Most Important Travel Trends of 2012
If you guessed all of the above, you’re on to something. With the way the travel industry is trending, chances are that you’ll encounter all these situations in the year ahead. To help you better prepare for future trips, T+L’s editors and correspondents gathered together the most compelling travel trends of the year ahead.
For starters, expect major developments in two areas that have redefined travel recently: airport security and the Internet. The TSA is introducing streamlined screening for selected frequent fliers—which means a lucky few will be able to keep their shoes, belts, and jackets on while going through security checks.
Related: Most Important Travel Trends of 2015
In general, the promise of shorter lines might persuade passengers to choose convenience over cash. “More of our leisure clients who normally fly coach on international flights are flying business to ensure access to quicker check-in, security clearances, and boarding,” says Mary Ann Ramsey, the president of Betty Mclean Travel and a T+L A-list super agent.
The Internet’s influence on travel will cut both ways. Turned off by unreliable reviews on TripAdvisor and its ilk, more people will be mining their social networks for travel tips. It will also be easier than ever to log in as we travel with fewer—but more powerful—gadgets. Yet unplugging, too, is becoming an increasingly attractive option amid the overwhelming glut of information found online.
“We’re finding more and more a feeling of ‘e-morse,’” says Thomas Stanley, the chief operating officer at luxury travel outfitter Cox & Kings. “It can be difficult to sift through content to find authentic suggestions and advice.” That’s good news for Stanley as travelers flock back to old-school travel agencies and other one-stop shops to tailor their vacations.
Find out what else is in store for travelers by reading all our trend predictions for 2012.
Your hotel will get a face-lift.
Though hotel construction is booming in China and the Middle East (which will direct $7 billion toward hospitality projects in 2012), it’s slowed significantly in the United States. But that’s not to say U.S. hotels are being neglected. Across the country, older properties are undergoing capital improvements, with spruced-up lobbies, refurbished guest rooms, and improved technology, according to Bjorn Hanson of New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality. Hilton will invest $2.65 billion in its 135 U.S. properties in the next two years. Sheraton’s $300 million in upgrades will cover 60 hotels. Also being refurbished in 2012: icons such as the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Algonquin Hotel, in New York City.
You’ll consider a cruise—even if you’re not a “cruiser.”
From custom-made beds to bigger cabins, cruise lines are courting a new set of travelers by making their staterooms sexier—and more comfortable—with every new build. “Cruise companies are realizing there’s a generation of people who’ve never taken a cruise,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic. “They’re hoping that by making their cabins as luxurious as possible, they can lure customers from the chic hotels they normally frequent.” That means spacious, open-air balconies on river-cruise company Uniworld’s Antoinette, daybeds and glass-enclosed solariums on Seabourn’s Odyssey, Sojourn, and Quest, and leather headboards and waterfall showers on Norwegian’s forthcoming Breakaway.
T+L Tip: If you’ve never been on a cruise, try wetting your feet with a river cruise, which will generally involve smaller ships and ports. Viking River Cruises is adding 10 more ships to its fleet by 2014, each with generously sized cabins that have floor-to-ceiling windows as well as private verandas.
More Chinese travelers will be on the road, and you’ll find hotels adjusting to their needs.
In the 1950’s, Americans transformed the travel landscape in Europe when they began vacationing there in large numbers. The next wave of globe-trotters? China’s thriving middle class, and this time the impact will be global. With 100 million Chinese travelers expected to go abroad by 2015, hotels are rushing to tailor services for this burgeoning market. The payoff is huge: Chinese visitors to the U.S. last year spent on average $6,200 per person versus $3,000 by U.K. citizens. “The Chinese traveler is our economic stimulus,” says Robert Bobo, spokesman for the U.S. Travel Association, which is leading a campaign to streamline visa procedures for Chinese visitors. Hilton, Starwood, and Millennium have launched programs worldwide to hire more Mandarin speakers, train staff in Chinese etiquette, and provide culturally specific creature comforts: you tiao (fried crullers) and congee for breakfast, and Chinese TV channels in the rooms.
By the Numbers: 1,200 hotels are being built in China over the next two years—more than any other country worldwide
You will pay more for your hotel room and airline ticket, but save on packages and cruises.
Thanks to increased demand, limited supply, and fluctuating fuel prices, airfares and hotel-room rates are expected to rise by as much as 5 percent in 2012, according to Smith Travel Research. That’s why it’s more worthwhile than ever to lock in better rates for both through sites such as Travelocity and Expedia, which bundle your flight, room, and car rental into packages that can shave as much as $500 off the trip cost. For exceptionally good value this year, consider a cruise. “An explosion of capacity in the luxury cruise market is helping to drive never-before-seen early-bookings deals,” says Bob Levinstein, CEO of deal site CruiseCompete, citing Azamara Club Cruises’ and Seabourn’s growing fleets. Oceania Cruises’ new Caribbean and Panama sailings include free airfare if you book five months ahead, while Windstar Cruises takes 15 percent off reservations made six months before departure.
Airport security measures will become slightly less rigid—if you’re a lucky frequent flier.
