Innovation That Matters

| Photo source Illustration: Katrina Lane

5 Travel Trends to Look For in 2021


From virtual escapes to redesigning public transport, the travel industry has not only been forced to evolve but also morph entirely in search for new ways of satisfying the needs of our population.

The travel industry has been amongst the sectors most saliently affected by the global pandemic. 

Now into the early months of 2021, the number of people flying abroad is still far below normal. Scheduled flights remain around 48 per cent less than in 2019 and the hoped-for recovery does not appear to be happening. Whilst this is affecting millions of jobs and businesses in the travel industry, it is also forcing brands to go even further out of their comfort zones and into extraordinarily creative and nimble thinking, regarding the future of their industry. 

From virtual escapes to redesigning public transport, here are five of the latest trends in tourism and travel, along with tech trends that are helping the industry adapt to the change in consumer behaviour, due to the COVID pandemic. 

1. Virtual escapes

The ban on travel need not entail an inability to explore and experience new places around the world. With the rise of virtual reality, virtual travel has also started trending and it’s expected to continue developing as the year progresses. 

Photo source: Child Studio

During the UK’s first lockdown, Child Studio constructed this virtual resort using 3D-modelling, which daydreaming holiday-makers could view on Instagram, in order to imagine themselves in a sunny beach house. Google’s Arts and Culture platform also offers a range of fun, virtual tours and experiences, such as building your own space station and discovering UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 

Photo source: Ha Chan

In Japan, to help people to relieve quarantine stress, public bathhouse Arima Onsen, recorded 20-minute videos from five of its 31 locations and uploaded them to a YouTube channel. The idea is for viewers to feel like they are in an onsen, and with virtual reality headsets they can enjoy an immersive experience with sounds of running water, falling cherry blossom petals and breeze amongst bamboo stands, all from the comfort of their homes and wherever they are in the world.

In Denmark, the tourist starved locals at Faroe Island came up with a way to allow people around the world to go on a self-guided tour of the archipelago. Camera-wearing locals respond to sight-seeing commands from viewers at home, allowing virtual tourists to control their own route. Virtual visitors control their tour guide using a free app and have two minutes of control over the guide, who also provides a commentary. 

Photo source: Kirstin Vang / Visit Faroe Islands

2. Redesigned public transport for socially-distanced travel 

With social distancing requirements in place for the foreseeable future, services are running with severely limited passenger capacity. Not only has this increased crowding and reduced revenue, but the environmental downfolds are imminent. 

A great challenge now lies in making urban transport systems safe to use. Increased cleaning is only a temporary measure. Engineers and designers have been invited to come up with innovative designs that will help commuters return to work and create healthier cities. 

Photo source: Arturo Tedeschi

We found a great example of this in Milan, where the city’s iconic 1503 tram car was updated to include smart exterior display panels and interior social distancing markers. Named the Passerella, the tram’s layout is reminiscent of runway shows, with a central aisle flanked by rows of seats. 

In London, transport design consultancy PriestmanGoode developed a solution which allows more people to be accommodated and also creates more space for bikes. The design adapts the seating to create a double seat layout during off-peak hours, which transforms into a higher density configuration at peak times, to increase both seating and bike storage. 

Photo source: Universal Movement

On the international travel front, we’ve also spotted designs. French cabin equipment supplier Safran Aerosystems partnered with British seating designer Universal Movement to create a suite of post-COVID innovations. The first of their designs was an “Origami” seat that made partitions around economy-class seats. Future releases included Ringfence, a removable partition that isolates neighbouring passengers, a pedal for hands-free reclining and virus-proof coatings for armrests and tray tables.

3. Restorative travel, in a bubble

In a COVID-restricted world, holidaying abroad comes with a lot of extra concerns. At the same time, with most people working from home for the foreseeable future, the need to detach and have a healthy work-life balance is more pressing than ever. 

After almost a year of on-and-off lockdowns, people no longer associate the home-space with rest, but rather with work and confinement. As a result, the market for restorative travel has only intensified.

Photo source: finolhu

In the Maldives, the Maldives Seaside Finolhu hotel has developed an innovative new guest room enclosed in a transparent bubble. With such a unique design, visitors can feel reassured that they have security and privacy away from other guests. Of course, the hotel also hopes to benefit by luring some guests back after COVID-19.

The Australian startup Unyoked is one of many offering secluded yet accessible cabins in beautiful rural locations. Launched last year by brothers Cam and Chris Grant, the startup offers 17 cabins located in less than a two-hour drive away from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. 

Photo source: TypeO

Other options like the TypeO loft should attract those who are fortunate enough to be in close enough proximity to such safe spaces and are craving a short getaway, and we’re likely to see more lodging experiences like this become available as the pandemic slogs on.

4. Robots

Robotics is one of the most exciting forms of travel technology and, as with many other trends within the industry, has developed in response to COVID. The use of robots holds particular appeal because it has the potential to reduce human-to-human contact during travel, or in some instances, ensure that physical travel need not be necessary at all.

Photo source: Business Wire

For example, GoBe Robots have come up with a temporary alternative to work-related travel that draws on telepresence. The robots reproduce each user’s face in real size on the screen, eliminating the disembodied look and feel of both giant conference room screens and tiny tiled squares of group video calls.

Within hotels, for example, robots have been used in concierge-like roles. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, smart hotels have begun to look even more appealing to guests because they allow a completely contactless service. Guests at citizenM worldwide locations can enjoy contactless stays by using the citizenM app for almost the entirety of their stay.

Photo source: Will Barrett/Hastings Contemporary

As billions of people around the world remain in lockdown, museums and galleries around the world have also expanded their online presence. One small gallery in southern England, Hastings Contemporary, has now taken remote content one step further by using telepresence robots to give “live” tours of the gallery. The robot allows a guide and up to five visitors to wander through the galleries at will. Users can zoom in on individual works, and take in the gallery’s much-loved views of the English Channel. Innovations such as the use of telepresence robots are likely to continue after the pandemic and will help to make all types of cultural experiences more widely accessible.

5. Recognition technology

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, recognition technology was already being used in some hotels to allow access to rooms via fingerprints or for semi-contactless check-outs. However, these technologies hold special appeal as the travel industry moves forward. Facial recognition and biometric identification technology have the potential to play a pivotal role in how “immunity” or “health passports” might work. 

Photo source: Leyeju Smart Hotel

At Springwise, we spotted this contactless hotel chain in China, which employs only two members of staff and instead uses facial recognition technology to help guests check in, before they are lead to their rooms by a robot.

Another early adopter is Yoti, which allows consumers to take control of their digital identity by creating a reusable ID on their smartphone that can be shared multiple times with organisations on the Yoti platform. It is available in 6 languages and accepts passports and photos from 165 countries.

Written By: Katrina Lane