By: Saffron Strategists Mao Kawakami and Carmen Rodriguez Lo

After lockdowns and closed borders forced unprecedented insularity in 2021, 2022 saw the world bounce back to travel. With returned high demand for global tourism, we at Saffron Brand Consultants ask: What’s to come for the world of travel?

To evaluate the success of the most popular travel destinations around the world, every year we publish the City Brand Barometer (CBB), a living and evolving tool to assess the appeal of cities globally. CBB22 spans across 104 cities worldwide, analysing the assets and buzz that shape the global tourism landscape. As we uncover the most popular destinations worldwide for 2022, we foresee these top five trends shaping the future of tourism.

1 – Virtual Traveling via the Metaverse

2022 sparked widespread appeal of the Metaverse. At a fraction of the price and in the comfort of our homes, it’s no surprise that virtual travel has become an increasingly attractive alternative for many vacation goers. We predict that this widespread availability to preview holidays through virtual reality will highly impact consumers’ travel decisions in the near future. Cities like Seoul have begun creating their own Metaverse ecosystems to introduce and promote their most popular attractions digitally for travellers to feel prepared and at ease. As place branding pioneers, we believe it’s crucial for destinations to begin establishing their position in the Metaverse to attract travellers beyond a pair of VR goggles.

2 – The Buzz of Travel Inspiration

It’s time for more traditional means of travel inspiration to step aside. Having strong social media buzz has become more significant than ever in influencing travellers’ vacation activities and choices. A simple hashtag on TikTok like #visitdubai can reach search volumes of 1 million every week. The value of user generated content is stronger than ever and every place brand should consider how their brand message translates digitally. This was apparent in CBB22 Ones to Watch city Miami which moved up in rank due to its high search volume and positive social scores, proving the importance of having strong buzz.

3 – Experience Driven Place Brands

As in-person experiences bounced back post-pandemic, many cities leveraged sports, gaming, and the arts to attract travellers from all walks of life. CBB22’s newly debuted Saudi Arabian cities have begun gaining traction by building their place brands with this experience lead positioning. While Riyadh is gaining attention for their eSports initiatives, Jeddah is building a strong reputation with motorsports, although both cities are still struggling to define and embrace this title. Moving forward, we believe many successful city brands will leverage experience as their unique selling point.

4 – The World’s Next Travel Destinations: Middle East

This year’s CBB report showed us that the Middle East is on the rise. Gulf cities are heavily investing in building infrastructure and reinventing their narratives to compete with popular European and Asian destinations. While many only think of Dubai when travelling within the Middle East, our report showed Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, and Jeddah gaining popularity in rank.

Qatar united the world through football in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the UAE continued its success as a stopover transit hub, and Saudi Arabia’s impressive Vision 2030 plans invited the world to see its nation’s bright transformation. If these Gulf cities continue to build on  their assets, we believe their central geographical locations will allow them to have the potential to be next most popular travel destinations in the global tourism landscape.

5 – Travel for all

Today, only 1% of travel marketing is representative of disabled travellers. With this number in mind, we must salute CBB22 Number 1 city Tokyo for working towards building one of the most accessible cities in the world. 96% of its train stations that serve over 3,000 passengers daily are accessible to people with physical disabilities. Tokyo’s place brand stands out as being multilayered and transversal – an inclusive city with something for everyone.

Tokyo has held its title as a foodie capital for over a decade with the most Michelin starred restaurants worldwide, not to mention the city’s breadth of culture. One could visit Akihabara, a hub for all things electronics, manga, and anime, then head to Asakusa for Tokyo’s oldest temple just a few stations away. We believe that Tokyo’s powerful assets, accessible design, and clear brand story as the city for everyone will continue to prove itself for travellers of all backgrounds, generations and nationalities.

As we enter into the new year, virtual travel, social buzz, and experience will continue to become more important by the day. Cities and countries must build, manage, and activate their place brands with the same rigour as the most recognisable brands of today, matched with a cohesive online presence. At Saffron, we are excited to see how place brands will shape the future of the global travel landscape. Will the Middle East take centre stage? Can Japan stay on top? What will be the top 2023 tourism destinations? We’re excited to see where travellers are heading to next.


 Seoul Metaverse

 Vision 2030

 Valuable 500 Global Trends Report