"Follow the trend lines, not the headlines." - Bill Clinton
We live in unsettling times. Up is down, left is right, losers win. Who really knows what is going on--let alone what will be. The wonderful world of travel is no different. No one has a proverbial crystal ball and the annual rituals of forecasting more usually need to offer mea culpas on last year's prognostications.
While the algorithms of Big Data make it easier these days to see nuances, in the end, demographic trends are just that--demographic trends--that always increase. (Every year there are more solo travelers because, dah, there are more solo travelers!) And old travel metric analysis, with the likes of: the Robinson Crusoe Index identifying the best beaches, the Big Mac Index that costs out burgers globally, and the Bribe Payers Index, for negotiating the going get-out-of-jail rates--leave me wanting.
Unsatisfied with those mostly travel industry-derived and PR firm written indicators (loyalty plans will be devalued, coach class will get tighter, AirBnB will grow, and Cuba will be the new hot travel destination), I annually offer readers some rather untraditional 21st-century mashup travel metrics observed and culled from a year's worth of traveling the globe. Here are 8 Coming Travel Trends for 2017 to look for...first the good news:
1. America's Vacation Deficit Disorder: Workers are starting to comprehend the strong relationship between wellness and taking time off (AKA vacations); with enlightened employers leading the charge. Vacation shaming is so 2015. Wellness travel is growing 50% faster than regular travel, with travelers recognizing that recharging, refreshing and rejuvenating themselves regularly is part of a healthy work-life balance. Smart value-minded employers are investing in their employees time-off knowing that a happy, creative and fresh employee--is a motivated and profitable employee. St. Barts here we come!
2. The Connectivity Index: It is my firm belief that you can now go anywhere and be anywhere within 24 hours. Regional low-cost carriers have proliferated globally; and over the past decade, airlines have added over 10,000 new routes -- a 37 percent increase -- serving more than 37,000 city pairs. There are now 1,280 international airports serving 48,977 routes worldwide. That means that secondary destinations are making the world smaller and cheaper!
3. The Competitive Travel Index: The more mundane our daily routines, the more ambitious our adventures. Today travelers want authentic in the age of reality TV, and are no longer satisfied being force-fed dull cruises or sleep on the beach vacations. They want adventurous participatory experiences (site-doing) and to be challenged. Exciting travel adventure products have begun to fill their soul-aching void, like: the regional rickshaw rallies of Southeast Asia, and the mac daddy of all competitive travel, the annual world travel championship known as The Global Scavenger Hunt. Competitive adventures like these, allow the most jaded and adventurous travelers to test their savvy and Travel IQ against the world's best. Maybe we'll see travel as an Olympic sport in 2024?
4. Airline Ticket Futures Index: Millennial travelers are online 24/7 and always looking for the "best deals". But the vagaries of the airline industry's dynamic pricing create a lot of angst in the era of microaggressions, safe spaces and triggers that unfettered capitalism unleash. Flying is viewed as commodity--the lowest price wins--so why not an airline ticket futures market? With would-be travelers visiting on average 161 travel websites--before finally narrowing it down to 48 visits to eight sites--before reluctantly booking; finding the cheapest fare is harder than just clearing your cookies and search engine history. Watch for mega-search sites like FLYR and Hopper, and like-minded upstarts, that accurately predict (with a 95% accuracy?) the lowest airfare prices, to not only offer advice on when to buy, but start selling price insurance policies that lock-in airfares--airline ticket futures.
5. The Xenophobic Travel Index: When Air Jordan election day ad says: "Travel to the U.S.--while you are still allowed to!", take heed. While reprehensible, travelers need to be vigilant for a turbulent xenophobic backlash of nasty US-versus-Themism; with the creation of travel barriers--both at home and abroad. Look for travel to moderate Islamic nations, to take a big hit. And look for reactionary fear-based American policy to begin building a type of Veiled Wall of screening, security and surveillance around Islamic nations by redlining them--not allowing Americans to travel there (unless there is a Trump-brand hotel of course), or earning the CBP third degree when they do; along with declaring their traveler's persona non grata in the USA, full stop. The Babel drawbridge is being pulled up with legislation sure to radically alter the tourist visa wavier for some 20 million visitors a year coming to America (who spend over $4,000 per visitor) and look for a tit-for-tat diplomatic escalation of traveler inconveniences (and costs) to rise. On the flipside: Contrarian Travelers who calculate the odds and balance the risks knowing that the world is a 95% conflict free zone and the chances of them being directly affected by terrorism is akin to winning power ball. They will enjoy cheaper prices, less crowded destinations and great emotional payoffs, while becoming the true traveling ambassadors for America. They will also use Facebook's check-in feature to inform friends that they are safe.
6. The Loving it to Death Tax Index: Face it, we travelers in our never-ending quest to see everything are slowly killing the Golden Goose. It is a ranking travel paradox of our time: Our irresistible urge to destroy what we are attracted to--we are loving places to death. Once exclusive hot, must-see, once-in-a-lifetime Shangri-La-like dream destinations like: Angkor, Venice, Machu Picchu, Galapagos, and the Louvre (you name it), all have skyrocketing demand. It leads to what Harvard professors, Paul F. Nunes and Mark Spelman term "scarcity of place". And when demand goes up and scarcity occurs, something has got to give. Look for tourism caps to be introduced like ski resorts only selling so many daily lift tickets; watch for dynamic pricing to begin increasing during peak times--like Uber's surge charges--and destinations maybe even using a lottery system to limit visitors during peak holiday times. Bottom line: prices will go up.
7. The Protest Tourism Index: Travelers are always looking for meaning in their travels--well, some of them do anyway--and socially conscious travelers are taking to social media to shame, boycott, belittle and otherwise discourage fellow travelers from going to places deemed verboten. Whether visiting Myanmar during the general's reign or Apartheid-era South Africa, travelers are beginning to ratchet up their angst against places like: Uganda and North Carolina for their anti-LGBT laws; Russia for its annexation of Crimea, Ukrainian aggression and meddling in the recent US elections; and even Israel, as the pro-Palestinian statehood Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement gains momentum. Effective or not, look for highly socially conscious Millennials, who changed American cultural values, attempt to effect global change by choosing where to and where not to spend their money, be it: human rights, environmental degradation or cultural heritage with the most powerful words known to man: That is not right!
8. The Bargain Basement Travel Index: The race to the bottom continues unabated when full majority, 60 percent of American travelers are "price driven"; and United Airlines is following Delta's lead by giving the people what they want: even cheaper cheap fares with what is called "basic economy"--middle seat, no luggage and no carry-ons and no bathroom privileges (just kidding on that last one; although word is UA is trying to configure a coin operated restroom). While people of all ages still want what Americans call "value"--and the rest of the world knows as cheap--Airbnb will continue to expand its inventory of less than stellar properties, and look for cheaper versions (shitty cars) of Uber and Lyft to arrive on the scene. In the lottery-mentality of Americans--if it ain't reality-TV free, we don't want it.
Finally, I am as optimistic as anyone (In fact, my glass is half full right now!), but please don't tell me that either virtual reality travel ("Google goes rafting down the Colorado River so you don't have to!") or Elon Musk's space travel boondoggle are going to trend in 2017--imagination and great demos don't create trends, reality does. And until they do, let's leave it off our travel trends list in favor of real and satisfying terrestrial pursuits.
The Clash once sang that, "...the future is unwritten." Happy trails in 2017.
What trends do you see coming?