Forget “dry January” — sober travel is becoming more than a New Year’s trend; it’s a movement, and hotels and airlines are finally taking notice. According to a 2023 survey by Hotels.com (shared via PRNewswire.com), “More than 40% of travelers say they are likely to book a detox trip in the next year, and half of travelers say they would be interested in staying at hotels that offer easily accessible alcohol-free options.”
While I don’t foresee booze-fueled travels ever becoming obsolete, it’s important to note that jet-setters, particularly millennials and Gen Z, crave mentally and physically stimulating experiences and are seeking out destinations that cater to alcohol-free activities.
With the rise of sober-curious, alcohol-free individuals, airlines and hotels have caught on to the evergrowing market and are jumping at the chance to capitalize on this lifestyle change.
So, what is sober tourism, and how is it affecting brands when it comes to travel?
What is sober tourism?
Whether they’re fully sober, just opting for a healthier lifestyle or trying out a “dry” challenge, individuals continue to seek alternative booze options when it comes to their vacation plans. From mocktails, aka nonalcoholic cocktails, to full-blown travel experiences designed with sober travelers in mind, hospitality brands are engaging their customers with modified menus and much more.
“I think that people are more focused on health and wellness than ever before,” Hilary Sheinbaum, author of “The Dry Challenge,” tells TPG. “Gen Z drinks far less than the generations before them … so every industry is learning to cater to people who aren’t drinking as much or drinking at all.”
Specifically for travel, Sheinbaum notes that people on vacations or work trips oftentimes still want to stick to their fitness routines and opt for healthier food and beverage alternatives.
While they may reach for a nonalcoholic beverage, customers still want an elevated experience. “You want to offer your consumers the same amazing experience so they want to come back to your hotel, fly on your planes, and you know, engage in your experiences,” says Sheinbaum.
In December 2023, Alaska Airlines began offering craft nonalcoholic beer in partnership with Best Day Brewing. The craft beverage is complimentary for first- and premium-class passengers and is available for purchase for main cabin-ticketed passengers.
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“We’re hearing more frequently from our guests that they are looking for premium nonalcoholic beverages. Nonalcoholic beer is a growing category and an option we’ve offered in our lounges for a while now,” a spokesperson for Alaska Airlines tells TPG. “We decided to launch nonalcoholic beer on board in time for January as many people kick off the new year with a renewed focus on health and wellness, which often includes eliminating or reducing alcohol consumption.”
According to the airline, the “early response to the addition of Best Day Brewing has been great, with a lot of positive commentary on social media.”
Alaska Mileage Plan member Brittney Childs shared her thoughts (via Alaska Airlines press release) on the new craft beer available on flights.
“I’m excited to travel with an airline that’s inclusive and offers a drink to their passengers who live a sober life or like the taste of beer, but not the effects of alcohol,” said Childs. “Breweries have come such a long way in making non-alcoholic beers taste good and Best Day Brewery has definitely achieved that. I like that I can enjoy a non-alcoholic beer on the ground and now, in the air when I fly Alaska Airlines.”
Aside from inflight nonalcoholic beverages now available on Alaska Airlines, the spokesperson tells TPG that “for the month of January, all Alaska Airlines lounges will offer a featured mocktail unique to their city.”
“Year-round, lounge guests can always opt to turn one of our cocktails into a mocktail as well,” the spokesperson adds.
With increased consumer demand for craft nonalcoholic drinks and the positive responses from Mileage Plan members, the airline notes that it plans “to add more premium nonalcoholic beverages in the near future.”
Alaska is not the only airline offering alcohol-free options. If you find yourself on board a JetBlue flight, sample the nonalcoholic beer, Athletic Upside Dawn Golden Ale. Scored a coveted first- or business-class ticket on Emirates? You can choose from various delicious craft mocktails during your inflight service.
Additionally, some airlines are “dry,” meaning they don’t serve or permit alcohol on board. For example, because alcohol is illegal in Saudi Arabia, its airline, Saudia, does not allow customers to carry or drink alcohol on its flights.
Other airlines, such as Egyptair and Kuwait Airways, do not serve their passengers alcohol, but if you BYOB onto the plane, you are allowed to consume it.
What are the best places to travel sober?
Planning your next big vacation and want to pass on the booze? If you’re an active person, Sheinbaum recommends traveling to states that offer an active outdoor culture, such as Hawaii, Colorado or Florida. Travelers can engage in water and/or snow activities that offer an array of wellness experiences. Aside from engaging in physical excursions during your trip, choosing a hotel that offers nonalcoholic craft cocktails may also elevate a sober traveler’s culinary experience.
“Consumers are looking for [options], and they want to feel comfortable on vacation or during work travels,” notes Sheinbaum.
At the Fairmont Kea Lani in Maui, guests can indulge in mocktails such as the Hibiscus Fizz, which features Seedlip Garden 108 (a nonalcoholic spirit), hibiscus tea syrup, strawberry, lime and Fever-Tree grapefruit soda.
But, if you’re looking to skip nature altogether, head to New York City. While the Big Apple may have a ton of bars, New York City offers some eclectic nonalcoholic spots and beverage menus.
One notable bar is the Highball, located inside the Tempo by Hilton New York Times Square. The bar stands out for its inclusive cocktail menu, featuring five “free-spirited” mocktails. Whether sober-curious or skipping the booze, these craft cocktails offer an elevated experience outside the usual sodas. One drink, called Black is the New Pink, features Lyre’s Agave Blanco (a nonalcoholic spirit), Lyre’s Highland Malt, black ancho agave and Fever-Tree sparkling grapefruit.
If you want to find more places offering alcohol-free options, download the Better Without app. This app is easy to use and lets you discover places that sell nonalcoholic beverages — outside of a simple soft drink.
Plus, no matter where you travel in the world, you can likely find an Alcoholics Anonymous (also known as AA) meeting. Be sure to check out aa.org and search for your destination. From there, AA will provide resources you can contact to find a list of meetings in that location or the surrounding area.
Will brands continue to become more inclusive for sober travelers?
While the trajectory of how inclusive brands will become for sober travelers is unknown, it feels like we’re on the right path. Looking at the expansion of restaurant hotel menus and airlines, these businesses now cater to vegan and gluten-free guests; therefore, it’s unsurprising that brands have finally taken notice to include sober travelers.
If the customer demands it, a brand will surely listen, right?
Well, not every brand is jumping on board … yet. There are still issues sober travelers face regarding their options. For example, most cruise lines require adults booked in the same cabin to purchase the same cruise drink package. Therefore, if you don’t drink, but your partner does and buys the premium drink package, you will most likely have to purchase that package.
On a Dec 5, 2023, TPG Instagram post, one user commented that he was sober and had leftover Delta Air Lines drink vouchers about to expire. To note, if you earn Delta Gold, Platinum or Diamond Medallion status, you’ll receive four drink voucher coupons, which are good for one alcoholic beverage. Unfortunately, Delta does not allow you to redeem or trade the drink voucher for another nonalcoholic perk.
Overall, sober tourism has ignited the spark, and hospitality brands have certainly noticed. Therefore, it’s safe to assume it’s only a matter of time before more inclusive options become available to the everyday travel consumer.