What Will Be the Top Trends in Travel in 2016? Our Predictions

Gondolas on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy Dennis Jarvis/Flickr
What will travel be like in 2016? How will it change, and how will the major trends affect our choices and experiences? It is crystal ball time again, folks. With the help of a number of industry experts, here’s what I’m predicting for the coming year.
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A car zips along the road The NRMA/Flickr
And that prediction is based on gas prices, which most expect to remain low. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which crunches data for the U.S. Congress, the average cost of gas will be $2.33 in 2016, slightly higher than the average in December of 2015, but still far below what it has been in prior years—great news for road trippers.

Airline executives, too, have been lowering prices on some routes, partially because of decreased jet fuel costs, and partially because of increasing competition from non-legacy carriers like Virgin America and JetBlue. "The growth is in the double digits for low cost carriers in 2016," says Tom Spagnola, a Senior Vice President at CheapoAir.com.  "When one of the low cost carriers come into a market, and we’ve seen this recently in Dallas and Los Angeles, airfares drop by 25%. We’ll be seeing more of competition in 2016. Spirit Airlines is up to almost 80 destinations, Frontier is growing at double digits."
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A group listens to a guide give a lecture. Wayne Large/Flickr
There comes a tipping point when tour operators have to decide whether to let a tour go out half-empty or cut prices. That point was coming with more regularity this year, and should continue to do so next, as well. "What’s happening is that the people who used to take the mass market bus tours are deciding that they prefer vacations on which they only have to unpack once, so they’re choosing river cruises instead," says Nigel Osborne, Vice President of Sales and Business Development for the luxury European specialist Key Tours Vacations. "The fact that there are so many river cruise options today has really hurt tour operators."
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A Viking River boat in Budapest, Hungary. Roderick Eime

But are there too many river cruises now? Though I couldn’t get anyone to comment on record on this speculation, many in the industry are worried that river cruising has reached a saturation point. Some 23 new boats were launched in 2015, with more debuting the year before. Not only is there limited space on the great rivers of the world (the Danube, the Rhine, the Seine, the Mekong, the Yangtze, etc), but it may be that, in 2016, there will be more staterooms than would-be passengers. If the number of discounts I’ve seen in recent months for river cruises is any indication, prices could continue to stay flat or bottom out.

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A cheerful driver in a Lyft car. Alfredo Mendez/Flickr
It's no secret that the sharing economy is going gangbusters, especially in the travel sector. It was announced at the Financial Times Sharing Economy European Summit that the value of the sharing economy had grown to $15 billion in the past seven years—that's more than the $11 billion value of Google, Yahoo and Apple combined. According to Ros Banks of the private accommodations purveyor Wimdu.com 6% of the American population has experienced hospitality through the sharing economy (with 1.4% of the population offering it).

But with increasing numbers come increased government scrutiny. In November of 2015, New York City announced that it would allot $10 million to crack down on "illegal hotels" (read: Airbnb).  It's just one of many municipalities—including Paris, San Francisco and Las Vegas—that have made it illegal to rent an apartment or home for less than 30 days. We're also seeing attempts to regulate Uber, Lyft and other big "sharers", which may lead to these organizations—with legal bills to pay, taxes to negotiate and more services that they’ll need to give to service providers (licensing fees, insurance policies and more)—to increase prices. We’ll see.
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A family together on vacation. Aaron Goodman/flickr
Three generations traveling together isn’t new, but it's becoming far more common than ever before. "We’ve seen a 20% jump in the last year in requests for multigenerational vacations," says Osborne. Elizabeth Blount McCormick of Uniglobe Travel Designers is just one of many in the industry who concurs: "Multigenerational travel will continue to grow," she says. "We've seen a number of grandparents taking their entire families on extensive trips."

And it's not only travel agents and tour operators that are responding to this trend; according to Osborne, hotels, particularly in Europe, are revamping their properties to create multi-room suites to compete with apartment and home rentals for these larger groups.
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Yoga practitioners at the top of Mount Oxford, near Boulder, Colorado Zach Dischner/Flickr
Wellness travel is growing 50% faster than regular travel, according to a recent survey performed by the Global Wellness Summit. But that may be because the definition of what exactly "wellness travel" is has become rather squishy. According to Dena Roche, wellness expert and creator of TravelDiet, "In the past, when people thought about wellness travel, they thought about ladies who had a ton of money who went to the spa. But now wellness travel has evolved to include yoga retreats, spas, adventure travel. In my mind, it can be any trip you take having a wellness component, and that includes mental well being. So it could be a trip where you turned off your phone and had a digital vacation; or a visit to Europe where you walked many miles in museums."

I’d say the takeaway is not more actual "wellness vacations" but a change in mindset, leading vacationers to pick trips that they think will add to their mental and/or physical wellbeing—which ain’t a bad development at all.
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A massive line of people wait to get into Versailles in France. Dennis Jarvis/Flickr
Though you'd never know it from the crushing crowds at Versailles (pictured) and the Great Wall of China, many in the travel industry feel that travelers, especially Millennials, are gravitating to trips that revolve around interpersonal exchanges, and don't worry about checking famous sights off a bucket list. Paul Kao, CEO of Tripverse.com says "People, especially young people, appreciate and prefer experiential travel, by which I mean having a unique experience rather than just going to the landmarks, experiencing a destination like a local, or seeking a secondary city as a destination." Paul Jacobs of Student Universe feels that the reason behind this shift is partially economic: "Employers are more into candidates who have global experiences," he notes. "You need a certain understanding of other cultures to get many jobs nowadays and students are taking that into account when they travel."



 

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A tornado. Wyatt Welmman/Flickr
With climate change causing unusual, and often extreme, weather patterns across the planet, and an increasingly fraught geopolitical atmosphere, travelers need to be more prepared than ever for delays, strikes, cancelled flights and train trips, and other problems when they travel. But thanks to technology, there are also more tools than ever for vacationers when things go wrong. Recently, during the Paris attacks, Facebook turned on a feature that allowed those in the city to "check in" and quickly tell their friends and family that they were safe. The GPS devices on smartphones allow travelers to be tracked (there are apps that vacationers can opt into allowing their friends and family to do this); and to figure out where they are, if they need to exit a fraught situation quickly. IPhones aren’t the solution for everything, of course—“When there are problems in a destination, the first things to go down are cellphone networks,” warns Dan Richards, the CEO of Global Rescue. But they can help tremendously, especially if you realize that texts can often get out when phone calls can’t (as they need less bandwidth).

In addition, a number of tour companies and travel agents employ security experts (like Richards) to create emergency protocols for their clients. And those traveling without the help of a company, are being more mindful of registering their plans with the US State Department, so that they can get help if needed.

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