Travel in 2019: The Year of Living Playfully

From sculpture climbing to ancestor hunting, here are 19 travel trends for the year ahead.

January 2019

New York's TWA Hotel

Here, 19 trends for the year ahead

1. Retail Gets Tasty

A report from Baum + Whiteman suggests that the existential threat facing restaurants doesn’t end with food delivery. Capital One bank is luring millennials into its fold with dozens of bright in-branch cafés offering locally baked goods and complimentary sessions with life coaches. Cinemas are replacing popcorn stands with fancy restaurants (iPic’s Tuck Room in Houston serves filet au poivre). But it’s retailers that are shaping up to be the big problem. Crate & Barrel plans an in-store restaurant in Chicago, while a new H&M in Stockholm has a sleek café. Restoration Hardware is aiming high: Its RH Rooftop Restaurant in New York (above) has elevated menu items like truffle pappardelle, dazzling city views and a slick design that would put any restaurant to shame. And in case that wasn’t enough toe-stepping, RH plans to open a concept hotel nearby.

TWA Hotel at New York's JFK Airport

2. Airports Will Be A Journey’s End

The idea of airports as places to be enjoyed, rather than endured, is gathering speed. At Philadelphia International’s Terminal B­, a $30 million makeover created free-flowing boutique-y spaces dotted with fancy eateries and more than 1,000 free-to-use iPads, while a redesign of Salt Lake City International Airport will add several ambitious art installations. Moving forward, airports will aim to become destinations in their own right. Set to open this spring is Jewel, a $1.27 billion project at Singapore’s Changi Airport, which will have its own indoor forest and a 130-foot waterfall, along with shops, restaurants, spas and a “Walking Net” suspended 82 feet above the ground. Also due to open this spring is the TWA Hotel at New York’s JFK Airport. Located in the winged TWA Flight Center, built by Eero Saarinen in 1962, the 512-room hotel will capture the spirit of the Jet Age through design details (working rotary phones in the rooms) and grand gestures (a restored TWA plane serving as a cocktail bar). And, yes, the hotel windows are fully soundproofed.


3. Will Work For Travel

Household chores may have seemed tedious when you were a kid, but your bed-making abilities are about to pay off. Last year, a program called World Barter Week allowed participants to stay in desirable locations around the world for a week in exchange for goods and services, such as taking photographs of a property, landscaping its gardens or providing the owner with tango lessons. In 2019, many of the properties will be offering their $0-a-night rates through the year. From a 17th-century farmhouse in Malta to a sprawling vineyard estate in Portugal, there are now nearly 500 properties in 60 countries available for barter. It may be true that money can’t buy happiness, but at least now there’s an alternative option.

4. Destinations Are Determined By DNA

Everyone feels a little Irish after a pint of Guinness, and tracing your green roots is becoming easier than ever. A host of outfits like My Ireland Family Heritage and My Irish Connections offer personalized genealogy tours, with researchers to delve into registers and archives, and drivers to take clients to the counties, towns and houses from whence they sprang. The bespoke tour company Adams & Butler offers a “Trace Your Ancestor” experience, which promises to help Irish offshoots dig into their pasts “even if it means driving down overgrown tracks and negotiating fields of sheep!” And Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel has an in-house genealogy butler. The end result, says My Ireland Family Heritage director Aisling Darragh, is a “moving and memorable” exploration of personal heritage, with a few sips of the black stuff thrown in.


5. Food Repeats On Us

Chefs and historians are teaming up to create meals just like our ancestors used to make. The Michelin-starred D.C. eatery Plume developed a six-course holiday tasting menu recreating dishes the country’s founding fathers feasted on in 1776 (Chesapeake oysters, wild boar filet, apple pandowdy). At the Four Seasons Punta Mita, chef Héctor Leyva recreates ancient Aztec, Mayan and Toltec dishes. In Greece, archaeologists studied digs to send diners back to the island of Crete in 2700 B.C., with shellfish soup and dessert figs. Luckily, in 2019 we can Instagram these long-lost meals for posterity.

