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Late last year, the talk around the travel industry was that once the U.S. presidential election was over, consumers would feel a sense of relief and renewed stability, and the dip we were seeing in travel would come to end. Well, that scenario never entirely materialized. While travel numbers have mostly rebounded, what we’ve experienced since 2016 is a seemingly endless cycle of one travel disruption after another, including major natural disasters, political instability, terrorist acts, travel bans and more.
The chaotic and unpredictable nature of world events has made it difficult to say with any certainty what to expect in travel in the year ahead. Some surveys show optimism among travelers, while others show a lackluster industry reeling from recent crises and a general fear of what’s around the corner.
It’s possible that both characterizations are true. Depending who you ask, and when you ask it, traveling consumers are either determined to travel despite whatever the future brings, or they are cautious and taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to trip planning.
One thing that does seem certain, however, is that travel advisors will have a greater role in the overall success of the industry in 2018 than they have had in a long time. Agents are enjoying a boom time, with more advisors entering the field and already established agents seeing increased business and more respect from suppliers.
Below, you’ll find editor predictions for 2017. Here are a few of my own for the coming year.
The Big PictureIn general, the U.S. economy is strong: The stock market has been reaching new highs on a regular basis, corporations are optimistic about the future, and unemployment is relatively low. Although the economic benefits are not felt uniformly across all levels of society, consumers should, for the most part, feel confident making travel plans in 2018.
For agents, there is more good news in the overall demographic trends: Two of the groups that are most agent-friendly will continue to be important forces in travel. In 2018, roughly 10,000 baby boomers will reach retirement age every day. These boomers, who are part of the most affluent generation in history, have time, wealth and a love of travel — and they will continue to plan bucket-list trips for years to come.
On the other end of the spectrum, millennials — the largest generation in history — are maturing and starting careers and families. They also have a strong desire to see the world, and we can only expect them to travel more as their incomes and families grow.
Major TrendsThere are a number of trends that agents should watch in 2018. To begin with, luxury travel should see a significant uptick next year. This market is already important for agents, but with tax cuts seemingly in store for many Americans, especially the upper class, there will be more disposable income to spend on travel.
Another major trend that will continue to flourish is experiential travel. The importance of this type of travel affects everything from hotels and tour operators, which will add new experiences, to destination tourism offices, which will market off-the-beaten-path, local offerings. In particular, cruising will see more growth in expedition lines and itineraries, as well as in small ships and luxury yachts, as it caters to travelers looking to have a more personalized experience.
Also next year, many travelers will choose to visit threatened and endangered natural places. These fragile environments are increasingly disappearing or changing, creating an urgency amongst travelers to visit them before they are gone forever. One of the threats to watch is overtourism, as the travel industry deals with the damage caused by large numbers of visitors flocking to iconic sights. Agents would do well to educate themselves on the standards of sustainable tourism now, because they can expect to have further conversations about the topic in the years to come.
Finally, while family travel has been important for a long time, this segment will likely see a boom next year. As we’ve noted in the past, when people experience tragedies — whether that’s a hurricane, a terrorist attack or another event — they tend to value time spent with loved ones. With the uncertain nature of the world, it’s reasonable to expect families to plan more vacation time together.
Whatever 2018 brings, the travel industry has shown over the years how resilient it can be. And travel agents have proven that they will continue to be an integral part of the trip-planning process for many years to come.
DESTINATIONSBy: Michelle Juergen, Senior Editor for TravelAge West
Here are two destinations to keep on your radar for 2018; both are seeing significant growth from international travelers and just may be the next items to add to a client’s must-visit list.
Abu Dhabi: In October, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), was named the fastest-growing destination city in the Middle East and Africa by Mastercard’s 2017 “Global Destination Cities Index.” The capital of the UAE has seen a growth rate of 18.9 percent on its 2016 Mastercard index figures; last year, it welcomed 4.4 million visitors and expects to reach 4.9 million visitors by the end of this year.
Abu Dhabi ranked fourth globally as a leading destination city, as well as the fourth fastest-growing destination city out of 132 countries.
Additionally, this September alone saw a 5 percent increase in hotel guests to all three regions of Abu Dhabi compared to the same month last year, with a total occupancy rate of 69 percent.
