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Workcations, Travel Bubbles, and Glampervans: 15 Innovative Tourism Business Ideas 2021

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The travel and tourism industry doesn’t sit still for long. Every year, a new trend or change in tourist behavior or preferences comes along to shake things up. With every change comes an opportunity for tour operators to provide customers old and new with the experiences they want—or maybe don’t yet know they want. 

2020 was of course a year like no other for tour operators. The tourism industry was hit hard by fallout from COVID-19. In the short to medium term, COVID-19 changed the way tourists travel and where they traveled to—if they could even travel at all. In the long term, the tourism industry may need to deal with post-pandemic repercussions and potential lasting changes in consumer behavior and needs, for example around health and safety concerns or cancellation policies. 

Even in this most difficult of years, however, there were opportunities for the tourism business to keep engaging with their audience. For example, Promote Iceland’s “Looks Like You Need Iceland” campaign let stuck-at-home travelers let off steam from their sofa by screaming at an Icelandic beauty spot.

On the upside, the pent-up demand created by the pandemic could result in boom times for the tourism industry over the next few years. It’s a great time to start planning your next innovative tourism project or business idea.

For some inspiration, here are some of the latest trends and innovative tourism business ideas to keep an eye on and potentially incorporate into the experiences you offer. 

15 creative tourism business ideas and trends

1. “Workcations”

Even before everyone was banished to their home office during the pandemic, the idea of remote working was growing in popularity. The term “digital nomads” was coined to describe mostly young tourists who took advantage of the growth of online collaboration tools, cloud computing, video conferencing, and other digital innovations that enable people to work from almost anywhere. Then, during 2020, millions of people took part in an unplanned global experiment in remote working. The upshot of that is likely to be that previously sceptical employers will now be more open to remote working arrangements. When you combine that with a large number of people who left the office behind and didn’t miss it for a second, you have an opportunity to create “workcation” experiences for digital nomads and remote workers.  

Inspiration for new tourism business ideas:

  • Selina: Opportunities for people to stay, travel, and work in interesting places around the world.
  • Ethos Remote Habitat: Remote working retreats.
  • Work from Hyatt: Packages for people who want to work from a Hyatt hotel.

2. “Glampervan” road trips

Pandemic or no pandemic, road trips are always popular. However, during the pandemic with international travel off the menu for most people, RV rentals spiked dramatically. Road trips made it easier for tourists to physically distance from other travelers in a post-COVID world. 

Campervans have come a long way since the Hippy Trail of the 60s. Many of those classic VW campers from that era and the couple of decades following it are still motoring, even if they do have new engines, proving that the lure of the open road is as strong as ever. In recent years the #vanlife trend saw young people quitting their jobs to live (and work) in a van for a year or so—often documenting their adventures on YouTube or Instagram. (Yoga in a van anyone?

Today’s campervans can look very different from their 60s counterparts, with custom interiors and gadgets galore to make it a real home from home. A “glampervan” vacation offers a mix of camping and road tripping experiences, with a step up in comfort from traditional camping—plus of course the freedom of being able to go where you please.

Inspiration for new tourism business ideas:

3. Flexible travel

Many tourists had to cancel or curtail vacations at short notice due to COVID-19, and there were stories of people having trouble getting refunds due to strict cancellation policies. It’s natural that consumers will be wary of the same thing happening again, at least until COVID-19 is behind us but possibly for longer. This presents an opportunity for enterprising travel and tourism companies to provide more flexibility for wary tourists and gain a competitive advantage by, for example, waiving fees for late changes or offering flexible dates. It’s also a great way to win back the trust of customers who might have fallen foul of strict cancellation policies during the pandemic. 

Inspiration for new tourism business ideas:

  • American Airlines: No more change fees.
  • Exodus Travels: Dateless departures to let customers anticipate and plan a trip without being tied to a departure date that may need to change.

4. Safer travels

People have had a crash course in how to avoid getting sick during 2020. Many are likely to be hyper-aware of good hygiene when traveling in future—even in a post-COVID world. That’s not the only change to the travel experience. In 2021 many countries started requiring proof of a negative PCR COVID-19 test for travel. Even after mass global vaccination, proof of vaccination may be required for entry to some countries. Tour operators, hotels, and others in the travel industry that take steps to reassure customers are likely to benefit from increased business in a post-pandemic world. It could be an important part of tourism marketing for some time to come. Airlines in particular have been quick to innovate: “12 Innovations Making Air Travel Safer In the Age of COVID-19.”