6. People Are Really Getting Away From It All

Travelers will go to great lengths for a bit of peace and quiet this year. Light pollution is driving people into Mongolian yurts (above), Montana ranches and New Zealand B&Bs. In June, Iceland will unveil the 500-mile Arctic Coast Way, opening up some of the wildest terrain on the planet. Ponant and Aurora Expeditions will both launch new ships this year, taking passengers to wilderness areas in comfort. Meanwhile, outfits like Intrepid Travel are doing a roaring trade with trips to out-of-the-way places like Kazakhstan, Papua New Guinea and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). “As technology continues to make travel easier and more accessible, there are fewer off-the-grid destinations,” says Intrepid North America director Darshika Jones, “making the uncharted places left more appealing.”


7. Autovacations Catch On

At last, hotel guests can adjust the AC, make coffee and draw the blinds without baffling control panels. Several tie-ups between hotel chains, such as Marriott, and tech giants, such as Amazon, have resulted in voice-activated smart speakers that allow guests to give commands to in-room equipment, along with ordering room service and spa treatments. But there’s more: China’s Alibaba has just opened the world’s first unmanned hotel, FlyZoo, in Hangzhou. A “cute” three-foot robot receptionist uses facial recognition technology to verify the person checking in. The elevator similarly identifies guests and delivers them to the right floor, and room doors open automatically. Guests check out via an app, which alerts a robotic maid to help clean the room. Turns out The Jetsons’ Rosie was ahead of her time—but when do we get our flying cars?


8. There Goes The Neighborhood

Abandoned neighborhoods are the new hot spots. In Osaka, Japan, an entire street has been remade into the Sekai Hotel Fuse, with empty homes becoming guest rooms and local restaurants enjoying new leases on life as dining facilities. Another new hotel, Enso Ango, is spread over five locations in Kyoto. Scattered hotels are also gaining traction in Europe, with villages being revitalized in rural pockets of Italy, Slovenia and Portugal. When the population of the Swiss mountain village of Corippo dwindled to just 12, a project was launched to turn 30 of its stone cottages into a hotel. So far, only one cottage is available. It has a fitted kitchen and a pellet stove, but guests may have to milk their own goat. 


9. Vacations Are Getting Shorter, More Photogenic

Snap Decisions 
Recent studies compiled by Schofields found that 40 percent of Brits under the age of 33 cite “Instagrammability” as a major factor in choosing destinations, while 60 percent of American millennials use Instagram to find and book vacation spots, which does not lend itself to careful planning … .


Point and Go 
A Google study found that 60 percent of travelers are open to making spur-of-the-moment plans, an impulse aided by outfits like SIX Travel, which has unleashed an app that allows users to book hotels with a single swipe on Instagram, in which case it wouldn’t be prudent to book the trip of a lifetime … .


Make It Fast 
In a study, 53 percent of global travelers said they plan on taking more short-term trips this year. This “micro-travel” trend, in turn, has led to a spike in curated experiences, crowdsourced itineraries, local guides and personal planners—which allow travelers to maximize their precious minutes … .


The Morning After 
Expect, then, a year in which more and more people wake up with sore heads and notifications informing them that they’ll be spending the following weekend exploring the fish markets of Prague with a guy named Tomáš—which, let’s face it, would make for an awesome Instagram post.

