By Alan E. Young, Co-Founder and President of Puzzle Partner
It’s been a heck of a year, hasn’t it? Most of us are ready to say a big Sayonara! to the hangover that 2016 has become. But really, on the whole, the travel industry had a pretty solid year. While next year doesn’t register signs of dramatic growth in the number of travelers, it does appear that travelers will spend more when they do travel. Capturing that revenue will be more important than ever with the uncertain political and economic landscapes. Here’s where the opportunities are in 2017 to grab some of that market share:
“Get the heck out of dodge” takes on a new meaning
We know travel is about getting away from it, but this year, travelers mean business. Travelers desire the feeling of escape more than ever. And even if the destination isn’t obscure, the journey may be, with unusual attractions and restaurants on the itinerary. As travelers search for hidden treasures, I’m guessing this is the year of even more interest in off-the-beaten-path vacation rentals and indie hotels.
Travelers become more patient
If there’s a level of service higher than on demand, aim for that, because travelers want it two minutes before they even knew they wanted it. It’s not fair to put this all on travelers. It’s more on the travel industry to respond to something that other industries have already embraced. What on-demand service amounts to at this point is just rethinking processes that have previously been time-consuming that we all know don’t have to be. Check-in and room keys, for instance. If Amazon can open a storefront that doesn’t require human staff, travelers know that they shouldn’t have to stand in line to do something as simple as saying they’ve arrived. Airlines, hotels et al – it’s time to “make it work!”
What is more local than local?
I’m honestly not sure how much more local “local travel” can get, but we’re an intense bunch in this industry. I am sure we can find a way to put local on steroids. Perhaps travelers can sleep on a local’s sofa and pick their own dinner from the backyard garden? Seriously, though, Airbnb’s November launch of Trips is just one example of the industry responding to traveler desires for increasingly local experiences. And it’s not just millennials who want real, local experiences. Turns out Baby Boomers are trending local, too, with 50% reporting they want to dine with locals while traveling and 40% reporting they want to tour with a local.
Your Aunt Ethel’s not the only one hearing voices anymore
Wake words and IFTTT (If This Then That) are quickly becoming a part of our lexicon. In fact over half of iPhone users use voice recognition, and the number is growing. Just a couple of days ago Wynn Las Vegas announced each guestroom will have an Amazon Echo, and Apple is on a mission to transform Siri into a direct competitor with Alexa. My point is that the more we embrace voice recognition technology and artificial intelligence, the more it will change the way travelers plan, search, and buy. This means that as an industry, we will need to shift the way we market to travelers.
Bleisure? Framily? These terms don’t matter. Here’s what does.
Am I the only person who finds the new word mashups like bleisure a bit annoying? Honestly, we don’t need these awkward terms to describe the way people travel. What we need are systems that capture data about travelers and then market to them predictively. Sure, trends are useful to understand, but the capability to understand your individual travelers and their desires and habits exists. Just use the expensive technology you, no doubt, already have at your disposal instead of marketing packages based on some broad idea that the industry threw out there.
There’s plenty more for me to go on about—bots, distribution, the very real unpredictability of what will happen with travelers this year given the political climate. But what’s more important is keeping a close eye on all the microevolutions in the industry and staying on top of technology adoption. Don’t let trends like voice recognition or artificial intelligence intimidate you. Instead, read up, hire the right travel technology strategic advisors, and, more than anything, know your travelers and how they are evolving and use that knowledge.
 Choice 2017 Outlook. Hotel-Online. December 2016.  AARP Travel Research: 2017 Travel Trends. November 2016.  Almost 40% of US Smartphone Users Use Voice Recognition. Parks Associates. Jan 2016.