Holidays will be different in 2040 – here's what will have changed
Two decades is a long time in the travel industry. Twenty years ago, many of the hotels in Dubai weren’t built, Terminal Five didn’t exist and you needed a paper ticket for the London Underground.
Fast-forward the same amount of time and it’s hard to imagine what a holiday might look like. Airports are already trialling initiatives that would have seemed like science fiction in the past. This week, Abu Dhabi began testing biometric technology that will enable passengers to forgo passports and boarding passes and use their faces to breeze through security. What else can holidaymakers look forward to? Here are ten ways that travel could have changed by 2040:
Taking package holidays… to Saudi Arabia
In 20 years, currently emerging destinations could be our favourite places to holiday. Take Saudi Arabia, which plans to spend $1 trillion in a bid to lure 100 million tourists per year by 2030. It may soon be the new Dubai, but with added culture and history (the country is pushing Al-Ula, once a caravan stop-off on the incense-trading route and littered with Nabataean tombs and rock art, as a potential tourism hotspot).
Unconvinced about its potential? Some famous chains have already opened while Nobu, part-owned by Robert De Niro and with outposts in Ibiza, Malibu and Santorini, sets up in Riyadh this year with a glitzy, skyscraping facade evocative of Dubai’s big hitters.
Meanwhile, Habitas, which has a handful of hip prefab hotels across the world, has brought luxurious tents to the towering canyons of Al-Ula. Where luxury hotels go the rest tend to follow, which seems to be what Saudi Arabia is banking on: it recently revealed plans for a huge airport expansion for Riyadh by 2030.
Doing good while doing nothing
We’re always being told to carbon offset, spend more locally and shun the hotel’s straws and mini toiletries to avert climate disaster. But imagine if you could do the planet good simply by being on holiday?
It should be possible at Norway’s long-delayed Svart Hotel, slated to finally open next year. Off-grid and running on solar power, it aims to be able to cover its own energy demands and more while serving up sustainably-farmed food and filtered water.
The hope is that guests will stay without any environmental impact – meaning they could theoretically lead a more responsible life here than they do at home.
Thanks to innovations in building, this kind of hotel could be the norm by 2040 while even cheaper, chain hotels are looking at radical ways to be more energy efficient. This year, Premier Inn started building its first all-electric outpost in Swindon, fully heated and powered by grid energy generated from renewable sources and on-site photovoltaic (PV) cells.
Holidaying in the metaverse
Forget coffee table books and wildlife documentaries. The mid-century take on armchair travel might involve voyaging to a parallel metaverse.
In June 2022, Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center revealed that some scientists believe we could be enjoying “travel to exotic and fun locales (e.g. archaeological digs, mountaintops, historic scenes, beaches, museums, far-off galaxies and other-worldly places” in a digital replica of the real world and beyond by 2040, though others believe attitudes and tech capabilities will halt total immersion.
Whatever happens, many destinations will come with added augmented reality (AR). Mobile phones mean tourists can already tap into tech-fuelled interactive experiences such as museum or city tours or even a quick game of Pokémon Go. The next step is using eyewear to add layers (such as art installations or virtual gardens) to neighbourhoods and attractions.
“The big-tech players are investing in eyewear so we know it’s on the horizon. Then you’re hands free and you can interact with this augmented layer over the real world,” says Julian Anderson of AR platform builders Hot Dark Matter.
His colleague Daniel Cheetham suggests we may go even further: “If you’re looking for something that can take over your audio visual stimuli, it’s probably better to just plug it into the brain in the long term than deliver it through eyewear. However that’s gonna take a long time and whether that’s 2040 or 2060 or 2080 or never is debatable. We can see eyewear happening now.”
Blasting off into space
The first forays into space tourism have been expensive and elitist. Sir Richard Branson went up with Virgin Galactic in 2021 and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin is now accepting passengers who can reportedly afford between $1 million and $28 million for a ticket or have a famous face (William Shatner has orbited; Kim Kardashian’s ex, Pete Davidson, dropped out pre-flight due to a schedule clash). By 2040, however, a week in a space hotel could cost as (relatively) little as €10,000.
The appetite for mass-market space tourism is there. Last year, a survey of more than 2,000 Americans found that 49 per cent of them would be keen to head into orbit if the chance arose. What will they do there? Two space hotels from the USA-based Orbital Assembly Corporation are scheduled to open by the end of this decade, with artificial gravity that will enable guests to eat and shower as well as more authentically weightless areas.
It might not be the cosmic experience travellers are hoping for though. While Shatner was aboard Blue Origin, he had a visceral reaction to being so far from home which he later described in his autobiography Boldly Go. In an exclusive extract published by Variety, he recounted: “It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered. The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness.”