10. Tastemakers Make Drinks That Cannot Be Tasted

Professional mixologists are bracing themselves for the rise of the Drinkstagrammer, an influencer subset who mix and shoot cocktails for consumption by their followers, thereby negating the need for bartenders or even bars. As a rule, these creations will be aflame, or placed beside a pug dog, or served out of a horned melon. As for whether they taste as good as they look, only the maker and the pug know for sure. Closely related to these are Beerstagrammers, who busy themselves shooting ales with kooky names, arty packaging or novel ingredients (one of the must-snap brews at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival was a Spaghetti Gose with tomatoes, basil and oregano). Enviable locations, too, are an Instagram staple, so expect the popularity of the so-called Beercation fad—in which people trot the globe in search of the perfect craft brew—to give rise to countless images of beer bottles posing before Rio’s Sugarloaf Mountain, the skyline of Seoul, the Sydney Opera House and the Jersey Shore.

11. The Amusement Park Next Door

Most theme park nerds are anticipating the opening of Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in California and Florida, where you can fly the Millennium Falcon or visit the famed cantina for a glass of blue milk. But a more immersive experience is taking shape in 2019, as virtual reality technology takes aim at old-school parks. In Guizhou, China, the 330-acre Oriental Science Fiction Valley has 35 VR-augmented rides, ranging from white-knuckle roller coasters to a scenic spaceship tour of the local area. Legoland in Florida, meanwhile, has a ride in which guests don VR goggles as they ride an actual roller coaster (above). The endgame, though, will be a gradual shrinking of these attractions—as in the “micro-amusement park” recently opened in a Los Angeles warehouse by an outfit called Two Bit Circus. Rides here include The Raft, upon which you fend off spooky critters while floating around a creepy swamp—all without moving more than a few feet from Gearmo del Pouro, the robotic barkeep who chats with guests while pouring real cocktails.


12. It’s Dinner Time in Vancouver 

Location, location, location. It’s a real estate slogan, but also applies to why Vancouver will be the darling of the culinary world in 2019. The coastal city has historically been the port of entry for Asian immigration into Canada, resulting in a vibrant blend of communities and hybrid cuisines. The rustic Tuc Craft Kitchen tops elk carpaccio with a miso aioli and ramen hay. The casual spot Tacofino whips up lemongrass chicken burritos stuffed with pickled daikon and tamarind mayo. On the higher end, Kissa Tanto creates Japanese-Italian numbers like paccheri pasta with white pork ragù, smoked pork belly, shiso-ginger gremolata and miso-ume butter (above). If you’re pining for traditional Asian, head to the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, where a three-block area along No. 3 Road is home to a wide variety of Asian restaurants.

13. Hospitality Is Kids’ Stuff

A slew of new kidult-friendly attractions is making the phrase “acting your age” obsolete. The Monster inflatable park will tour Europe and the U.S. this year, inviting grown-ups to bounce on the Mega Slide, the juicy Tunnel of Love and the terrifying Bouncy Cage of Doom! In London’s trendy Shoreditch, there’s Ballie Ballerson, a neon-pink joint that bills itself as a “ball pit cocktail bar with one million balls” (what could possibly go wrong?). Hotels are getting in on the act, too. There’s a tree-house “Treesort” in Cave Junction, Oregon, while Tokyo’s Keio Plaza Hotel goes for sensory overload with its themed Hello Kitty rooms, in which guests can host cuddly-toy tea parties before getting down to business in one of the hotel’s conference rooms.

14. Say Goodbye To The Simple Hotel Porter

As the hotel business gets more competitive, the job titles get weirder—nobody knows why. Here, a few of the positions currently held at hotels around the world. 


Chief Flamingo Officer 
At Baha Mar in the Bahamas, the “CFO” works with the resort’s chief scientist to care for the resident flock of flamingos.

Director of Astronomy 
In Hawaii, Eddie Mahoney runs the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa’s nightly “Tour of the Stars,” held on the rooftop observatory, complete with telescopes.

Global Run Concierge 
Chris Heuisler designs maps for guests who want to run the neighborhoods surrounding any Westin Hotels & Resorts property. He also oversees 250 Run Concierges around the world.

Hotel Astrologer 
The Ultimo in Sydney, the world’s first astrology-themed hotel, employs an in-house astrologer to provide customized packages for guests based on their zodiac sign, from a personalized star chart to a sign-specific city guide.


