Travel Trends 2014: Unplugged, Imperfect, Fast

by Maria Lenhart

Concerns over privacy, technology overload and a desire for authentic and participatory experiences will be key drivers behind the travel choices made by travel agency clients in 2014.

To learn more about the forces shaping your customers’ travel decisions this year, Travel Market Report spoke with consumer expert Ann Mack, director of trendspotting, for JWT Intelligence, a marketing research firm.

1. Experiences wanted
In 2014 the ongoing trend by consumers to make experiences a top priority will intensify, according to Mack. She noted that in JWT’s latest consumer trends survey, 73% of respondents said they would rather spend money on an experience than on a material item.

And consumers want experiences that are anything but passive, Mack added. “Everything is becoming much more interactive, with people seeking to be participants in the entire experience.

“You see this with theme parks creating more enveloping activities that go beyond rides. Disney is adding scavenger hunts throughout the Magic Kingdom and a Pirate’s Adventure where kids go on a pirates raid around the park.”

Social media, particularly platforms where users post pictures of what they’re doing, is a key driver of the interactive trend, she added. “People want experiences that are share-worthy. Social media has created a desire for photo-friendly experiences.”

2. Age of impatience
With the rise of on-demand options, consumers’ expectations for speed and ease of delivery is rising exponentially, Mack said.

For retailers, including travel agents, delivering services as quickly and seamlessly as possible is growing in importance. At the same time, travelers increasingly value options that make wait times shorter – and they will appreciate anything that travel agents do to facilitate this.

“People will pay a premium for greater convenience and speed,” Mack said. “Amusement parks are offering line-jumping privileges, while hotels offer quicker check-in for preferred customers. More travelers will pursue pre-check qualification at airports.”

3. Rage against the machine
As much as consumers love their tech toys, their desire to be free of them, at least for short periods of time, is growing, said Mack. This is leading to the rise of hotels and adult camps that ban use of cellphones and other technology by guests.

“Being unplugged is becoming a novel experience,” she said.

Even though consumers are obsessed with using mobile devices to record experiences, more are realizing that there may be a downside.

“A significant number of Generation Xers (43%) and even millennials (41%) noted that they are so busy taking pictures with their mobile phones that they are missing out on the moment,” Mack said.

4. Mindful living
Related to the technology backlash is consumers’ weariness of multiple demands on their time, along with information overload. As a result, they are seeking ways to relieve stress, a trend that is reflected in the growing popularity of yoga retreats and other mind/body-focused vacations.

“People have more of a need to take time out and explore who they are,” Mack said. “Because so many companies have down-sized, people are working much longer hours. We’re trying to find balance.”

5. Privacy, please
With all the headlines about government surveillance and data theft, it’s little wonder that consumers today are worried about their data being compromised. Many are also wary of how their preferences and spending habits are monitored, Mack noted.

“We found that 89% of consumers believe it is harder to be anonymous, both online and in real life,” she said. “Many said they are anxious about technology, as it’s so easy to track behavior.”

Consumers want assurances from those they do business with that their data is being protected, she said.

At the same time, they appreciate it when personal data is used in a way that is beneficial to them, without being invasive. “If the information provides a better experience for the customer, it’s a good thing.

“But there is a fine line between what is cool and what is creepy. For example, it’s OK for a flight attendant to know that a top passenger likes cappuccino, but not the name of his dog.”

6. Proudly imperfect
A desire for authenticity is leading consumers to look for experiences that go beyond the cookie cutter. “People are looking for experiences that aren’t too perfect,” Mack said.

The trend accounts for the growing popularity of peer-to-peer companies such as Airbnb, where travelers opt for local homes over hotels, and SideTour, where local residents offer neighborhood tours.

“Some may prefer to stay in someone’s home, rather than in a chain hotel. Or they’re doing things like touring New York’s Lower East Side with a graffiti artist – and doing some graffiti. We’re going to see more companies based on this idea.”

Next time: A different take on what to expect in 2014. Hint: travelers will be going to extremes.

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