Travel trends: We have lift off!

September 2017

It all started on July 5, 1841: A total of 570 English workers traveled by train from Leicester to Loughborough – a journey of about ten miles – for the price of a shilling each. The fee didn’t just include transport, but also included catering for the day-trippers. Thomas Cook, a pioneer of package vacations, was the supplier and organizer behind this event. His idea of offering travel and food at a fixed price caught on throughout England and other countries in the years that followed and – true to his motto “Railways for the millions” – brought people to places both near and far. Package vacations have remained a well-established model up to the present day. Around one in every two German vacationers has booked this type of offer over the past few years. However, Germans are also increasingly dreaming of other types of vacations, with their responses above all representing an acknowledgement of the popularity of all-inclusive and wellness vacations

If Thomas Cook had integrated accommodation at the vacation destination as well as various sports and leisure activities into his package fee along with travel and food, his concept would be the height of travel fashion even today! This is because the complete package offered by all-inclusive vacations is particularly popular among the majority of Germans: 58% are of the opinion that they are very on trend, while 28% see them as fairly trendy. In contrast, only 7% believe all-inclusive vacations to be slightly outdated, while just 1% of Germans believe that they are completely out of fashion. The remaining 6% offered no opinion on the matter. This is according to the GfK Verein’s current data from a survey in July 2017. Around 2,000 people (aged 14+, representative of the German population) were asked, among other things, which vacation models they think are popular in Germany at the moment, which ones they find appealing personally and what types of vacation they actually opted for over the past five years.

Wellness vacations take second place in the rankings, with a majority (53%) of respondents considering them to be very on trend and 33% seeing them as fairly trendy. Only 6% of respondents opined that this type of vacation has already enjoyed its heyday. Just 1% thought that it was totally outdated.

Travelling beyond the horizon: Sea cruises are trendy

Being at sea for days on end, relaxing and enjoying the occasional change of scenery on shore to experience something new: Vacationers who chose a sea cruise have all of this to look forward to. In the eyes of Germans, this concept certainly has some appeal: One in every two Germans believe that it is very fashionable, while over a quarter see it as at least generally trendy, putting sea cruises in third place in terms of travel trends. Only 12% of Germans offer a contrasting opinion here. Package tours follow in fourth place (“completely trendy” for 44%; “quite trendy” for 39%) and are only unfashionable according to very few people (11%). In total, 36% of respondents are of the view that city breaks have great trend potential, while 42% believe that there is some degree of trend potential in this area. Overall, 16% of respondents rate these trips as somewhat or completely outdated. In contrast to sea cruises, river cruises are considered to be “completely trendy” by fewer people (24%). Moreover, 21% see this way of vacationing as somewhat dated and 5% believe that it is completely out of fashion.

Green travel and educational trips: Still not seen as particularly trendy

In our hectic day-to-day lives, we often miss out on the things that are best for us, such as fitness programs. So it is handy that we can make up for the things we often neglect at least a little bit on vacation. Whether it is golf, climbing, white water rafting, a sailing course or simply a walking tour, sports vacations and walking trips are both important travel trends for one in five Germans, with 40% and 37% of respondents respectively identifying at least some trend potential in these vacation types. However, sports vacations are partly or completely outdated for around one in four respondents, while as many as one in three Germans consider walking vacations to be old fashioned. At 35%, respondents have a similar opinion of vacations at national and international club hotels. However, at 50% in total, more people considered this vacation type to be very or fairly modern. Study trips and “green trips” came in at the bottom of the rankings. In total, 15% are of the opinion that educational vacations are very “in”, while 31% believe that they are at least generally trendy. Germans clearly see them more as a niche area: 29% think that they are not really part of the zeitgeist, while 6% would even go as far as saying that they are a thing of the past. In contrast, many respondents had not even heard of green travel or had not considered it: Around a third had no opinion about it. Then again, 12% think that sustainable and eco-friendly breaks from day-to-day life are very trendy and 33% are of the opinion that this type of vacation is fairly trendy. In contrast, 16% see it as slightly out of fashion and 5% say that it is completely unfashionable.

The age and gender of a respondent affects which vacation type they see as fashionable. As such, wellness vacations were above all perceived as trendy by women aged between 35 and 49 years old. This age group is also above average in terms of how often it views all-inclusive vacations as fashionable (63%), albeit with no gender divide this time. In turn, river cruises are particularly trendy among women and older consumers: Over one in every four female respondents and as many as one in three people aged 65 and over regard river cruises as popular. The age group of 50 to 64 year olds in particular believes that walking vacations are still completely fashionable (24%). The youngest age group (14-24 year olds) views two unrelated travel types as trendy much more than the average: In terms of major potential travel trends, 25% of this age group mention traditional club vacations and 20% cite study trips

You may also have seen this kind of sight: You’re on your way somewhere, for instance having taken the subway or walking through a pedestrian zone, and suddenly you see noisy young men with thick-rimmed dark glasses. Or women with smoothies they themselves have made in a Thermomix. Or kids hunting for Pokémon. In every aspect of our lives, trends pop up that first excite individuals, then whole hoards of people. However, not everyone jumps on every fashion bandwagon and not everyone can take part in all forms of leisure activities even if they are fashionable. This applies to travel too: There are, in parts, some large gaps between what people see as trendy and what actually excites them personally. This difference is particularly evident in terms of the top three travel types: Sea cruises are seen as completely trendy by one in two respondents, yet only one in four who travel occasionally believe that sailing the high seas on board a luxury cruise liner is a particularly appealing type of vacation. Spending a few days in a wellness hotel is a type of vacation that one in three respondents would be very interested in, but many more respondents – in actual fact 53% – believe that this particular form of total relaxation and recovery is on trend. For all-inclusive vacations (the leading vacation type), the ratings for trend status and personal preferences are certainly much less divergent, but are by no means on a par. In total, 58% see all-inclusive vacations as very trendy, whereas only 48% find this type of vacation personally appealing.

