Skift Take

Cities have always been incubators for innovation, but with two-thirds of the world’s population expected to live in urban areas by 2050, developments being rolled out today to accommodate that new density will serve the travel industry in positive ways.

Series: Megatrends 2020

Skift Megatrends 2020

We recently released our annual travel industry trends forecast, Skift Megatrends 2020. Download a copy of our magazine here and read on for highlights online.

This Megatrend is brought to you in partnership with Accor.

As travelers both seek experiences that reflect the unique characteristics of the places they visit and desire the comforts of home while abroad, cities making the strongest and smartest investments in new models and concepts of urban living have become more attractive destinations.

As city life changes, so too does the experience of visitors who contribute to the local economy and, increasingly, look for modern conveniences during a trip. Travelers want an experience curated for their particular needs and not the one-size-fits-all attitude of the big-box hotel or generic shopping district.

With the professionalization of short-term rentals and the popularization of co-working spaces, the desirability of an urban travel destination is often tied directly to quality of life and convenience for visitors. The United Nations projects that 68 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050.

Destinations are making investments and design choices today that will determine their competitiveness for both vacationers and business travelers deep into the future, whether it’s using robotics for interiors to optimize tight-living spaces — think hidden closets and moving beds — or creating more efficient and green common areas.

Some critics of this urbanization movement say it creates a flattening effect, removing a place’s unique edges and putting a boring, inauthentic familiarity in its place. It raises property values, pushing out longtime residents and replacing well-established neighborhood businesses with international travelers and the wealthy. Others contend that urban development is ultimately a good thing for local businesses and the people who work for them.


Many of these innovations, however, become tourist magnets in their own right, showing visitors not just a stunning building or gorgeous park but a new way to live. With an increasing number of global inhabitants flocking to cities, change is needed for cities to adapt to larger populations and the various needs of their business communities.

As travel sector infrastructure continues to develop in cities around the world, it will need to do so in tandem with other elements of urban development. Travelers use public transportation, frequent restaurants, and buy staples from neighborhood markets.

The idea that both locals and visitors want a sanitized version of city life is false, of course, but the impact of global corporations and chain businesses has proven to be destructive when not approached with care from government officials. Smarter airports serve both locals and visitors as well, providing a boost to local economies.

Get Your Skift Travel Megatrends 2020 Download Here

Dynamic cities are always in flux, yet smart technology and creative design can help a city punch above its weight as an attractive destination for visitors — and those innovations will be adapted by travel companies elsewhere beyond cities.


As sustainability becomes a major differentiator for travelers, the impact of smart urban design can’t be overstated. Most travelers today want the destination that they visit to reflect their personal values, according to Skift Research, and this is likely to intensify over time.

The innovations in cities like Tokyo and Rotterdam have now spread to secondary cities and others.

New developments routinely bring members of the global creative class and knowledge economy to districts and cities, creating the opportunity for visitors to meet and build relationships with those involved in their professional fields in a more organic way. This compelling social culture is crucial to the future of destinations not just for tourists, but the global business community.

New boutique hospitality brands are entering markets with properties that fit not only local aesthetics but attitudes. Big chains are looking to provide hotel guests with local services as a trusted intermediary using digital platforms while also serving up hospitality services to locals.

These changes, however, have not come without backlash. Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs project has drawn criticism for its plans to revitalize Toronto’s waterfront district; its proposed data collection to develop services (like apps) has been eliminated by the city.

Yet it’s easy to see how cutting-edge architecture and design proposed by the project would reward travelers in the future. Energy-efficient homes, smart sewage systems, and automated traffic patterns would reduce costs for residents.

More cities are experimenting with closing popular thoroughfares to vehicle traffic, reducing congestion while bringing street life back to neighborhoods that have become more stagnant to accommodate drivers and parking. While drawing ire from those with cars, these changes benefit street life by making way for other forms of transit and creating more foot traffic for businesses.


As mixed-use developments become more popular, so too they increase the ability of destinations to provide a compelling experience for travelers while serving the needs of residents. Developments in experiential retail when combined with mobile-first services and direct-to-consumer brands bring convenience for local shoppers and peace of mind for visitors.

New residential models, as well, combine traditional apartment living with the sharing economy by streamlining the process by which renters and owners alike can list their home on Airbnb or another platform. By designing properties with common spaces and shared utilities, these new concepts create the space to better regulate homesharing while enabling travelers to have a more comfortable stay depending on their personal needs.

Taken as a whole, these various innovations represent the strategy for urban destinations to become more compelling to vacationers and business travelers alike. It’s not necessary to build a smart city, but a more creative one whose smart choices can be replicated across the globe.

Read more from Megatrends 2020: Augmented Hospitality is Changing the Way We Experience Cities by Accor and SkiftX.  

Download Your Copy of Skift Travel Megatrends 2020


The Daily Newsletter

Our daily coverage of the global travel industry. Written by editors and analysts from across Skift’s brands.

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: destinations, megatrends 2020

Photo credit: An illustration of urban living innovations. Skift

Up Next

Loading next stories