Travel Trends

From mega-aircraft to small boutique hotels, the travel industry is constantly changing. Fads come and go, but major transformations in the way we travel are being fuelled by new technologies and consumer demand. No one knows whether the innovations of today will still be around in 10 years time – but some things, like wireless hotspots and low cost airlines, look like they are here to stay. This month we dip into international research, consult respected travel experts and gaze into our crystal ball to highlight the top travel trends.

In the air, the biggest revolution in the past decade has been the emergence of low cost carriers. These no-frills airlines offer cheap seats by cutting back on food, frequent flyer schemes and other perks, but passengers around the globe have responded enthusiastically. For some, low travel fares leave extra cash to splurge on luxury accommodations and services.
The trend started in the United States with Southwest Airlines, spread to Europe with the launch of Ryanair and easyJet and is now gaining a foothold in Asia and Australia. In Asia Air Asia and several low cost airlines are now catering the Asian travelers as well as the other parts of the globe. Flying is no longer the preserve of the rich – since 1960, fares have reduced by about 70 percent in real terms. Millions who never believed they could afford air travel are now booking seats on the internet, printing out their own e-tickets and buying snacks on board from casually dressed attendants
As low-cost, no-frills travel spreads, so does the appeal of its opposite: high-cost, high-touch exclusivity and pampering. Business and first class travel is getting more luxurious and more expensive. As airlines court passengers willing to pay big bucks for comfort, they are fitting their cabins with lie-flat seats, cocktail bars and incredible entertainment systems. They offer limousine transfers, massages and swish airport lounges to ensure customer loyalty.
This trend gained strength when the new A380 Airbus comes into service, this 555-seat mega-aircraft can be fitted with on-board showers, shops, casinos and private sleeping cabins. Among the airlines that have this aircraft are Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Qantas, Air France and Virgin Atlantic.

Similar trends can be found in the hotel industry. The growth of limited-service hotels for price-conscious business travelers contrasts with the emergence of small, boutique hotels that offer unrivalled personal service and exclusivity.

Overall, the big chain groups still dominate and it is hard to imagine a major city without a Hyatt, Sheraton, Hilton or a Marriott. However, brand loyalty is running second to value-for-money in many markets. Hotel groups are increasingly forced to launch new brands to cater for travelers who expect a comfortable room that suits their budgets. Travelers getting more practical these days. They care more about price than a lavish lobby, a range of hotel restaurants and costly in-house services.
At the other end of the scale is the surge towards boutique hotels and exclusive vacation resorts. These hotels offer personalized service, superior locations, unique architecture and interior design and amenities not found elsewhere. The clarion call here is: “Smaller is better”. Boutique hotels help restore character and distinctiveness to cities, and their growing popularity shows that travelers welcome a change from the sameness of global chains.
The big hotel chains are responding to this challenge by developing their own version of the boutique hotels for their best customers, with separate check-ins, faster service, and special perks. In the leisure market, the trendsetters are the Aman resorts in Asia. These include the Amandari in Bali, the Amanpulo in the Philippines and the Amn-i-Khas in India. Their common feature is that they offer luxurious suites and villas in pristine settings. Their select groups of customers want exclusivity and are prepared to pay for it.
Many of today’s trends are being fuelled by the influence of the Internet and the move towards on-line bookings. The Internet has made pricing across the industry more transparent and consumers more informed. While it continues to be a valuable research and price comparison tool, the number of on-line bookings has been soaring. Online travel in Asia Pacific – already a huge market – is growing at an unprecedented rate towards its potential which exceeds any other market on the planet.

Asia Pacific already has the highest number of internet users worldwide and this is set to almost double by 2012 – in the same period ecommerce sales will triple.  Willingness to purchase online is high and this is proven by a steady year-on-year increase in online travel bookings of at least 26% over the last three years.

Chinese visitors will dominate tourism in the next decade. They already dominate or make up a large share of the tourist market in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hongkong, Macau, Vietnam and Australia. However, by 2020, the World Tourism Organization has predicted that more Chinese tourists – a massive 100 million – will head overseas than tourists from any other country.
Travelers are getting more adventurous. Around the globe, adventure travel is booming, with a growing number of tourists wanting more than a sightseeing experience. This includes adventure activities like whitewater rafting, scuba diving and mountain biking. Fitness has become more important, with a quarter of travelers using gyms or fitness centers while travelling, while 12% of Asia-Pacific travelers played golf while on a trip.
Older people are travelling more. Staying healthier for longer and with disposable income, grey-haired travelers are becoming an important market, especially at spa resorts.
Medical tourism is soaring as Europeans and Americans head for foreign destinations to have medical and dental surgery at a fraction of the cost in their home country. Among the favored destinations are Bangkok, Singapore and Philippines.

A “Been There, Done That” lifestyle is emerging, also known as the Boredom Boom. Research is finding that up to 70 percent of leisure travelers say they would prefer to visit a place they have never been before. For resorts and holiday destinations, it will become harder than ever to get a person back for a second or third visit, no matter how well you first treated them. To get repeat visitors, they will have to refresh the experience and the product.