Why ‘anywhere’ is this year’s hottest destination | Travel
Jhe booking platform Airbnb has revamped its website in what Brian Chesky, its chief executive, called the “biggest change in a decade” – a risky move for a site that has 150 million users and hosts 5 .6 million ads. The redesign led to the creation of 56 new categories, from “Off-The-Grid” to “OMG!”; the latter including everything from yellow submarines to UFO-shaped houses.
Airbnb says the driving factor behind this was to reduce overtourism in certain places – a bit rich coming from a company that has to take some responsibility for the phenomenon; in New York, there are more Airbnb listings than apartments for rent. But there’s no doubt that market forces are also at work here: the company cut its workforce by a quarter during the pandemic and, like most of the travel industry, is desperate to turn a profit again.
The number of Airbnb wishlists containing the word “design” increased significantly in 2021
And the change will surely have been driven by data. About 50% of Airbnb users are millennials, focused on original listings, which were added to nearly 20 million Airbnb wishlists last year. The number of wishlists containing the word “design” increased by 175% last year compared to 2019, and it is now a category in its own right, comprising 20,000 houses created by architects including Le Corbusier.
“The way we travel has changed,” said Amanda Cupples, the company’s managing director for Northern Europe. “People are more flexible about where and when they can travel, and are taking longer journeys than ever before.”
Hesleyside Huts is a glamping site in Northumberland
Instagram is also a strong driver of this trend, of course, and staying at a property that sings on social media is becoming more important than the destination itself. Last week I stayed at Hesleyside Huts, a glampsite in Northumberland that I had spotted on a former colleague’s Facebook feed. When I shared it with a friend, his response was, “Let’s book, imagine the photos we’ll get.”
Does where we choose to stay really depend on the quality of viewing on our feeds? Apparently so — Anna Charlton, the owner of Hesleyside, told me that 70% of her bookings come from Instagram. “They don’t come for Northumberland; it’s the chance to stay somewhere their friends haven’t been that will look great in the pictures,” she said.
In February, luxury camping and glamping website Canopy & Stars listed the Beach House, a cabin on stilts on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent; within days it had been booked for the rest of the year. And that trend has played out across multiple properties, with bookings for the company’s collection of treehouses up by a third since before the pandemic. “The more owners are creative with building elements such as bedrooms behind bookcases and human-sized beehives, the more demand increases for out-of-the-ordinary stays,” said Emily Enright, one of its directors.
Flight bookings are following the same path: the most searched destination on Skyscanner this summer is “Anywhere”, and 45% of its users – a third of whom are aged 25 to 34 – do not have a specific location in head when they start planning a vacation. After two years of rules and red lists, “anywhere” has never sounded so appealing.
Companies that organize bespoke holidays in which the destination is only revealed to customers at the airport are also reporting an upsurge – the srprs.me The site saw a 57% increase in bookings over 2019 figures and customers are spending double on travel. “It was easy to plan, sort flights and research where to go,” said Louise Joy, who booked one of these packages and ended up in Milan. “I was happy to pay a little extra for the excitement of not knowing where I was going to end up.”
Large operators are noticing a similar move away from destination-based booking. “There will always be a hunger for great travels to be had,” said Rachel O’Reilly of Kuoni. “But there’s also huge demand for holidays where people don’t have to leave the hotel” – and around half of customers call without having a destination in mind.
Vacation savings from the pandemic are being funneled into hotel upgrades, and the higher the price, the more likely guests will want to get their money’s worth where they’re staying. “Not everyone wants to spend hours rushing between locations and checking off a long list of sights – lots of people are happy to spend some quality time together in beautiful surroundings,” O’Reilly said. “That’s why customers call us after seeing a great photo of a beachfront hotel or treehouse lit by fairy lights on social media or in a brochure and say, ‘I record of where it is, I want to stay there.”