15. Accessing Inside Access

Being important isn’t as difficult as it used to be. There are a slew of travel services offering the kind of access previously reserved for VIPs. The concierge at Tokyo’s Trunk Hotel would be happy to arrange for you to sit in on a sumo wrestling practice. If baseball’s more your thing, Wrigley Field’s private Living Legend Tour provides an exclusive tour of the park alongside a former player/short-term buddy. At the high end, the “curated travel” company Essentialist offers the kind of insider-y privilege that would make Beyoncé blush: “Whether it’s dining in a private Venetian palazzo or getting a behind-the-scenes look at a world-class collection of contemporary art in Saint Petersburg, we can make it happen.”

Vessel in New York

16. All The World’s A Plinth

A pair of global destinations that will benefit from the art bug in 2019


Milan: Old Art

Milan, which now attracts more visitors than Rome or Florence, will become even busier in 2019, thanks to a host of events marking the 500th anniversary of the death of famous son Leonardo da Vinci. Those checking out the art—including the newly restored forest-themed murals at Sala delle Asse—might also keep an eye out for the world’s second most famous Leonardo. Yup, Leonardo DiCaprio recently signed on to play the original Renaissance man in a lavish new movie. Try getting a room in the city after that is released. 


New York: But Is It Art? 

Vessel, Thomas Heatherwick’s 150-foot-tall, honeycomb-like installation at Hudson Yards—New York City’s priciest park project—is expected to be so popular when it opens this spring that tickets go on sale in February. Part of the reason for this is that Vessel is an artwork you can climb. Made of bronzed steel and concrete, the $150 million work contains 154 flights of stairs (around 2,500 individual steps) and can hold up to 1,000 people at a time—most of them wondering if these stairs will ever end.


17. Bad Stuff Had Good Energy

Foul smells are about to get a reprieve. In 2019, Norway’s Hurtigruten cruise line will begin powering some of its ships with liquefied biogas—a.k.a. dead fish and other organic matter. And the stinky-waste fuel movement is getting a big boost in Virginia, where the world’s largest hog producer, Smithfield Foods, will pay farmers to install plastic covers over their pig manure “lagoons,” with the goal of capturing methane, a destructive greenhouse gas, and converting it into natural gas to power everything from heating systems to vehicles. Meanwhile, British scientists are working on microbial fuel cells that use bacteria to turn urine into electricity. The fuel-hungry travel industry, of course, is keeping a close eye on all this. One day, a trip to the loo will keep the trains running.

18. Pop Culture Tours Get Serious

Whether donning a pair of Frodo feet for a trip to New Zealand or plotting against Stannis Baratheon in rural Croatia, people have been conflating travel and entertainment for a while now. Pop culture tourism will become more elaborate in 2019, with experiences like “Royal Day Out” (roaming around London dressed as an 18th-century noble) being joined by ones that require greater commitment. Among these is “Road Trip,” which allows people to act out their rock ’n’ roll fantasies on a week-long tour-bus journey along Route 66. The musically inclined are invited to play prearranged live gigs along the way, but roles like “roadie” and “groupie” are also available. Participants on the trip’s trial run, according to creative director Claus Raasted, included a corporate lawyer, an IT professional and an art curator “who ended up getting a tattoo.”


19. Being Single Is A Good Thing

Bars specializing in one spirit, such as the 150-gin Mr Fogg’s in London, have flourished recently, as have single-minded restaurants: New York City’s newly opened Hachibei serves nothing but grilled freshwater eel imported from Japan. The monomania bug is spreading to hotels, as well. Antwerp’s One Room Hotel, a converted 17th-century home, is a whopping 7.8-feet wide, while in Jordan, a guy converted a beat-up VW Beetle into a very small roadside hotel with handmade sheets but, thankfully, no en-suite bathroom.


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