LONDON (Reuters) - When Robert Reid last visited London from the United States for a short trip he stayed in an apartment he found on a “couch-surfing” site in the off-the-beaten north London suburb of Muswell Hill.
“I wanted to be at the place where The Kinks were from,” says Reid. “The people were super and it gave me a great outlook on London and I appreciate the city more than I did before.”
Couch-surfing is a hospitality revolution, thinks Reid, who is the U.S. Travel Editor for the Lonely Planet, one of the leading guides for consumers in a multi-billion dollar travel industry courted by almost every country on the globe.
People visiting cities in particular are choosing to stay in residential apartments and live like locals, spending time in secondary neighborhoods, browsing in farmers’ markets and the like, he said.
Reid can’t see why anyone would choose to stay in a hotel these days. Couch surfing sites he uses, like Airbnb, are flourishing as vacationers look at budget-friendly ways to satisfy their desire to travel.
“In New York, hotels cost 300 dollars,” says Reid. “You can get very nice apartments in Brooklyn and some parts of Manhattan for just over 100 dollars a night. You’ll have more space, a kitchen and you’ll feel connected to a real neighborhood; perhaps cook a couple of meals to save money.”
For those holidaymakers still happy to give hotels their money, a new trend is emerging which appears to marry the “luxury” and “family friendly” labels.
Claire Kent, a luxury industry consultant, predicts in travel operator Kuoni’s latest trend report that high-end hotels and resorts, “which might previously have raised an eyebrow at children, are now building family-sized villas to accommodate high-pressured, high-earners who want to bond with their children and relatives.”
Others just want to shop.
Euromonitor International’s latest “Global Trends Report” picks up on the preponderance of travellers from Brazil, Russia, India and China - the so-called BRIC countries - who are flocking to European and Gulf cities to splurge on luxury goods.
Chinese visitors to Europe alone reserve a third of their holiday budget for shopping, the European Travel Commission estimates, while hotels in the Middle East are locating within or beside shopping malls to take advantage of the trend.
Euromonitor also highlighted the fact that U.S. travellers are showing a particular interest in visiting countries previously off limits to them, such as North Korea, Libya, Cuba and Myanmar.
The bulk of Western vacationers though, according to travel agents, are seeking more of the same. U.S. based Travel Leaders Group’s 2013 trends survey points to this being a “banner year for European travel.”
“While Caribbean cruises are still the number one international ‘destination’ for our travellers, our booking data shows a marked increase in American travellers headed across the Atlantic (to Europe) in the coming year,” Travel Leaders Group CEO Barry Liben said.
Croatia remains the top “up and coming” international destination within Europe for the U.S. market, according to Travel Leaders, while New Zealand is the “hot new” destination in the Pacific. Vietnam tops Asian haunts and Ecuador tops the bill within Central and South America.
UK travel operator Kuoni reports that plenty of Britons retain a post-colonial appetite for adventure.
“Crashing on a sun bed for two weeks is fine for some,” the company wrote in a recent report, “but want to brew coffee at ancient fazendas, track chimpanzees in the wilds of Tanzania, salsa in Havana... watch brown grizzly bears in the wilds of Canada, or soak up knowledge from an eco conservationist in Costa Rica.”
The company points to Sri Lanka, currently their third most visited destination after stock favorites the Maldives and Thailand as being a destination to watch, in particular its new resorts, Trincomalee in the north east and Passikudah in the east.
Kuoni’s fifth most popular holiday spot, the UAE, which it touts as “a touch of exotic Arabia mid-haul with the bonus of little jetlag” is still driven by Dubai, but Abu Dhabi is on the up. The five-star resort Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel & Villas on Saadiyat Island is touted as a must-stay while there.
Reporting by Paul Casciato