Back to the future of travel

Fresh from last month’s World Travel Market, TTN’s KEITH J FERNANDEZ reports on where the industry’s headed next

DELEGATES at World Travel Market in London last month were keenly watching the future.

From radio frequency identification tags that will make check-in queues a thing of the past and space travel finally taking off in 2009 to the importance of environmental issues to the consumer and the localisation of travel, there was endless speculation on how the industry might look in a few years’ time.
We list a few of the most compelling:

Book space now!
Space travel is coming back to earth on the price front at least. In the UK, a deposit of $10,000 will book a trip for 2009 that will take you 62 miles above the earth for a ‘mini-astronaut’ view of lovely Gaia. Regional travellers can make their way to Ras Al Khaimah’s new spaceport, of course, and save on air travel’s carbon emissions.
A flight to the moon is likely to dent your bank balance by $100 million, but soaring weightlessly above the clouds only costs $25 million and months of time spent training in Russia. “The costs are prohibitive but a survey showed that 26 per cent would definitely and another 25 per cent probably would love to go into space,” said Space Adventures’ VP marketing, Tom Shelley. He expects millions of would-be customers will  give anything to rocket boost their squalid existence. That’s why, he said, inordinate amounts are being spent on space travel – as well as because tourism can help lower the costs of space exploration. Additionally, space could mean the future of transportation. “Being able to move from point to point on Earth while leaving the atmosphere could dramatically reduce transport times.”

The localisation of travel
On the flip side, other experts feel people will fly around the globe much less and journey closer home instead.
“Will accessibility be something for the elite in 30 or 40 years because they are the only ones to afford travel because of the lack of fuel,” asked Kip Horton, Starwood group VP, sales, EMEA, speaking at the Hotels 2006 conference.
“I think we are in a great period where so many can see so much of the world for comparatively little. I don’t believe long term that will be the case.” He said the industry would need to look within existing markets.“Maybe more Germans for German hotels. I think inside Europe, for instance, there will be travelling by train and car to see more of our countries and people may not necessarily be globetrotters.”

The attraction of controlled danger
A growing number of travellers are rejecting travel advisories to undertake radical travel plans, giving rise to extreme and reality tourism, according to Euromonitor. Particularly suited to Africa, consumers are now looking for ‘safe danger’ experiences as the ultimate challenge, and reality tourism has begun to take off.

About the environment
Irina Varda, commercial director of Capsis Convention Centres and Resort Hotels in Greece, scored a point for responsible tourism when she said environmental issues are becoming more important, even to the guest. “We have an in-house zoo, private biological production of vegetables and fruit served at the hotel and a botanical park around us. We even throw little fish in the sea to make sure that the stock doesn’t disappear. Clients didn’t come because of our policy but really appreciated everything and were encouraged to return.”
Starwood’s Kip Horton added there was a push towards environmental consciousness from both hotel and customer. “It isn’t just about hotels saving thousands of dollars, it’s the impact on the environment. The world still keeps spinning if you don’t have your sheets changed every day. If you work with local food producers, you sustain the economy and help reduce emissions. [But] customers are speaking up more and more and don’t want to see the waste. The 20-minute shower will disappear.”

And what of climate change?
Horton, who calls himself an eternal optimist, said humans would adapt to the challenges of climate change. “Certain destinations may become too hot and more people may vacation in Northern Europe. Other destinations will need to be creative in their marketing, or even change their approach. Places that go because of sea levels may introduce underwater tours! I think the industry is resilient,” he said.

New Asian money
Futurist Dr Marvin J Cetron, president, Forecasting International, believes another travel boom, like that of the 1990s, is at hand. This will largely be driven by China and India, which make up 40 per cent of the world’s total population, and are opening up new frontiers as source markets. While ‘middle class’ means different things in Asia and the West – a net worth of $18,000 to $36,000 makes a Chinese family middle class, while in India this group has yearly incomes with local purchasing power equivalent to anywhere from $20,000 to $600,000 – he said many of them can afford to travel abroad, an estimated 85 million in China alone. In 2005, though, only 16 million Chinese and 10 million Indians did so.
By 2010, the UNWTO says, 100 million Chinese will travel abroad, outpacing the US, Japan and Germany as the world’s most numerous traveller, followed by some 50 million Indians.

Singles and ‘babymoons’
New source markets appearing now, in total contrast with each other, are single travellers and couples expecting a child, according to a WTM Euromonitor forecast report.
Rather than penalise those holidaying alone, Euromonitor recommends catering to the increasing number of single people with increased disposable income in the UK, as some providers are beginning to do.
Big news from the US: ‘Babymoons’ that target expecting couples who want to get away before their first child changes their relationship.

The big online bogey
Simplicity and teenagers will determine future online behaviour, said speakers at Travolution@ WTM. Websites must be simple and mobile friendly for consumers to book via phones and PDAs, said O2’s Nancy Lyndhurst, while Amadeus’ Gillian Gibson warned if customers could not choose a product online in 11.5 seconds, online retailers could lose a lot of business. Arjo Ghosh, CEO of Spannerworks pointed out that future online trends will be shaped by consumers who are between aged 13 to 17 years today. “People often refer to the first generation of web users as digital immigrants. Well,the next generation are digitial natives,” the Travolution blog reported him as saying.
The other big one is trust. TripAdvisor’s Mark Charron called trust online gold dust, pointing out that 90 per cent of consumers trust recommendations from other consumers.

High-tech hardware
Futurist Dr Cetron believes that by 2010, devices similar to iPods will translate idiomatic speech from any of some eight common languages into any of the others in real time, and a few years later, translation will go visual, conveyed by something like sunglasses. Also, he said, RFID, or radio-frequency identification tags when attached to passports will make border crossing more secure, while tagging workers can keep unauthorized personnel out of sensitive areas. “The US government soon will build it into passports – at a cost of $100 to the carrier, eliminating lines at airports because the traveller’s photograph and identifying data will appear automatically on officials’ computer monitors.”

Fuel for airlines’ growth
Airline profitability being hostage to the rising cost of fuel, Dr Cetron said more fuel-efficient aircraft, new refineries in Saudi Arabia and Asia, as well as recent finds in Canada mean that by 2010 or so, “the price of crude should be back in the range of $45 to $50 per barrel, airliners should be sipping their fuel with unaccustomed delicacy, and the world’s airlines should be securely profitable for the first time in almost 20 years.” This was a fragile prediction, he said, because “it is subject to political turmoil or other capricious factors.”

Gray power
As baby boomers continue to drive travel and tourism growth in their golden years, even travelling in lean seasons, Dr Cetron said establishments will need to provide extra manpower and specialised facilities for them.
Starwood’s Horton, on the other hand, felt that an inability to recruit the right staff combined with better health and lower pensions for seniors could provide a solution: raising the retirement age. “If they retain their health we must offer them benefits and other reasons that make them want to stay.”