The travel industry has got their work cut out for them as we head into 2018.
With the continued growth of travel and evolving travel preferences set against the backdrop global safety concerns and the overtourism crisis, destination companies, tour operators and activity providers will be faced with higher expectations from more sophisticated travellers.
Here's our breakdown of 2018's travel trends and how the industry can get ready for a whirlwind year.
1. Experiences are still at the heart of it all
This should come as no surprise when we say that travellers around the world are still searching for experiences that are unique and, dare I say, authentic.
From recharging in nature, to learning about a destination's culture, to seeking an adventure of a lifetime, Jon Fauver, TrekkSoft's co-founder reminds that "travel providers need to remember that at the heart of the guest experience is the experience part".
Tour and activity operators who prioritise the quality of the delivered experience and destinations who center their marketing efforts around experiences unique to the destination will be the ones who thrive in 2018.
2. Mobile bookings will be the new default
Bookings are made online and on mobile, and this shift towards mobile will continue to grow in 2018. Drawing on TrekkSoft's data, we found that 82% of bookings were made through a tour or activity operator's own website, and of those bookings, almost half (49%) are made on mobile. While the completion rate of mobile bookings is lower than that of other industries, this behaviour on mobile has grown significantly compared to 2016, which was at 31%.
According to Dave O'Kelly, CEO of SANDEMANs NEW Europe, “over 50% of our bookings are taken on mobile and typically within the two weeks pre-arrival into the destination. That provides a whole wealth of opportunities for us... We can facilitate easier, more exciting, and more interesting interactions pre-trip, during a trip and post-trip and own as much of the guest experience as possible”.
3. Online reviews have the most impact on bookings
"Tourism companies need to consciously manage their reputation online – guests can and will find everything." - Lucy Fuggle, co-author of the 2018 Travel Trends Report and Head of Content at TrekkSoft
9 out of 10 travellers think that reading online reviews is important and 95% of travellers trust reviews on third party sites.
We looked at TrekkSoft's top 20 customers according to their revenue and found that they have an average TripAdvisor ranking of 4.81 while 60% of these travel providers have a perfect 5.0 ranking. What more, the median number of reviews per company is 966.
It's no industry secret that a good TripAdvisor ranking can positively impact the growth of a business. However, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to achieving excellence throughout the customer's travel journey.
4. Generational differences are blurring
Just when the industry and marketing professionals thought they had neatly carved out and defined each generation's needs and wants, the travel market evolved yet again.
We found that the 30s - 50s crowd is more interested in a relaxing getaway while the 65+ are interested in adventure and opportunities to socialise. In 2018, expect to meet adventurous Baby Boomers, well travelled Gen Xers and Millennials and curious and tech savvy Gen Zs coming to their own.
Everyone is on the hunt for a life-changing experience while they travel and it's up to travel providers to create tours and activities that appeal to their lifestyles rather than to a specific age group.
5. Shift your focus away from Millennials... to their parents maybe?
Often overlooked, Gen Xers might not be the largest (or coolest) market out there, but they're the generation with the most money and time to spend on travel. In an international survey conducted in China, Germany and the US, 68% of Gen Xers are the chief shoppers when it comes to big purchases such as travel and activities.
83% are working full-time or part time and currently spend the most money on travel compared to their younger or older counterparts. On average, they will spend $627 on each day of travel.
Another survey found that 61% of American Gen Xers have children at home, meaning that family life is very much a priority and so their travel plans tend to line up with school holidays. For Gen Xers, multi-generational travel is the norm.
6. The rise of Eastern outbound markets
2017 saw a huge increase in outbound markets from the East, especially the Arabic and Indian market. By 2020, researchers predict that the Arabic market will grow by 50% and the UNWTO expects 50 million Indians to take a trip abroad.
When it comes to travel for the Arabic market, they're expecting a luxurious travel experience. With 3 out of 4 trips considered to be leisure travel, travel spending is set to reach AED 191.5 billion (that's just over USD 50 billion) by 2027. Currently, more than 50% of Arabic travellers are Millennials.