By 2015, the TSA plans to let you wear your shoes through security (you’ll step on a shoe-scanning mat). But the real news for 2012 is PreCheck, a TSA pilot program that speeds travelers through the screening process at four airports (Atlanta, Miami, Detroit, and Dallas–Ft. Worth), with more to come in the near future. For now, you have to be a member of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler program or a specially selected Delta or American frequent flier to participate. If you’re one of the fortunate few, what privileges await? You can wear your shoes, belt, and lightweight outerwear, and keep your laptop and liquids in your carry-on.
T+L Tip: It’s a big step forward, but even qualified travelers may be redirected to a regular security line to keep terrorists on their toes. The random nature of the process won’t win any raves from road warriors.
Airport food will taste better.
A missed connection is getting easier to stomach, now that restaurant chains at U.S. airports are being replaced by homegrown favorites. At San Francisco International’s new Terminal 2—the standard-bearer for this generational shift in airport culture—you can choose sustainably sourced meals such as a Niman Ranch beef hamburger at the Burger Joint. In 2012, look for the Mill City Tavern, serving chef Lenny Russo’s celebrated farm cuisine, in Minneapolis–St. Paul. Also launching this year: in New York City, chef-of-the-moment Andrew Carmellini (Locanda Verde; the Dutch) opens the seafood-focused Minnow in LaGuardia; at Los Angeles International, a food truck serving street fare such as Calbi’s famous Korean short-rib tacos will be parked in Terminal 4.
You won’t have to worry about tarmac delays—but cancellations may be on the rise.
Long waits on the tarmac have decreased since April 2010, when the DOT began fining airlines up to $27,500 per passenger for delays of more than three hours. The downside: airlines seem more likely to cancel a flight rather than risk a fine. In the 12 months before the DOT’s rule went into effect, 63,948 flights were canceled at the nation’s 29 busiest airports. In the following year, that figure increased 19 percent to 75,867. In the five months after the new rule, flights stuck on the tarmac between two and three hours were more than three times as likely to be canceled than flights in the same period a year earlier, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. (The DOT says the GAO figures are flawed.) A bright spot? Even with the increase, cancellations affect fewer than 2 percent of all flights.
T+L Tip: Fly at midday, the least congested time, or on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday, the least crowded days, according to George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog. If your flight is canceled, you’ll have a better chance of finding a seat on another plane.
You’ll travel with fewer gadgets.
Prepare to pack lighter. The latest tablets and notebooks are getting skinnier, and they’re also faster and more full-featured—witness the balanced, crisp photos of the Grand Canyon you took on your tablet. Besides cameras, these do-it-all devices can function as everything from e-readers and movie players to videophones and Wi-Fi hot spots. The other reason to leave those extra gadgets home? We’re moving from an era of hardware supremacy to an age of software, apps, and anytime-accessible pictures, music, videos, and documents via iCloud, SugarSync, and other online storage services. With so much of our data being stored “in the cloud,” let’s hope 2012 isn’t also a big year for hackers.
By the Numbers: iPad users in the U.S. have increased 59% between February and September 2011.
Figure courtesy of comScore, Inc.
Companies will be courting you to become their brand ambassadors.
To stand out among seemingly endless choices, hotels, airlines, and even credit cards are rewarding customers who promote their brand on social media. Travelers who use Foursquare, a location-based check-in app, can now link their account to American Express (T+L’s parent company) and get discounts on purchases. In 2010, Virgin America began giving out frequent-flier miles for geo check-ins; JetBlue has followed suit and is offering 100 points for check-ins via Facebook Places at its 49 terminals. Expedia lets travelers earn points on more than 140 airlines and 70,000 hotels when they book travel through the new Expedia Rewards program and gives its 1.1 million Facebook fans early access to sales and promotions.
Your friends will help you plan your next trip.
If the plethora of “social travel” apps, sites, and services is any indication, the days of user reviews from strangers on sites like TripAdvisor and Expedia are numbered. The mini boom is a borderline glut—Gtrot, Gogobot, Afar, Trippy, Tripped Off, and Tripl: each is aiming to become your go-to resource for sharing travel tips on Facebook. They’re pitching themselves as crowd-sourced alternatives to purportedly planted or inaccurate reviews on the established travel portals. Who better to trust than people you know, right? We haven’t seen this many me-too services since the 1990’s dot-com era, and a shakeout is inevitable.
T+L Tip: Our favorite integration of social media: the vacation-rental service AirBnB recently added a useful feature highlighting your Facebook friends’ (and their friends’) available apartments.
Someone else will make the decisions.
After years of comparing and contrasting online, travelers now find the Web-booking process more exhausting than exhilarating. The average person visits 21 sites during nine sessions while preparing for a trip, an information overload that can lead to paralysis—a symptom of decision fatigue, according to Dr. Michael Young, a professor of psychology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. The solution? The one-stop-shop vacation. Travel agents are reporting a boost in business: 80 percent of Virtuoso advisers saw an uptick in bookings over the past year. American Express Travel also launched the new Nextpedition program, which tailors mystery trips based on a personality quiz. Google, meanwhile, is busy “Google-izing” search engines such as Kayak and Orbitz. Eventually you’ll be able to type in just a few key words, and Google will suggest itineraries that suit you—in an attempt to do what a travel agent does.