recent survey of 2023 traveler intent, cruises came in fourth place in terms of the types of trips travelers want to take next year. However, cruises also saw the biggest surge in year-over-year interest, compared to the other categories of travel, said Saglie.

"As the comfort level around cruising continues to increase post-pandemic, the traveling public will focus more on the value-added aspects of a cruise," Saglie said. "Brand new cruise offerings -- like the Disney Wish, which launched in July, and Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas, which launched this month (December) demonstrate that the industry is focusing on unique, often bespoke, onboard experiences as a way to welcome back the avid cruiser, as well as entice the new-to-cruise traveler."

10. Domestic travel tops global,

but both surge in 2023

Yet another revealing data point from Travlezoo's member survey -- travelers are continuing to look to domestic destinations to feed their wanderlust. Close to 50 percent of respondents said they plan to take two to three leisure trips within the U.S. in 2023 compared to 43 percent of respondents who plan to take just one international trip next year.

"This will bode well for drive markets and those planning on visiting classic destinations like national parks, mountain resorts and beach havens, as well as our favorite big cities," Saglie said.

International destinations will be buoyed by the fact so many pandemic-era restrictions have disappeared, giving Americans greater comfort level around traveling beyond U.S. borders.

11. Indigenous and first nations travel

One of the major benefits of the domestic travel boom in countries around the world was the growth of Indigenous tourism, said Berna, of Intrepid. And as a result, tour operators, including Intrepid Travel, have begun putting a major focus on developing more Indigenous tourism experiences.

In the United States that has included eight new experiences that amplify BIPOC culture, Berna said. And in Australia, the company currently offers more than 40 First Nations experiences heading into 2023 -- up from just 12 in 2020.

12. Family trips focused on human versus digital connection

The post COVID family travel experience is built around expanding children's horizons with real human connection, in addition to prioritizing "green time" over screen time, Berna said. The Intrepid Travel family range will now have 93 tours with several new experiences being added in 2023.

"Noteworthy additions include meeting a local farmer and learning how to make traditional goods out of pandan leaves in Candidasa on Day 4 of the Bali Family Holidays with Teenagers," Berna said. "And on the Costa Rica Family Holiday with Teenagers, a cooking class on Day 7 in Manuel Antonion National Park with Javier and Dora -- a couple who closed their restaurant after 20 years due to the pandemic -- in Quepos will teach kids and parents alike new cooking methods and authentic Costa Rican recipes that are three generations old."

13. Cowboy-cations

When it comes to the vacation rental market for 2023, Expedia experts say "cowboy-cations" are trending.

"Demand for the whole private vacation homes in U.S. western destinations has increased by more than 30 percent," Fish said. "That puts Montana, Colorado, and other Western states right up there with the traditional beachside destinations where people want whole, private vacation homes."

14. New wave wellness

Yet another take on the wellness trends for the year ahead involves increasingly inventive ways to incorporate healing activities into itineraries, Fish said.

"Wellness retreats aren't new, but what's trending for 2023 is not your same old yoga retreats," Fish said. "What we're seeing is resorts offering all kinds of interesting, offbeat wellness retreats. I'm seeing beekeeping, mushroom foraging, native plant foraging and botany drawing."

15. Travel will remain a budget priority

Even after a year marked by record inflation and the looming potential of a recession, travelers are going to continue to prioritize their vacations in 2023. As part of Travelzoo's sweeping survey, a whopping 78 percent of respondents said they plan to spend disposable income on leisure travel next year, compared to 33 percent who said they'll use their extra cash for home improvements and 29 percent who intend to spend extra money on dining out.

In other words -- come what may, travel is back and it's not a luxury Americans are willing to give up again.