For the Indian market, they want to learn about local culture and spend time with their families when travelling. While the family may consist of older folks who prefer a more relaxed itinerary and the younger folks who prefer more adventurous excursions, that does not stop them from travelling together. They're more than happy to split up to do their own thing and reconvene later to catch up.
7. Maturing Chinese market is growing in their travel preferences
We covered this topic early in 2017, where I wrote about the changing travel preferences of the Chinese market, and it's about time the industry paid closer attention.
As more Chinese take trips abroad, we'll start seeing more repeat visits to the same countries or destinations. These travellers represent a huge opportunity for the industry because they're already familiar with the local culture and language, and are back for more!
Another interesting fact about the Chinese market is that more women travel than men, despite making up only 46% of the population. These women tend to be well travelled, more adventurous and are more proficient in English. Married or single, they're happy to explore the world alone or with a small group of friends.
Operators who want to reach out to more sophisticated travellers will need to create experiences that are educational and unique to the destination. Nobody is going to fly across the world for a cookie-cutter experience anymore.
8. These overlooked markets are growing rapidly under the radar
Solo female travellers and the LGBTQ community are growing segments and their biggest concern when travelling is safety. From a disapproving look to getting robbed to assault, these travellers are highly cautious when picking a travel destination because they are well aware of the risks they're taking when travelling to a foreign land.
For Ellie Cleary, frequent solo traveller and founder of Soul Travel blog,“the difficult part is trying to work out when someone is being genuine and friendly, and when they have bad intentions. You don’t want to travel the world telling everyone to go away.”
As for the LGBTQ community, John Tanzella, CEO and President of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association says “we’re definitely going to see more destinations and businesses standing up to support LGBTQ tourism in 2018 and beyond – particularly in places that haven’t traditionally been associated with the market."
"For tour operators who lead groups globally, try to support LGBTQ people in the places that you visit, whether it’s using LGBTQ guides or frequenting community-run businesses. There’s nothing more authentic than allowing travelers and locals to share their stories. And of course, we encourage them to be a part of IGLTA, a globally recognized sign of support in the tourism industry."
9. Sustainability is about more than protecting the environment, it's about the local communities
Sustainability became front and center of the tourism industry when the summer crowds of 2017 sent locals in Barcelona and Venice marching in the streets to protest overtourism.
This sparked conversations all over Europe about sustainability practices, or the lack of it. 2017's conversations about sustainable tourism looked beyond protecting the environment to protecting local communities and residents.
As we head into 2018, more and more travellers are becoming aware of how overtourism is ruining certain destinations and will be looking to visit other lesser known destinations to satisfy their wanderlust. Don't believe me? Check out Fodor's No List 2018.
So what's in store for the future of sustainable travel?
According to Wouter Geerts, a Senior Travel Analyst at Euromonitor International, "I have to admit that the win-win situation of sustainable development is unlikely to go far enough. There are many ways that tourism companies can improve their practices, which would result in more sustainable behaviour, while at the same time decreasing costs and increasing revenues. It is unhealthy to think, however, that if everyone in the industry would become a little more efficient, all problems would be solved and the negative impacts of the tourism industry would disappear."
He continues, "the industry will always prefer voluntary commitments over legislation, and so the win-win scenario is a popular one, but in some cases legislation might be needed. I think the case of overtourism shows that, with the number of people travelling growing strongly, some boundaries need to be drawn. While some destinations are able to market themselves as more sustainable (and expensive) destinations which would benefit their economy while at the same time reducing the actual number of visitors, not every destination can do this. Some tough decisions might need to be made to keep destinations sustainable."
Learn more about 2018's travel trends and get practical tips on how to apply these insights to your business.
Published by Nicole Kow
Having graduated from the UK, Nicole travelled around Europe before joining TrekkSoft's marketing team. She is now based in KL and regularly blogs about her travels at Next Train Out.