Across the globe, more people traveled in 2016 than in previous years. // © 2016 iStock
If you’re like me, nothing makes you more nervous than good news. As soon as someone says, “You have nothing to worry about,” I start sweating and looking over my shoulder.
If that sounds like you, too, then you might want to prepare yourself for what I’m about to say: The outlook for the travel industry heading into 2017 is exceptionally positive.
It’s not like 2016 was perfect: Among other things, this year we saw horrific acts of terrorism, a tragic outbreak of the Zika virus and a bruising U.S. election that seemed to call into question our very relationship with the rest of the world. Despite all those factors, however, the world kept traveling. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, destinations around the globe welcomed 956 million international tourists between January and September 2016. That’s 34 million more than in the same period of 2015 — a 4 percent increase.
Among travel agents, there is optimism about the future of the industry, as well. MMGY Global’s “2016 Portrait of American Travelers” found that 19 percent of travelers used an agent in the past year (a significant increase), and 25 percent say they plan to use one in the next two years. A survey of Virtuoso advisors reported that 82 percent expect their business will grow in 2017, and the Travel Weekly “Consumer Travel Survey” noted that satisfaction with booking with travel agents has improved from 49 percent either somewhat or extremely satisfied in 2012 to 66 percent in 2016.
One exciting recent development has been the revelation that millennial travelers are now a top market for agents. According to MMGY Global’s survey, 34 percent of millennial travelers have used an agent in the past year, and 39 percent expect to use one in the next two years. Considering how important travel is to this generation, these numbers bode well for agents for many years to come.
Below, you’ll find editor predictions for 2017. Here are a few of my own for the coming year.
I expect natural places to outshine urban destinations in 2017. After a record-breaking year for our national parks — and as concern and appreciation for our environment grows — I think travelers will be drawn to natural wonders around the world.
Perhaps along those lines, expect a flurry of traveler activity related to this year’s total solar eclipse, which will be visible in about half the country next August.
Finally, while the Zika virus had a major impact on travel in 2016, there are very optimistic reports about the development of a vaccine. Human trials are underway, and if they are successful, I would expect to see a significant visitor rebound to hard-hit areas.
Regardless of where or why people travel in 2017, there’s little doubt they will go. Travel is now considered both a birthright and the ultimate luxury, and travel agents make these dream trips a reality.
By: Valerie Chen, Senior Editor for TravelAge West
These three destinations are especially buzzing — if they haven’t already yet, expect them to flood your Instagram feed very soon.
Portugal is coming in piping hot. I visited Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city, while on a cruise this summer, and a road trip down the Algarve coast, along with a stop in Porto, is at the top of my bucket list. I recommend going before the visitor count skyrockets — and prepare to swoon over intricately tiled architecture and the melancholic sounds of fado music.
2. The Arctic
Iceland isn’t the only destination where travelers can behold the elusive, multicolored Northern Lights dancing across the dark sky. The Arctic’s Greenland and Norwegian Svalbard are secluded islands with sweeping swaths of raw beauty, and their low population densities promise a surreal travel experience away from the crowds.
Taiwan might be best known for its night markets that lure foodies from all over, but the destination is also a haven for adventure. Two-thirds of Taiwan’s main island is covered by mountains, providing the ideal setting for hiking, climbing, biking and more. As for water-minded folks, opportunities to kayak, snorkel, dive and surf are plentiful.
By: Emma Weissmann, Assistant Editor for TravelAge West
Who’s ready for a road trip? This year’s boost in national park visits — thanks to the National Park Service centennial, coupled with a growing concern about the risk of terror abroad — will lead to more North America bookings in 2017.
Tour operators are already taking note of this trend — Tauck’s Jeremy Palmer says that the U.S. and Canada are being booked at record levels; Trafalgar recently revealed 14 new CostSaver North America Tours; and Globus has added several Special Event Tours that highlight unique U.S. attractions, such as the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, Calif., and an itinerary that explores Oregon’s coast and craft-beer scene.
Although demand for international travel isn’t going away, 2017 may be the prime time to pack up the car, hit the open road and check off a few of those domestic bucket-list items.
By: Marilyn Green, Contributing Editor for TravelAge West
Cruise ships are no longer displaying generic, please-everyone art and predictable entertainment — we’re now seeing onboard art tours and coffee table books. Seagoing lines have created alliances with museums and shoreside galleries, and it is surely only a matter of time before river cruising follows. A recent article from Forbes notes that “these days, cruise ships display some of the most extensive and creative art collections that you’re likely to come across,” and passengers are finding more and more original art in their rooms.
The same is true of the performing arts, with Royal Caribbean International producing licensed Broadway musicals, Carnival Cruise Line bringing rock and country icons onboard during port calls, and big-name comedians using ships as talent showcases.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises hosts onboard opera competitions, and conservatories are placing chamber music groups on ships worldwide.
Holland America Line’s new Koningsdam pushes the trend further with B.B. King’s Blues Club from Beale Street and Lincoln Center Stage.
While it isn’t likely that cruisers will book exclusively to see their favorite shows, agents will see more travelers asking “What’s playing?” when they choose their cruises.
By: Mindy Poder, Executive Editor for TravelAge West
This year, I stayed in four short-term rentals (STRs). “Whoa,” you might be thinking. “Empirical evidence of the growing consumer preference for STRs such as Airbnb and HomeAway!” But, I also stayed in hotels — 22 unique hotels, to be exact. They ranged from big brands catering to business travelers to boutique properties that manage to bottle up a destination’s essence and offer an experience beyond restful sleep. Different trips required complementary accommodations depending on the purpose of travel; whether I was traveling solo, as a couple or in a group; and the destination itself. The takeaway?
More options do not mean the death of anything — it means more ways for a travel agent to offer extra-precise customization. Thanks to the increasing differentiation of hotels and rental properties, agents today have more ways than ever to provide clients with just what they’re looking for.
By: Mark Chesnut, Contributing Editor for TravelAge West
Here are a few ways you can expect air travel to evolve in the coming years.
Even if they buy from a travel agent, passengers will look to apps to do everything from managing reservations to planning activities and enjoying entertainment in flight.
Travelers who seek the lowest fares will also get fewer miles and fewer opportunities for elite status.
The fact that many airlines are replacing their first-class cabins with business-class cabins that have more seats may actually work in the passenger’s favor, making it possible to provide more upgrades for the lucky few.
Nearly every major U.S. airline is starting some kind of service to Cuba. This may affect schedules and pricing to other destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico.