"Trends, like horses, are easier to ride in the direction they are going." -- John Naisbitt
We live in unsettling times. Frankly, who really knows what is going on -- let alone what will be -- and the world of travel is no different. No one has a proverbial crystal ball.
Over the years, I have annually tried to formulate upcoming travel trends that I see emerging over the horizon. Travel metric analysis is not original in the era of Big Data, 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.
Unsatisfied with those indicators, I look behind the curtain at some rather untraditional 21st century mashup travel metrics that have in the past warned you about: selfie drones, Hipster Holidays, peak-time pricing, marijuana tourism and off-the-grid travel.
What I found this past year are twin themes: firstly, the great 21st century era of disruption continues unabated, with potential game-changers looming. (Although some not so novel ideas have just been recycled, digitalized and repackaged by slick venture capitalists and PR folks.) The second noticeable theme at the close of 2015 is anger -- it seems everywhere! -- whether the result of global instability and violence, political paralysis and inflammatory campaign rhetoric, or pent up consumer frustration? Time will tell.
Here are a few Coming Travel Trends to look for in 2016. First the good news:
1. The International Travel Price Index favors travelers. There is an over-capacity of tourist infrastructure everywhere: river cruises (Danube, Mekong, Yangtze), European bus tours, ocean cruises, hotels rooms, low cost regional carriers (LCCs) are multiplying, and the expanding share economy (HomeAway, Uber etc.) is only adding to that capacity. (Airbnb books more "nights" than any of the hotel brands!) What that means, especially in an era of falling fuel prices and geopolitical uncertainty questioning whether or not folks will actually travel, is that the International Travel Price Index favors travelers. Add a stronger dollar in most destinations and you have a win-win-win for intrepid travelers. Prices will fall in 2016 in this buyers' market.
2. America's Vacation Deficit Disorder will finally be addressed. Workers are starting to realize the strong relationship between wellness and taking time off (aka vacations), with enlightened employers leading the charge. Vacation shaming is so 2013. Wellness travel is growing 50 percent faster than regular travel with travelers recognizing that recharging, refreshing and rejuvenating themselves regularly is all 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. Companies like Evernote, Google, Virgin Group and Netflix are leading the way by offering employees: unlimited paid holidays, providing vacation spending money, and even mandating that employees log off when traveling. Look for hard and soft days off to enter the PTO conversation; with hard holidays being unplugged do-not-disturb days while soft days off might require some office communications, albeit from a beach chair in Bali.
3. The Spontaneity in Travel Index is growing into a mature trend. The more mundane our daily lives, the more ambitious our adventures; with young-at-heart empty-nest Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials alike, all wanting authentic experiences in the age of reality TV. They want authentic, participatory and challenging travel adventures, what I label Travel 3.0; forgoing overly-planned 24/7 packaged itineraries, and are no longer satisfied being force-fed on dull cruises or taking sleep on the beach vacations. They want to enjoy more personalized adventures capturing the romantic whims of serendipity and being more spontaneous on enriching trips that allow them to step out of the tourist bubble maximizing their leisure time. Think throwing a dart at a map and going. No adventures better illustrate this trend of pushing the boundaries of traveler's comfort zones than the growing popularity of events like the Rickshaw Challenge of India or taking A Blind Date with the World. Think about it, a travel adventure that takes curious travelers around the world -- but won't tell you what ten destinations you will visit! Leave your expectations at home in this novel and exciting new way of traveling.
4. The Mad as Hell Travelers Index (previously known as the Travelers Misery Index) has reached new heights. Populist anger and rage -- complaints are up 20 percent in 2015 -- will finally carry over into actionable push back by travel consumers with the growing pull of consumer rights-inspired sites like: FlyersRights.org, ConsumerTraveler.com, and Christopher Elliott's popular site. Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore travelers are sick of the disappointing, grumble-worthy experience travel in America is; with cramped conditions as plane loads continue to grow (86.9 percent capacity); flight times being inflated (aka the Airline Pinocchio Index) as almost a third of all flights are delayed (aka Airport Frustration Index). Enough is enough. As mega corporations continue to devalue loyalty programs (talking to you Marriott and American!), while airline profits soar to record heights (no fuel price concessions for flyers) and brand consolidation and mergers grow -- leaving consumers with fewer and fewer choices. Will 2016 finally usher in the much needed equalizer of a consumer-friendly Airline Passenger Bill of Rights?
And now the bad travel trends:
5. The Locals are Pissed Off Index: We touched on this several years ago as the Boomerang Index, with cities like Barcelona, Venice, Berlin, Lisbon and Hong Kong have finally reached their limits. Spoiler Alert: there are some negative consequences to tourism! Perceptive travelers have seen them up close and personal, but the ill-effects of mass tourism is real and locals are getting pissed off; with upscale cafes, bridge love locks, pop up prix fixe restaurants, hipster gastropubs, tourist-filled local markets, AirBnB, Uber, souvenir shops, and sex workers, all turning some once treasured travel destinations into virtual theme parks. Sometimes visitors (aka vandals) exceed the number of residents by eight to one margins (Talking about you Barcelona, Burge and Bali!), rendering them unfit for locals to live (noisy and too expensive) and threatening their very cultural integrity. "People Live Here" protests, "Quiet Zone" restrictions and daily cruise ship quotas will begin in 2016.
6. The Xenophobic Travel Index: The twisted slaughter of innocents in Paris was the bright caution sign while the San Bernardino shooting may have been the Rubicon tipping point for Trump-like "xenophobic, race-baiting, religious bigots" to vocalize their fear and hatred towards the 1.6 billion Muslims living in our Global Village. While I find it reprehensible, travelers need to be vigilant for a turbulent xenophobic backlash of nasty Us-versus-Themism with the creation of travel barriers. Look for travel to Turkey, Dubai, Jordan and Morocco, and other 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 isolating them -- not allowing Americans to travel there (and earning the CBP third degree when they do); and not allowing their travelers to come to the USA, full stop. The Babel drawbridge is being pulled up as I write with the US Senate drafting legislation to radically alter the tourist visa wavier for some 20 million visitors a year coming to America (who spend over $4,000 per visitor), nothing like good old fashion segregation is there? Will flights be cancelled? Will no-fly zones be enacted? Will Americans remain free to travel where they choose?
Finally, two minor trends coming: one is the Share Economy Backlash Index (again more anger) with the disruption caused by Uber, AirBnB and HomeAway on local environments. Look for the continuation of a regulatory play-by-the-rules crackdown, albeit with a light touch; with local zoning, licensing issues and taxes to be negotiated in 2016. I also sense the Solo Travel Index climbing, as adventurous travelers (mostly Millennials) head out on their own more often (24 percent traveled alone on overseas leisure trips). The reasons? They are: a) used to being alone, b) are sick of their significant others, c) can't schedule time together with others, d) not good at sharing, e) just want the freedom to choose their own rhythms, or f) don't have as many friends as their social media signature suggests. Pick one.
And finally, fresh from Paris, I see airline tickets will begin to reflect the environmental costs (aka carbon footprint)... Naw, just kidding! That won't happen; just like Nigeria will never be a good travel destination and the Hyperloop is not coming anytime soon.
The Clash once sang that, "the future is unwritten." Happy trails in 2016.
What trends do you see coming?