Expedia.com analyzed thousands of data points this year to identify the top trends in travel for 2018, and the results show that American travelers are increasingly interested in unique and novel experiences. Highlights from the report include the rise of secondary destinations like Chiang Mai, the Azores and Cartagena, and non-traditional lodging options such as tentalows and houseboats. In the activities and attractions space, observation decks and architectural landmarks saw the biggest growth, with cooking classes and other culinary experiences close behind.
"In this day and age, it's possible to have the exact type of experience and trip you want, whether it's visiting a breathtaking island off Portugal, or staying on a family farm where you can gather your own fresh eggs in the morning," says John Morrey, SVP Brand Expedia. "Being able to meet the needs of every kind of traveler is our driving force at Expedia, and why we strive to make it easy and affordable to find the perfect accommodation for any trip and bundle it with flights or car for even more savings."
Read on for more highlights from Expedia's 2018 Year in Review, including trends across destinations, air travel, lodging and activities.
2018: The Year of the Secondary City
Expedia crunched flight data from 20181 to determine the destinations seeing the most year-over-year growth, and it was clear that U.S. travelers are venturing beyond the primary tourist stops to seek out the culturally-rich offerings of secondary cities. Here are some of the most noteworthy trending destinations for 2018, all of which saw double- or triple-digit growth from last year:
- Portugal: Azores It's no secret that Portugal had a major moment in 2018, seeing big boosts in tourism throughout the year. But it wasn't just Lisbon and Porto attracting crowds the Azores also wooed tourists with its dramatic landscapes and world-class diving and hiking.
- Thailand: Chiang MaiChiang Mai, Bangkok's more laid-back and spiritual sibling, is home to hundreds of Buddhist temples, incredible street food and historic festivals. Visit in November to launch a fire lantern during Loi Krathong, or in April to see the city come alive for Songkran.
- United Kingdom: Inverness and BelfastLondon remains one of the top global destinations in the world, but flight data proves travelers are venturing farther into the UK to Northern Ireland and Scotland.
- Malta: VallettaFor those craving a beautiful Mediterranean getaway without the high prices of the French Riviera or crowds of the Italian coast, Malta could be just the ticket. Its capital city of Valletta, an UNESCO World Heritage site, is surrounded by water and features carefully restored and preserved monuments dating back to the late Renaissance.
- Alaska: Kenai and KodiakThe Emerald Isle of Kodiak, with its immense National Wildlife Refuge, and Kenai's legendary salmon fishing are proof that there's more to Alaska than just Anchorage and Juneau. For visitors looking to experience the best of Alaska, many of the highly-rated cruises will stop at three or four port towns.
- Australia: Brisbane and PerthU.S. travelers embarking on the 14+ hour journey to Australia are clearly seeing more than just Sydney's iconic Opera House. Queensland's capital, Brisbane, and Western Australia's Perth both appear on the trending destination list this year.
- Ecuador: CuencaEcuador's capital, Quito, and the Galapagos Islands are both popular tourist destinations, but this year Cuenca saw increased demand. Perhaps word is getting out that its historic city center, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and array of street markets are just as worthy of a visit.
- Croatia: ZagrebZagreb may be Croatia's capital but from a western tourism perspective it's been playing second fiddle to coastal Dubrovnik for a few years now. But U.S. travelers are starting to take notice of Zagreb's urban appeal, lighter crowds and affordable prices.
- Colombia: CartagenaQuite different in terms of climate and personality than the capital city of Bogotá, Cartagena is rich in colonial charm.
- Spain: SevilleFor those looking to experience real Spanish culture, Seville will not disappoint. Less touristy than popular Barcelona, locals would tell you Seville is where to find authentic flamenco and tapas.
Alternative accommodations are on the rise
While traditional resorts and hotels continue to be a favorite for U.S. travelers, Expedia.com data shows a growing interest in alternative lodging options. Here are some of the fastest-growing accommodation types for 20182:
- Tentalows (cross between a tent and a bungalow) up 135 percent year-over-year
- Chalets up 85 percent year-over-year
- Villas up more than 45 percent year-over-year
- Agritourism properties up more than 40 percent year-over-year
- Houseboats up more than 35 percent year-over-year
Top trending activities include observation decks and culinary experiences
Activities and experiences are increasingly popular as travelers look to personalize and customize their vacations. These are the fastest-growing activity categories in 2018 for the U.S.:
- Fastest-growing category: Attractions. Observation decks and architectural landmarks are leading the pack, with the Eiffel Tower, Rome's Colosseum, the 360 Chicago Observation Deck and the High Roller Observation Wheel in Las Vegas among the top trending attractions.
- Runner-up: Tours & Sightseeing. Walking and hop-on-hop-off bus tours remain popular among travelers visiting big cities.
- Third place: Shopping & Culinary Experiences round out the top categories, as travelers look to get the most out of their destinations and sample local flavors.
It's never been easier to browse and book activities on the fly with Expedia's mobile app, which lets travelers sort and filter things to do by proximity, popularity and activity type.
Busiest & least busy days to fly
Flight data confirms that traveling ahead of the holidays is bound to be hectic. However, the least busy travel days of the year also fall around the holidays: the day after Christmas, Christmas Day and New Year's Day drew the fewest airport crowds. These are the busiest air travel days of the year3:
- Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day
- Friday before Christmas Day
- Friday before Labor Day
Based on air travel demand on Expedia.com from January 1, 2018 November 1, 2018 compared to the same timeframe in 2017
2Based on demand on Expedia.com from January 1, 2018 September 30, 2018 compared to the same timeframe in 2017
3Based on air travel demand on Expedia.com from October 31, 2017 November 1, 2018