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In 2012, more than 1 billion tourists crossed international borders for the first time in history, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. In addition, 5 to 6 billion tourists traveled within their own countries, another milestone for travel.
While these numbers are macro-economic indicators and do not necessarily reflect the exact business environment that U.S. travel agents are seeing, they make a strong symbolic statement about the strength of the travel industry in general. In fact, according to David Scowsill, president and CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council, travel and tourism has posted four consecutive years of growth, surpassing the growth of the overall world economy by about 1.5 percentage points.
This year, the U.S. travel industry saw its share of growth as well. The U.S. Travel Association reported that travel exports are up 6.9 percent since September 2013, more than double the rise in other exports over the previous 12 months. PhoCusWright’s “U.S. Consumer Travel Report, Sixth Edition” reported that about one-third of travelers planned to travel more in 2014 than they did in 2013, and roughly three in 10 travelers also planned to take longer vacations, spend more and travel farther in 2014.
Travel agents seemed to be beneficiaries of this trend. A USA Today article from May stated that, of the nearly 300 travel counselors surveyed by American Express Travel, 45 percent said their summer travel bookings were up compared to last year. Also, in a survey of American Society of Travel Agents members, 74 percent reported that agency revenue for the first half of 2014 was better than, or at least the same as, the first half of 2013. Forty-five percent cited increased transactions, and 43 percent reported increasing their client base. This is a robust showing, especially considering that 2013 had solid growth as well.
With global travel increasing, travel among U.S. consumers on the rise and agents’ business growing, it’s not surprising that the various sectors of the travel industry are expecting continued growth in 2015. As you can read on the following pages, suppliers are developing and tweaking their products and services to capture the business of these demanding consumers. Niche markets to watch include experiential travel, upscale adventure travel and wellness travel.
There will be new ships on the scene, plus the debut of intriguing combinations of ocean-going and river cruise itineraries. Hotels and airlines are incorporating more personalized services and technologies than ever before, with a range of changes on the horizon.
As the recession becomes a thing of the past, travel seems to be one of the hottest industries to watch, and this is true despite potential threats from armed conflicts, world health crises and natural disasters. Consumers all over the globe seem to have emerged from the recent economic chaos with a greater urgency to experience all that the world has to offer — and the travel industry is more than prepared to deliver it to them.