Sustainability, AI, and ‘Slow’ Travel set to be key travel trends in next three years

By Olga_Gafurova Thursday, 08 February 2024 11:59 AM

Sustainability, AI, and ‘Slow’ Travel set to be key travel trends in next three years

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Travellers from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) plan to increase their spending on breaks and holidays over the next three years and will have more of an eye on sustainability than ever before. In fact, most now check the sustainability of their travel plans, and are prepared to pay over 20% more for environmentally-friendly accommodation.

Other key trends will also come to the fore. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will become a key tool for holiday planning - with half of people in both the UAE (52%) and KSA (50%) already using it for this purpose. Meanwhile ‘dupe’ destinations - that are similar to traditional holiday destinations but closer and cheaper - will be another key theme.

In addition, ‘slow holidays’ - where travellers take their time, connect with the local culture, disconnect from technology and minimise their impact on the environment - will be another significant trend.

These are the key outtakes from the Middle East findings of Marriott Bonvoy’s 2024 Future Travel Trends research, in collaboration with foresight agency The Future Laboratory, which analysed the travel plans of 14,000 travellers across Europe and the Middle East over the next three years.

The rise of AI

The era of AI holiday planning is very much here - half or more (52% from the UAE and 50% from KSA) have used AI to help them plan or research a holiday. Meanwhile 77% in both countries say they are likely to in the future, showing the trend is set to grow further still.

Amongst those who did use AI, 95% in both the UAE and KSA say it influenced their holiday decision in some way. This includes booking the accommodation it recommended (36% in UAE and 39% in KSA), booking the activities it recommended (39% in UAE and 31% in KSA), and booking food it recommended (34% in UAE and 35% in KSA).

Emerging trends

The research investigates several travel trends that are likely to emerge or strengthen over the coming years. Amongst them, ‘slow holidays’ are becoming increasingly popular. Four in five travellers from the UAE (82%) and 77% from KSA say they have already been on a ‘slow’ holiday. Meanwhile, 82% from the UAE and 80% from KSA say they plan to go on a slow holiday in the next three years.

In addition, ‘dupe destinations’ – such as the vineyards of Northern Spain instead of South Africa or surfing in Portugal instead of Hawaii– will be another key theme. A third from the UAE (33%) and a similar number from KSA (34%) that are intending to go away in the next three years are planning to save travel time and money by having a similar experience through a ‘dupe destination’.

Solo holidays, something 70% of travellers from the UAE and 69% from KSA who have been away in the past three years have done in that period, will also continue to be a significant trend, with 70% from UAE and 72% from KSA planning to do one.

Changing Summer holiday patterns?

The extremely high temperatures that parts of Europe experienced this summer could be set to impact holiday plans in the coming years for Middle Eastern holidaymakers. Eighty six per cent in the UAE and 83% in KSA say that if these temperatures became a regular occurrence, it would impact their summer holiday plans. While there is no suggestion that people would avoid holidays because of this, some may be amending what they intend to do and when they choose to travel.

Nearly half in the UAE (46%) and over half in KSA (53%) say they would instead choose to go somewhere cooler, and 26% in UAE and 24% in KSA would visit the destinations at different times of the year.

Spending and sustainability both up

More than nine in ten UAE adults (93%) and 89% of adults from KSA say they will be going on holiday next year. Of those going on holiday next year, 66% from the UAE and 69% from KSA say they plan to ‘spend more than usual’ on holidays over the period.

Over the next three years, sustainability will be on the agenda more than ever before. More than eight in ten from the UAE (83%) and a similar number from KSA (78%) say they would be happy to pay more for environmentally friendly accommodation. The amount extra they would be happy to pay is significant - 21% for those from the UAE and 22% for those from KSA.

In addition, nearly nine in ten (88%) from UAE and eight in ten (79%) from KSA say that accommodation providers and holiday companies have a responsibility to support the local communities where they offer holidays.

For many, sustainability is already important - 75% of those from the UAE and 70% of those from KSA say they looked into how sustainable the last accommodation they stayed in was. In addition, 45% from the UAE and 42% from KSA say they check the environmental impact of their travel plans most or every time they travel when they book a holiday.

Value for money will be key

Whilst on the whole spending on holidays is set to increase, travellers will continue to seek good value for money and save where they can. Just one per cent of those from the UAE and two per cent of those from KSA planning to take holidays in the next three years say they won’t be looking to save money on some elements of their holidays.

A third of UAE and KSA travellers (both 32%) will try to save by going on more domestic holidays. And 34% from the UAE and 29% from KSA will use loyalty programmes to pay for some or all of their holiday with points.

Neal Jones, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, Marriott International - Europe, Middle East & Africa: “With the leisure travel market well and truly back to ‘normal’ we are now in a stronger position when it comes to looking at future trends and travel habits for the sector over the next few years. The post covid travel rebound is still going strong but because of what travel means to people, there’s been a seismic shift in people’s thought processes and prioritisation of funds. We are seeing that there is a more considered approach to travel, and a more emotional connection to travel that’s really unfolding in tandem with people’s core values.

“Two trends we have seen coming to the fore in particular from the consumer research are sustainability and AI – particularly amongst younger travellers under the age of 45. Being ecologically responsible is moving from being a ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘must-have’ for many of these travellers and will only become more so.

“What’s really interesting to see from this research is the already-established use of AI for holiday planning. Generative AI is perfectly placed to analyse huge amounts of information for travellers, and offer them recommendations based on it. With nine in ten of those who have used it saying it impacted their travel plans, we expect its use to become even more mainstream in the next three years. As a result, travel providers like us need to ensure that we have the information available for AI to find and share with those doing their holiday research.”