Asian Urban Centers: According to new city tourism data released by the World Travel & Tourism Council in October, the world’s top 10 fastest-growing tourism cities are all in Asia. “Asia Pacific City Travel & Tourism Impact” covers 65 cities, 21 of which are in Asia Pacific; the report reveals that Asian cities are at the forefront of tourism growth over the next 10 years.
Chinese cities lead, including Chongqing (14 percent growth per year), Guangzhou (13.1 percent), Shanghai (12.8 percent), Beijing (12 percent) and Chengdu (11.2 percent). They’re followed by Manila, the Philippines (10.9 percent); Delhi, India (10.8 percent); Shenzhen, China (10.7 percent); Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (10.1 percent); and Jakarta, Indonesia (10 percent).
TOUR OPERATORSBy: Emma Weissmann, Assistant Editor for TravelAge West
Although group travel is still incredibly popular among both guided and FIT tour operators, solo travel is quickly picking up steam. This August, Intrepid Travel launched a brand-new, solo-only tour range specifically for single travelers after last year’s three-tour pilot program was met with sold-out success.
At both Intrepid and G Adventures, close to 50 percent of bookings are made by solo travelers ranging in age from recent college grads to adventurous baby boomers. According to G Adventures’ Hess, the reasons for this include the benefits of small-group travel, better value and opportunities to make new friends.
The mantra is simple, Hess says: “Go solo, but never alone.”
CRUISEBy: Marilyn Green, Contributing Editor for TravelAge West
Heading into 2018, the importance of the onboard culinary experience cannot be overstated. Today’s consumers pore over a ship’s menus before they set foot onboard, sign up for cooking classes in advance and follow chefs to local markets during ports of call. And the 2017 State of the Industry report from Cruise Lines International Association indicates that cruise travelers are especially gravitating toward specialty restaurants and will continue to choose dining experiences manned by celebrity chefs.
Chefs at sea with new onboard restaurants range from Food Network star and restaurateur Guy Fieri, who’s launching Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse | Brewhouse on the new Carnival Horizon, to the Michelin-starred Thomas Keller, who will launch The Grill by Thomas Keller on Seabourn Ovation.
Holland America Line is expanding its exclusive Explorations Central culinary tours, developed in partnership with contacts from Food & Wine magazine. The line will expand from its current five ports to more than 20 in Europe, followed by other destinations.
MSC Cruises’ new MasterChef At Sea program follows the premise of television show “MasterChef,” where guests create a dish from a box of ingredients. The winner receives a prize and the chance to enter the casting process for the show.
Additionally, Oceania Cruises recently launched La Cuisine Bourgeoise, a re-creation of an early 20th-century dining experience, on its Marina and Riviera ships. The concept was cooked up by Oceania’s executive culinary director and television personality Jacques Pepin, who calls the experience “happiness on a plate.”
HOTELSBy: Mindy Poder, Executive Editor for TravelAge West
While the industry hive buzzes about the innovative ways technology is being used inside and outside the guestroom, my favorite moments of hotel travel this year were more akin to a digital detox.
In my highlight reel is Argentina’s Estancia Cristina, a small lodge on an isolated patch of wild Patagonian land, where on-site guides brought to life the effects of climate change via a walk along an ancient, fossil-filled landscape that a receding glacier left behind.
And I think about The Ritz-Carlton, Bali, where a priest blessed me on the beach and then tied a protective yarn around my wrist that I still wear every day.
Technology will progress — that’s inevitable — but it will never be the most important part of the travel experience.
AIRLINESBy: Valerie Chen, Senior Editor for TravelAge West
Here are a few ways you can expect air travel to evolve in the coming years.
In-Flight Connectivity: Surfing the web while up high will become mainstream, and not at the cost of consumers. Instead, airlines will offer free internet services with the stipulation of sponsored content and advertisements.
Biometrics: Further modernizing the passenger experience, biometric technology will become more availablenot only in airports but also onboard aircraft. For example, biometrics could be used for ordering snacks.
Virtual and Augmented Reality: Some airlines have begun trials of virtual-reality headsets for passengers and cabin crew, but as the technology matures, it may become ubiquitous. Expect creativity in offerings, too.