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Experts Reveal Trends in Travel

Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI)

Countless destinations around the world are investing in travel and tourism because they realize that it’s an economic powerhouse for their communities, said Jim McCaul, director of communications for DMAI, which represents destination marketing organizations.

Pair that with the fact that technology continues to shrink the world, and you have traveler expectations that have shifted dramatically. Years ago, if someone saw a National Geographic article about Namibia, they wouldn’t know how to go about visiting it. “Now it’s easy,” McCaul said.

“There are so many more options available, which is great because it is becoming such a positive force for communities around the world,” he said.

But that presents a different challenge: the idea of “option shock.” When people have abundant choices, it’s more difficult for them to make a decision and to be satisfied with that decision. That’s where destination marketing organizations’ (DMOs’) technology will play a role. Websites, apps, customizable maps: All can help planners and travelers narrow their choices to what is relevant to them. DMOs understand that harnessing data to personalize options is the future, although how it will play out remains to be seen.

“Our DMOs are trying to harness all this data to offer consumers these personalized experiences that are relevant to them,” McCaul said.

Option shock is also pushing travelers to rely more on input from other sources. A recent survey of affluent travelers found that they trust peer reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor more than they trust the opinions of their friends and family, McCaul said. DMOs are also realizing that they must have two-way conversations with consumers; rather than simply broadcasting their message, DMOs must be actively involved in the process. “[Travelers and planners] want to explore with [DMOs] when choosing, talk to them on ground, and afterward when sharing,” McCaul said.

Amadeus, an information technology travel company, forecast six future groups, or “tribes,” of travelers that will be big in 2020. One of the most influential is “ethical travelers.” More people are thinking about the effects of their travels on the places they visit, McCaul said. These travelers care about the sustainability of their travel for the environment, the economy and the culture of the destinations. They want to spend locally and make sure that their money stays in the economy and that their travel doesn’t negatively affect the environment or people.

“It’s on people’s minds, but they don’t know exactly how to do it yet,” McCaul said. “I think it’s up to the group travel industry to educate people about how to do it.”

MMGY Global’s annual research piece, “Portrait of American Travelers,” recently found that contrary to popular perception, millennials aren’t traveling around the world. Rather, they take “staycations” more than any other group. However, there is potential in the market, McCaul said. DMAI is finding that destinations are targeting millennials as future residents and employees rather than solely as travelers.

“[Destinations] are looking more to attract these millennials with the idea that if they’re going to come to these communities to live, they’re going to have to visit first,” McCaul said.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)

Consumers are looking for three things when it comes to cruising: flexibility, personalization and the ability to customize, said Cindy D’Aoust, acting CEO of CLIA.

Cruise lines are answering the call by continuing to move to flexible pricing structures and customizable excursions. All-inclusive pricing comes back to that personalization, D’Aoust said. Whereas travelers used to have one option for food-and-beverage packages and one option for excursions, today they have multiple choices that allow them to go with what works best for them, she said. And the same is true even in the group market.

“There are so many different components, a planner can build entirely different experiences on the same ship for four different customers,” D’Aoust said.

Cruise lines are also answering the call for personalization by continuing to offer a wide range of niche offerings: On ocean liners and river cruises, themed cruises are big — everything from cruises that focus on local foods to a zombie-themed cruise setting sail in January aboard the Norwegian Pearl.

Though river cruising is still and will continue to be an area of tremendous growth, ocean cruising is also growing and adding new destinations, particularly in the Asian market. The number of cruise ships, passengers and ports in Asia is experiencing double-digit growth. Cruise lines’ passenger capacity grew by 20 percent since 2013, putting the region at fourth in the world for passenger capacity, tied with Australia. That also means more Asian vacationers are cruising than ever before; 1.4 million Asian travelers cruised in 2014, up 34 percent since 2012. The largest group within the Asian market is Chinese travelers; their number grew 79 percent per year between 2012 and 2014. Last year, the 697,000 Chinese passengers nearly matched the combined 701,000 passengers from all other Asian markets.

Another growing market is travelers who are interested in philanthropy and social awareness, D’Aoust said. Some of that is evident in cruisers who are seeking out environmentally significant areas such as the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica, but the future holds more. For example, Carnival Corporation, the parent company of Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line, launched its new brand, Fathom, to offer “social impact” experiences designed for people who want to volunteer in the communities they visit. Fathom plans to offer impact travel cruises to the Dominican Republic and Cuba, where passengers will work alongside people in those countries.

“You’ll see cruising step into philanthropic areas, offering people the opportunity to give back and do good work,” D’Aoust said. “That is something very new and very different. There’s a very significant increase in people interested in giving back, volunteering, participating and being much more a part of the destinations they visit.”