Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023

Now that travel has roared back to pre-pandemic levels, travelers are spanning the globe for new experiences. As a major force in facilitating that travel, American Express regularly conducts surveys to see how, where and why its cardholders are exploring. The results of American Express Travel’s 2023 Global Travel Trends Report were released yesterday, detailing findings from 8,000 respondents from around the world: 2,000 in the U.S., 1,000 each in Australia, Canada, India, Japan, Mexico and the U.K. all with a household income of $70,000+ and who travel by air at least once a year.

Overall, the findings show that travel continues to be on the upswing: 85% said that they were going to take two or more leisure trips this year; 74% said that having a superior travel experience was more important than the cost; 78% said that travel was a major budget priority. Where they’re going, though, was split between familiar choices and breaking new ground.

For 89% of respondents, new is definitely an operative term: they want to go to off the beaten track destinations instead of the well known tourist cities, really explore those destinations on a granular level and support local communities. That’s especially true of Gen- Z and Millennial respondents who in greater number than other respondents express the desire to discover a new vacation spot before others do, shop in small, local, authentic places when they’re there and experience the destination as the locals do.

Travelers who decided to go to Sicily this year may have made their decision after watching the second season of “The White Lotus,” demonstrating another trend called Set Jetting-flocking to places that they’ve seen onscreen, either TV, movies or social media. Gen-Z and Millennials lead the pack in that category too, more often selecting destinations that they’ve seen in those media, especially on Instagram and Tik Tok, and because of that, places that they know will look good in photos of their own on those platforms.

Wellness vacations have been on the rise the past few years, in no small part due to pandemic-induced stress and they continue to be. 88% of respondents said that they will spend as much if not more on those vacations this year to hotels such as Amanyara in Turks and Caicos, The Cape, A Thompson Hotel in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and One & Only Cape Town in that South African city. 75% swear that they’re going to unplug/put their phones away on holiday to improve their mental health with many of those instead intending to engage in experiences such as exploring hiking/beach trails, visiting a private beach and getting a massage/facial. 43% are selecting a hotel based on its wellness facilities and 68% are choosing destinations that are surrounded by nature to improve their mental clarity.

Another trend that has been on the rise and is continuing to do that this year is choosing a vacation spot based on its culinary scene: 81% of respondents said that trying local cuisines is the part of travel they look forward to most. A smaller number—37%-are planning around visiting a specific famous restaurant. Others lean more into a pure, authentic, simpler food experience, the type of culinary travel that now appeals more to esteemed, James Beard award winning, Israeli-born chef Michael Solomonov whose restaurants include Zahav in Philadelphia and Laser Wolf in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

“The older I get, the good memories I have that shape the way I think about eating come not from Michelin rated restaurants but are the little places that have opened because that’s what they do, generations of people who have done the same thing for a long time. You can taste the soul. That’s what I love,” he says. He singles out the southern coast of Oregon where he stopped into a Dungeness crab shack by chance and had crabs with drawn butter that he describes as “I don’t remember eating anything that good ever.” Other memorable experiences include ceviche from one of the local spots in the village of Quepos, the town next to the resort where he was staying in Costa Rica and vibrant granita from a shack near a walking trail on Italy’s Amalfi Coast surrounded by lemons, figs and olives.

Not that he completely ignores more serious restaurants but he doesn’t generally make pilgrimages to the most famous. He suggests looking at the offerings in second tier cities in the U.S. where the lower cost of living and the diversity of immigrant communities create a wealth of food experiences such as the excellent Vietnamese and Cambodian restaurants in Philadelphia. And when staying in a hotel, he offers this solid advice. “Rather than the restaurants they would usually recommend, I ask them where they and their families would go,” he says. “In a restaurant, do the same with the staff. Ask them what they would want to eat. Emit that you’re genuinely interested in the food, not with being impressed.”

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