Inspiration for new tourism business ideas:

5. Travel for good

“Ecotourism” has been on the rise for several years. The trend for low-impact, responsible travel experiences is only likely to grow alongside greater awareness of an interest in climate change and sustainability. So-called “ecotours” let tourists enjoy a vacation while also learning about environmental and sustainability issues in a particular location. Some enable people to do something tangible to help, such as volunteering to plant trees or help to restore habitats. Many travelers these days also seek out “small footprint” or socially-responsible travel. This may not be an eco-tour as such; it could just mean they favor tour companies that take steps to minimize the impact of their tours or incorporate a social responsibility element.

Inspiration for new tourism business ideas:

6. Spontaneous travel

One trend to keep an eye on is a move toward more last-minute bookings. Again, this is down to the uncertainty caused by pandemic-era travel, especially while countries and cities still go in and out of lockdown mode—usually at very short notice. Many companies are starting to offer more flexible booking terms to help people to feel more comfortable about booking in advance. However, there could still be a demand for trips taken with very little notice and planning, as people emerge from lockdown and want to take a trip as quickly as possible. See “#12 Mobile-first booking” for how you can benefit from this trend.

7. Staycations

Another trend that had emerged long before the pandemic forced everyone to stay close to home was “staycations.” Many tourism businesses pivoted to target locals looking for something to do nearer home. Being a tourist in your own backyard is unlikely to lose its appeal after the pandemic is over. In fact, a feature of the lockdown experience for many people was how they explored and looked at their own city or region with fresh eyes. 

Even when things return to normal, many people may have realized that exploring your own city or country can be as enjoyable as a trip abroad. As long as there is uncertainty around travel, staycations are likely to remain popular. Another benefit of targeting staycation tourists is they are less likely to have to cancel because of world events or economic downturns, such as during the pandemic or at other times of uncertainty and upheaval.

Inspiration for new tourism business ideas:

8. Travel like a local

As well as traveling locally, a growing number of people want to travel “like a local.” There’s a desire among many travelers to get off the beaten track and explore less well-known aspects of destinations—often things only locals typically know about. It’s a way to really get under the skin of a destination and understand what makes it tick and get a taste of what it’s like to live there. Fans of traveling like a local are interested in “hidden gems”—eateries, sights, and experiences that would not be included in a typical tourism itinerary. They often want to interact with a local tour guide to help give them the inside scoop on destinations.

Inspiration for new tourism business ideas:

9. “Travel bubbles”

2020 was a tough time for families and friends who had to stay apart for extended periods. As things started opening up, one tourism industry trend that emerged was a desire among families and groups of friends to take a memorable trip together to make up for lost time. One advantage to customers in 2021, while the pandemic is still with us, is that this creates a kind of “travel bubble” that enables a group to enjoy a vacation while minimizing contact with others. At the high-end of the scale, “reunion travel” could include renting a whole hotel or even a private island. For the average tourist there could be business opportunities to sell private group holidays to suit any budget—from offering whole house rentals to creating a cycling or other activity-focused tour. 

Inspiration for new tourism business ideas:

10. Solo travel

Not everyone has a posse to travel with. Tourism industry research shows that solo travel is even more popular than ever. One survey found that solo travel is the second most popular option for a post-COVID trip, behind couple travel but ahead of traveling with family or friends. There is no longer any stigma attached to taking a trip on your own, and many tour companies cater specifically to this market—offering opportunities for solo travelers to travel with each other. Within the solo traveler market, there can be many different niches—from women-only tours, to elderly people seeking travel companions, to young people looking to meet partners. 

Inspiration for new tourism business ideas:

11. Social engagement

One of the things people enjoy about travel is the anticipation of an upcoming adventure, or even just a break from the 9-to-5. While most people couldn’t travel for much of 2020 and into 2021, that didn’t prevent them from looking ahead to when they could. Many tour operators and others in the tourism industry turned to social media to stay in touch with their customers and help them dream of better days to come. The companies that embraced social media during the travel restrictions will stand to benefit more than the ones who reduced or even stopped their social media output. If you haven’t already been posting regularly to your social channels, it’s never too late to start.

Inspiration for new tourism business ideas:

  • KLM: KLM did a great job of providing entertaining content to their grounded audience.
  • British Museum: The British Museum brought the museum experience to their social channels.

  • Switzerland Tourism: Switzerland Tourism kept their audience craving everything Swiss.

12. Mobile-first booking

Earlier, we looked at the trend toward more spontaneous travel while people are still wary of booking too far in advance. By optimizing your mobile presence, which means a responsive business website and user-friendly booking system that works on any mobile device, tour operators can take advantage of those last-minute or impulse bookings. Tourists are likely to be researching, and even booking, trips at any time of day (or night) and wherever they are—at the playground with the kids, on the bus, waiting in line… 

Tour operators that don’t allow mobile bookings will lose out to mobile-first competitors. The last thing you want is to force someone excited to book one of your trips to have to wait until your office opens or they’re back at their desktop or laptop computer. As mobile internet gets faster and smartphones get bigger and smarter, offering mobile booking lets you strike while the iron is hot. 