Completely on trend – for me too?

The difference is just as large for package tours: In fact, 44% of respondents thought that they were definitely trendy, but only a third felt that they themselves would find this concept particularly appealing. The gaps become increasingly negligible for the other travel trends: There is a difference of 8 percentage points for sports vacations, while it is 6 percentage points for river cruises, walking vacations and club vacations. However, one thing still applies: People think individual vacation types are more popular in general than they are in terms of personal appeal. This is also true of the travel types loitering in the lower reaches of the rankings: Green travel (difference of 5 percentage points) and study trips (4 percentage points).

While she has her heart set on relaxing in a sauna with an infusion made from alpine flowers, he would prefer to pick up a snack at the all-inclusive hotel before hitting the beach with a beach-volleyball group: It can be tricky for couples to choose the right vacation. Perhaps there is some
consolation in the thought that planning vacations together may get easier with age. After all, it would appear that men and women’s preferences for individual types of vacation increasingly even out over time: as the years pass by, female respondents become less enthusiastic and male respondents become more so. At least, when it comes to wellness trips and sea cruises: For instance, 43% of 14-24 year-old women find the idea of saunas, massages, etc., very appealing. However, from a statistical point of view, they’re on their own, as only 15% of young men can be enthusiastic about so much relaxation and care. The differences are initially very large for older age groups too. However, from 65 years old, wellness trips appear on men’s wishlists almost as often as they do on women’s: 37% of women and 32% of men say that they find this type of vacation very appealing.

Men and women: Travel wishes align more with age

Young women between the ages of 14 and 24 years old also dream of sea cruises much more often than men: 30% are very keen on this type of vacation, whereas corresponding figure for men is just 9%. However, both male and female pensioners enjoy cruise ships. One in every four women over the age of 65 still find the idea of a cruise vacation appealing. The men in this age group are actually slightly above this, at 29%. In contrast, both men and women across virtually all age groups are keen on all-inclusive vacations. Even for the youngest group, the value for women is only 5 percentage points above that of the men. By the age of 35, both genders already start to even out slightly. In total, all-inclusive vacations rank in first place in terms of appeal for both men and women as well as across all age groups. However, their appeal does decrease considerably with age.

You can dream about your vacations almost anywhere, at any time. But how close are vacation fantasies to reality? In actual fact, the potential has still not been exhausted for many types of travel, as shown by comparing their level of appeal with respondents’ actual vacation activities. As such, 25% and 18% of respondents respectively find sea cruises and river cruises very attractive, but only 7% and 6% respectively have actually been on one in the past few years. Not all consumer wishes are fulfilled for wellness vacations either. Although one in three respondents were enthusiastic about this concept, in actual fact only one in four had done anything about it. Other offers were booked more often in the past than they were dreamed about: Over the last five years, one in two respondents had gone on a city break at least once, but only a third found them to be an attractive prospect. The situation is similar with package vacations (difference of 14 percentage points). Why does this happen? Perhaps it is because these trips do not always enthuse vacationers. Presumably the price and, in a related way, the image we have of these types of trips plays a part in our assessments. Finally, there are numerous offers both for city breaks and package vacations and often bargains which – when booked spontaneously – shorten the time left until the actual “main vacation”, but which are still not perceived as being particularly exclusive. Walking vacations still do not generate full enthusiasm. In total, 23% of respondents booked this kind of vacation over the past few years, but only 14% were enthusiastic about this sort of R&R as a vacation. The story is different for all-inclusive vacations: In total, 46% have booked an all-round carefree package vacation at least once over the past 5 years. Around the same number (48%) have a high opinion of this type of vacation. For the other forms of travel, the gap between desire and reality is minimal. 

Already thinking about the next vacation today

Sadly, summer has already been and gone for many of us – and with it so has the vacation period! Suitcases have been unpacked and souvenirs distributed among loved ones back home. Anyone wanting to hold onto that summer vacation feeling a bit longer despite the return to daily routines can find numerous tips online: By going back to work in the middle of the week, the weekend is much closer and this alone is known to raise a person’s mood. Alternatively, sniffing some suncream every now and again in the office or cooking a typical meal from that country brings back that vacation feeling time and time again. And if none of that works, there’s only one thing left for it: come up with some travel plans for your next days off and start thinking about where to explore next!

Data source: GfK Verein & GfK Travel & Logistics, study ‘travel’, July 2017

If you have any queries concerning this article, please contact Dörte Nordbeck, GfK SE. Responsible for the article and contact person for queries about Compact: Claudia Gaspar. (e-mail to