Call it The Year of Travel Uncertainty. In 2009, travelers hesitated, debated and vacillated about booking travel in record-breaking numbers, according to the World Travel Trends Report — the number waiting till just a week or less before deciding to go away rose 18 percent.
It’s all about the economy and its unpredictability. So any predictions about the year ahead in travel have to take into consideration the uncertainty factor. An exercise in futility? Not entirely. The tourism industry isn’t going to just disappear, after all, especially with all the pent-up wanderlust that’s accumulated in 2009.
So here are my predictions for what’s ahead, based on recent trends, human nature, American culture and, well, my proclivity toward the cynical.
1. Value: This is one I stole. One most experts mention. From the financially strapped to the fat-walleted, consumers want to get as much as they can from their travel budget. With the Web making comparison shopping so easy, everyone from tour operators to hotels and visitors’ bureaus will continue to sweeten deals with upgrades, perks, unique amenities and freebies.
2. All-inclusives: In these times of uncertainty, all-inclusive resorts like Sandals and Club Med – and even some cruises (beware the budget-destroying extras like drinks and land tours) are increasingly popular. The price you were quoted is the price you pay – one of life’s rare certainties.
3. Cruise deals: So many ships, so many rooms …. More big ships arrived this year, and in this recession, the cruise lines are already offering amazing deals. And with more ships coming on line this year, the deals will continue. And cruise lines are busy upgrading ships to provide ever more sophisticated activities and entertainment, from cultural enrichment programs to culinary experiences.
4. Flying, feh: Many trends in air travel this year – and here’s where my cynicism runs wild.
* Fare increases. At the first hint of better economic times, airfares will jump. Unless a low-fare carrier is competing on a route, passengers will have to pay more for less.
* Increased security in the wake of the latest terrorist attempt will make the process of flying even more exasperating. Especially since current screening processes aren’t equipped to detect some of the latest terrorist threats.
* More cuts in routes/service. While service has increased overall, some routes have lost a good number of flights — among them is Western Europe-North America, with a 9 percent decrease in the number of flights and 8 percent cut in the number of seats.
* Less legroom/fuller flights. Thanks to all of the above.
* More fees, particularly for fuel cost increases and environmental regulations.
* More a la carte costs. No free luggage allowance, charging for advance seat selection, extra costs for bulkheads, etc.
5. Air traffic loses control: I’ve worried about our aging air traffic control system for years — the outdated equipment and facilities, understaffing leading to overworked and exhausted controllers, an influx of inexperienced new hires, and a system using technology so outdated that the average car has more sophisticated equipment.
Now we’re getting some hints of how threadbare it all is. A recent computer glitch caused widespread cancelations and flight delays across the country. It was the second major failure in 15 months, leading some to say it’s about time the country upgraded an air traffic control system that dates back to the 1960s. And remember those two Northwest pilots who flew 150 miles past their destination? They’re now blaming their gaff on air traffic controllers. “The air traffic controller(s) did not comply with the requirements of the air traffic control manual and other relevant orders, rules, procedures, policies and practices with respect to Northwest Flight 188, nor coordinate effectively with Northwest dispatch, and such failure was a causal or contributing factor in the incident,” they said. Well, whatever that means, it’s clear that input from traffic controls would be a help.
6. Rooms and deals and the inn: The lodging industry has been suffering mightily during the recession, thanks to less demand and an increasing supply of hotel rooms — 4.78 million rooms available in 2010 compared with 4.74 million in 2009. “The industry is not rebounding,” said Scott Berman, hospitality and leisure leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers. The company predicts lower average daily rates ($95.79 in 2010 compared to $97.51 in 2009.
7. Eco-scamming: With nearly 80 percent of U.S. adults considering themselves environmentally-conscious and increasingly aware of terms such as carbon footprint and global warming, travelers are beginning to make decisions based on sustainability criteria, according to the U.S. Tourism Association.
However, while environmental responsibility is one of the prime factors influencing the selection of travel companies, American travelers continue to lack the willingness to pay extra to support environmentally-friendly travel providers. Still, it’s good P.R. to be green. So hotels, destinations, tour operators, even airlines are slapping the good housekeeping seal of approval – “Green” – on the “improvements’ they make for the environment.
Could be that ecolodge claiming to be “green” did its homework: used local labor and is run by locals in top management; then again, perhaps it’s only a recycling bin in a hotel room; there are more than 100 different organizations offering seals of approval, with different standards and criteria. There are no standards. And the one organization touted last year as hoping to bring them all together and creating one standard, is, well, still working on it…
8. Second time arounds: Travelers are deciding they don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to find surprise and underappreciated treasures. I liked the TripAdvisor list of top destinations for 2010 because it includes offbeat areas of in well trod countries and as well as unusual places here at home: Troncones, Mexico; Nairn, Scotland; Patara, Turkey; Chinle/Canyon de Chelly, Ariz.; Waimea, Hawaii; Hot Springs, Ark.
9. Hot for sure: Turkey, it’s cropping up constantly. I’ve seen the photos, but so many people have written about it now I don’t even need to go.
Vancouver: The Olympic Games. There’s a lotta space out there. Make a big trip, and go north to the Yukon, or east to Banff. They know how to clear the roads up in those parts. And it’s easier to see the bald eagles and the wolves against the snow and bare branches.
10. Addicted to volunteering: Voluntourism, philanthropic travel, whatever you want to call it, it’s a major option for travelers these days. And when volunteers return, realizing that not only did they come back from a challenging situation in one piece, but they loved the experience and the satisfaction of giving back, they’re hooked.