13. “Me time” travel

A growing tourism business trend has been in the area of wellness breaks. Spa holidays, yoga retreats, organic food-related travel, and other “healthy travel” options have all become popular. This trend is likely to be accelerated in the post-COVID age when people want to treat themselves after a tough year or so. The mental and physical wellbeing of many people took a significant hit during the pandemic. Tours that offer people the chance for some “me time” to pamper themselves, get fit, and generally recalibrate are likely to be extremely popular for the next couple of years at least.

Inspiration for new tourism business ideas:

14. Bucket list travel

2020 gave a lot of people a lot of time to think about and plan for future adventures, and maybe reflect on things they’d like to do but have been putting off. Many may have the financial means to carry over the travel budget they couldn’t spend during the pandemic to put towards an even bigger future trip. That means a demand for more “bucket list” type travel—big, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that make up for a year of staying at home. These people could be willing to spend more time in one place, go on a more immersive tour, or travel further afield. Whether it’s sleeping under the Northern Lights, visiting the Galapagos Islands, or exploring the Seven Wonders of the World, 2021 onwards could be the time when many people want to finally take that dream trip.

15. Curated travel

There’s likely to be a higher demand for travel experts to help people plan post-COVID trips. Travelers may need help navigating any health and safety considerations, such as proof of vaccination requirements or airline protocols. And they might also want advice on the best destination or tour for them as the world opens up again. It could be a good move to position your business as one that is willing to work with people to plan their ideal trip, and that is empathetic to any concerns around health and safety. Travel advisors or travel agents can also help people find the best deals, including last-minute trip opportunities.

Inspiration for new tourism business ideas:

Travel technology trends changing the face of travel

The trends listed above are already quite well-established or about to take off. What if we look even farther into the future and consider technology advancements? It wasn’t that long ago when we spent hours deciding which CDs and books to take on vacation to save space. Today we can put our entire music collection in our pocket and store all of our books in electronic form on a device smaller than one book. In other words, the future is often closer than we think.

Here are a few technology innovations set to transform the tourism industry and the experience of travelers. All of them are already in use to varying degrees.

Virtual Reality (VR): Travel companies can use VR to give potential customers a taste of the experience they can expect from a tour or location. VR can be accessible through web browsers or people can enjoy a much more immersive experience using VR headsets.

Artificial Intelligence (IA): AI involves machines and computer programs being able to do things humans do, such as learning and problem-solving. Common uses already include AI chatbots that answer customer questions online, and learn over time to provide better service. Future uses already being tested could include robot concierges and self-driving cars.

Voice technology: “Siri, show me an article about innovative travel trends please.” Voice-activated devices are one technology that is already in use—at least in homes. The travel industry may jump on board by building voice-controlled services into their customer experience.

Wearable devices: Many ski resorts now offer RFID-equipped cards that remove the need for paper lift tickets and enable customers to buy new tickets online and load them onto their card. These types of devices can reduce wait times and improve the customer experience.

How to take advantage of innovative tourism business ideas

The key to taking advantage of these and other tourism industry trends and ideas is to always be thinking of your next profitable business opportunity. Here are a few ways to keep on top of what’s new and interesting in the travel business:

Maintain an ideas file: Include those “out there” trends that seem absurd the first time you hear of them. Think about some recent innovations that would have been dismissed with a laugh not that long ago: Self-driving cars, passenger space travel, drone deliveries… Even that Holy Grail of futuristic inventions, the personal jetpack, is getting closer to reality. All but the most outlandish trends are worth tracking in case there’s a germ of an idea for a new business opportunity in there.

Listen to your audience: Hang out in online travel discussion forums, on social media, and in other places where travelers gather to swap notes and ideas, or express needs and dreams. You might uncover a new business idea no-one else has come across yet.

Follow your competitors: Monitor what your direct competitors and others in the tourism business are up to. Subscribe to every industry newsletter you can, including those of your competitors, to keep up with emerging trends and help with your business idea generation.

Solicit customer feedback: Be proactive in asking your customers for feedback. Don’t just ask them what they liked and didn’t like about their experience with your company; ask them if there’s anything they would like to do that they currently can’t. 

Invest in the right booking system: It goes without saying that every tour operator should offer online booking and take a mobile-first approach. Not doing both of those things makes taking advantage of the above trends very difficult. The customer experience starts the moment they enter your website. Online booking enables them to easily browse, book, and pay for tours anytime and from anywhere.

At Rezgo, we always have our ear to the ground when it comes to the latest tourism trends and business opportunities. The Rezgo booking system is a comprehensive platform that enables you to become a more profitable business. It can also help you future-proof your business so you can develop and grow as the tourism industry changes. Book a demo today or sign up for free and start using Rezgo.


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