The State of International Travel in 2025 and Beyond

By Gray Shealy, Faculty, Master's in Hospitality Management

Senegal is only a seven-hour flight from New York City and Washington, D.C., yet it feels undiscovered to most Americans. Within the next 10 years—or not long thereafter—this will change. In a world made smaller and more manageable by our ever-evolving technology, travelers in search of new and “authentic” experiences will seek out the once-exotic and remote, from tiny islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, to the tertiary cities of India and China.

That’s my prediction for travel in 2025 and beyond; but first, a note of caution. Remember the film Back to the Future, from 1985? It pictured us floating around everywhere with flying cars and hoverboards. That doesn’t resemble what the world actually looks like today: we're still on the ground, still driving our gravity-stricken cars—just with better clothes and hair perhaps.

But, all joking aside, the world has changed dramatically in the last decade, for several major reasons: largely-unstable global economies; instant-access to information via the Internet and mobile devices; emerging and established audiences—Millennials, Generation Edge, Gen Xers, Boomers, and adventurers from the emerging BRICS nations (Brazil, India, China, South Africa)—all meeting simultaneously in the same places.

Experiences, Not Products

These developments have undoubtedly changed our expectations as consumers and will continue to shape our travel demands. Increasingly, we will be collecting experiences (not products or transactions) and be more hyper-aware via surveillance, Internet access, and the exponential growth of big data.

The world will continue to grow smaller and smaller, and places that were once far off and exotic will become banal and over-visited. Frontiersmen and intrepid travelers will have to travel farther to find spots that are somewhat off the grid (and with new fiber optic connections to the Pacific nations of Tonga and Tuvalu, there are only a handful of places that remain untouched by the information mainstream).

This trend will inevitably shape where people want to go. Remote island groups normally inaccessible or unheard of could become notable destinations. Think of the Azores, St. Helena, the Andaman Islands off the coasts of Myanmar and Thailand, and the lesser-known cities of India and China.

New Hubs in the Desert

From a North American perspective, destinations have historically been limited by reach. But that is all changing: the expansion of Qatar Airways and the Dubai-based Emirates Airlines have made central hubs out of the Persian Gulf. New long-range aircrafts like the 777, A380, and A350 have allowed air routes to completely bypass Europe (talk about an economic impact and focal shift) in lieu of connecting from Europe to destinations in the Middle East.

These airlines—and a third, Etihad Airways—have single-handedly recentered the world, and I expect that their home cities of Doha, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi will continue to grow and dominate the movement of people across the planet. This development is allowing North Americans to think about going to the Middle East, East Africa, the Indian Ocean, and beyond—destinations traditionally dominated by Europeans.

Across the Atlantic—and a short hop from home—Haiti and Cuba are undergoing political changes that will continue to make these underdeveloped nations the rising stars of the Caribbean.

Technologically, we will watch ourselves move ever faster as we feed our obsession for greater speed and connectivity. Supersonic transport once lost in the exit of the Concorde will resurface and remain visible on the horizon, or at least an everlasting dream to resurrect. Japanese high-speed trains, now on the books in California, may become a reality. Driverless cars will mean personalized private tours of destinations, which we will take while relaxing, watching the scenery, and being less focused on the road.

Connected—and Longing Not to Be

The hotel and the hospitality experience will change, but it won't lose its human touch. Automated transactions may become more prominent in select service- and economy-tiered properties, but at the luxury level, we will always demand some sort of human interaction and personal service.

However, that doesn't mean that technology won’t significantly impact the experience. We are only just starting to figure out how to utilize customer relationship management (CRM) and big data. These information banks and our constant connection to a network will mean extreme personalization and tailored experiences for you, the guest. Technology will allow us to predict everything from the exact moment of a guest’s arrival to what they will expect for dinner. The hotel experience will become more data-driven and increasingly seamless.

At the same time, our increasing dependence on technology will also mean that the true luxury of the future will not be gilded chandeliers and champagne, but rather the time and capability to disconnect from the grid. Affluent travelers of the future will be so enveloped in their technologies and instant information that being absent from them for their leisure escapes will be something they seek out.

It is all the more reason why we will search out exotic, out-of-reach, and disconnected places—destinations so remote that there will be no temptation to be connected at all. What an escape from reality.