Taking a safari… in Britain
From the safety of your electric vehicle, you’re snapping extraordinary wildlife: wildcats, wild boar and lynx. Breathe in and you can smell the forest all around. You might have a sundowner with your fellow safari-goers before heading back to your luxury tent for the night. And the best bit? You don’t even have to leave the UK.
It may sound far-fetched but beavers have already been reintroduced to Britain centuries after they died out, wildcats roam the edges of Scottish woodland, and conservationists are clamouring for the return of more native species (Michael Gove rejected plans to bring lynx to Northumberland’s Kielder Forest back in 2018 but Rewilding Britain continues to campaign on their behalf).
With more than half of Europe’s tour operators selling wildlife-viewing holidays, the chance to spot British creatures could be a money-spinner for the UK tourism industry. Though opportunities are currently limited, you can already safari in Scotland with Rewilding Europe Travel, spotting red squirrels, deer and eagles in and around the Affric Highlands.
Savouring nature – from a city
Forget navigating traffic-clogged centres and busy shopping streets on your city break. The future of weekend getaways will involve a lot of mooching through parks – and even nature reserves.
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo is set on making the city the greenest in Europe by 2030, creating parks along the banks of the Seine, forests around the major landmarks and spending €250 million on transforming the Champs-Élysées into an “extraordinary garden”. Meanwhile Singapore (already one of the most verdant cities in the world) will be a lot greener by 2030, when it plans to have planted one million more trees.
It’s not just already fauna-filled cities that plan to up their vegetation by 2040 though: this year Dubai unveiled a plan to double its parks and recreational areas in the next 18 years, with 60 per cent of the Emirate designated as protected nature reserve. There are also plans to make the city more walkable and bikeable, as well as increasing public access to beaches by 400 per cent.
Taking off with hydrogen
EasyJet hopes to have hydrogen-fuelled aircraft ploughing the skies by 2035, while Manchester wants to be the first airport in the UK to have its own supply of the stuff at around the same time. Developments are already underway. At the end of November, Rolls Royce and EasyJet ran a ground test on an aircraft engine using the fuel.
However, due to the huge amount required to power large planes, some industry insiders believe it will never be a viable option for long-haul flights. Airlines have a plan for those too: United, American and Virgin Atlantic are among those buying planes from Boom Supersonic that are set to run on sustainable aviation fuel and could slash travel times in half (although engine partner Rolls Royce recently pulled out of a collaboration).
Avoiding passport queues
This week, Abu Dhabi launched phase one of an initiative that will mean passengers can use their faces instead of their passports at checkpoints around its international airport, eventually leading to a completely contactless check-in and boarding experience. Meanwhile, citizens, residents and frequent fliers at Singapore Changi already breeze through departure gates thanks to a mix of fingerprint and facial recognition technology. By 2040, travellers at most airports could be completing security processes simply by wandering through the airport.
Despite the speed and ease of this process, many will be hanging out longer than ever before pre-departure as architects hope to revolutionise the hitherto painful airport experience. At Poland’s CPK Airport, slated for a soft opening in 2028 and running at full capacity by 2060, Foster + Partners have envisaged an inviting, greenery-filled atrium designed for passengers to relax and socialise before boarding.
Cruising sustainably – or in the sky
By 2026, the world’s first zero-emissions cruise ship could be ploughing the waters, thanks to new company Northern Xplorer. Powered by electric propulsion and hydrogen, the 250-passenger vessel will be among the few able to cruise Norway’s Unesco-listed fjords when fossil-fuelled ships are banned in the same year. The country’s powerful statement coupled with an industry commitment to net zero carbon by 2050 should mean a move towards more sustainable ships in future.
It’s just possible, however, that traversing the seas could be old hat. It might seem like pie in the sky but prototype drawings for ‘Sky Cruise’ (conceived by scientist Hashem Al-Ghaili) reveal a nuclear-powered, 5,000-capacity cruise plane that never lands. Aboard this mega-ship with wings, passengers could find viewing decks, shopping malls, restaurants and a spa and swimming pool.
Relying on robots?
Hotels are busy working out how to streamline staff while making stays easier for guests. Among the industry’s ideas according to Hotel Technology News: ordering room service via a voice-activated automaton and getting your poolside cocktail or burger delivered by drone. Inside that brioche bun? A patty of meat made by the hotel’s 3D printer. It’s not as far-fetched as you might imagine. In 2020, KFC explored the possibility of creating 3D-printed chicken nuggets in Russia.