As the recession continues to fade (and that’s a “finger’s crossed” statement), travel companies of all stripes are coming out with new offerings. And more folks are hitting the road—but doing it in slightly different ways. As I stare into my cloudy crystal ball, here's what I see for the near future:
1) More—and often flashier—cruise ships: The coming months will see the debut of six new floaters, and, taking a cue from the movie industry, many cruiselines have already released video trailers to tout their amenities. The ships include the Norwegian Getaway which, like others in her class, will have cabins for single travelers and jaw-dropping waterslides (perfect for the Caribbean itineraries it will ply); The Regal Princess, a swank tub on which 80% of the cabins get balconies and--for those who need to see the sea even closer--comes complete with a 28-foot glass walkway that's cantilevered over the side of the ship; and Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the sea which will have a simulated sky diving experience and an observation pod that will hang off the end of a swiveling arm, over the sea. Are all these bells and whistles desirable? I'll leave that rant up to my father. As a mom, I know my kids would likely be the first in line for the sky-diving experience. New ships are also on the horizon from Windstar Cruises, Costa Cruises and Pearl Seas Cruises.
2) Self-service car rentals: The ease of using such services as Zipcar have forced the bigger players to innovate and many, Hertz most prominently, will be replacing agents with self-service kiosks, which they're saying will be faster. Now the only question that remains is: will the self-service kiosks give customers the same hard sell to buy insurance they don’t need?
3) Your phone as a key card: You’re now paying for your Starbucks with it, so why not use it to get into your hotel room? The Aloft chain recently announced that it would have this technology ready in 2014 (it already allows guests to check in by text message). Its only a matter of time before the other hotel chains follow. Heck, imagine what they'll save by doing so.
4) Swank, independent airport lounges: To heck with airline loyalty or shelling out for first class seats. A number of independent companies will be offering airport lounges to travelers in 2014 and beyond, with amenities that are, arguably, a step above what the airlines are offering. American Express, for example, has launched “Centurion Lounges”, free for use by its Platinum members (a $50 fee for card-holders with less clout); local celebrity chefs will cater the food, and full-service spas will be on site.
5) Goodbye traditional rooms service: This year New York City’s largest hotel (The New York Hilton) ditched it in favor of a "marketplace" in the lobby and it looks like many other hotels may follow their lead. Turns out that room service often doesn’t break even for hotels, so hoteliers are suggesting that guests turn to local restaurants and order delivery instead.
6) Goodbye hotel rooms: And no, this has nothing to do with them ditching room service. But today, AirBnB has some 50,000 rooms on offer, more than any one hotel chain. Combine that number with the folks who are renting entire apartments (through such sites as FlipKey, Homeaway, Rentalo and others) and we’re seeing a sea-change in travel habits that seems destined to continue….except in places where recently enacted laws are forcing travelers back into hotels by making short-term rental illegal. Today, these injunctions against vacation rentals are in place in New York City, Las Vegas, Paris and a number of other popular destinations.
Have I missed any key trends? Post them here!
Happy trails to all in 2014!