As travel agents look to the coming calendar year, it’s always helpful to think about some of the growing trends that might work their way into their clients’ 2018 travel plans, and help them spur on their business.
Travel Market Report asked travel agents, and some of the industry’s closest observers, to weigh in on what they think will be popular for the coming year.
George Stone, editor-in-chief, National Geographic Traveler
“We’ll continue to see the resurgence of American cities. The response to our October story about the 25 happiest cities was through-the-roof. What we found was that neighborhoods, and local activities, are important not just to locals, but to visitors as well. For example, Cleveland is striking a chord, with all of the new dining and entertainment districts it has to offer.”
“People travel to meet people, and when you ask them what they saw and did, it’s the stories about who they met. So, trips like Southeast Asia river cruises are including stops for people to visit a weaving village, or see where bricks are made. It is a way of exploring the region through the people.”
Tricia Dowhan, product director, Country Walkers, a division of Vermont Bicycle Tours
“People are looking for more fringe destinations. Portugal is a good secret, with so much changing in the past decade, great new hotels, customer service. The Istria peninsula is also hugely popular. It’s Croatia’s Tuscany, with a similar landscape, great truffles and wine.”
Margie Lenau, travel consultant and owner, Wonderland Family Vacations
"We are seeing a large increase in multigenerational bookings. Clients are booking their vacations earlier, and not waiting for 2017 to end. Families are putting a higher value on spending time together making memories. Families are traveling together more and demanding experiences to fit all ages.
Travel to Alaska is increasing as people are interested in environmental issues and want to see the landscape for themselves. I also see theme park attendance exploding, and because of this, we are watching the expansion of parks, and additions of resorts. On-site resorts are in high demand."
Sasha Andrews, director of industry sales, Exodus Travels
“More and more tourists are venturing to the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, where they are exploring the colorful cities, stunning national parks, and a fascinating historical and cultural mix that binds its Soviet past with ancient mythology and a delightfully quiet pastoral setting.”
Miriam Salli, owner, That's Amore Tours
“Many American tourists are very, very interested in northern Italy (Parma, Bologna, Torrechiara, Fontanellato), all the destinations that are not the usual Venice/Florence/Rome.”
Bob Gilbert, country manager, head of North America sales, Rezdy
“Though traditional attractions remain the top-booked category, the growth of culinary travel has already bumped wine tours to the top 10 in Rezdy bookings in 2017. The wine/food category, and specialty areas like ecotourism, will grow as an overall percentage of ‘in-destination’ activities in 2018.”
Marilyn Macallair, vice president, business development, Passport Online Inc.
“Through our social media product, ESP, we currently curate and post to nearly 1,500 travel agency business Facebook pages every day. The level of engagement for the travel agency community on Facebook has grown significantly this year and will continue to escalate in 2018. In a recent survey we conducted, an astonishing 44 percent of travel agency owners said they can attribute actual sales to social media postings. That number will continue to rise next year as agency owners stay active and present on Facebook.”
Rainer Jenss, president and founder, Family Travel Association
“A number of studies show that Millennials – 50 percent of whom already have children – are using travel agents more than any other demographic (about 38 percent use one). So even though parents (moms, in particular) are doing lots of research to find out where they want to go and what they can do, they have no problem using a travel agent to do the booking and provide the assurances they’re seeking.
When all-American families (whether they have used a travel agent or not) were asked to give a grade to travel agents, they gave them a B-. When we extrapolated just those who actually worked with an agent, that went up to a B+, the highest grade of all the industry sectors! This shows that the perception of travel agents is not very strong, but the satisfaction is high among those who have used one.”
Susan Farewell, owner, Farewell Travels
“I’m seeing a lot more requests for really long trips. I have a family doing an eight-country, 3½-month-long trip to Central and South America next year. They're taking their kids out of school and hiring a Spanish-speaking guide to help their kids learn and speak the language. Four- to six-week vacations are becoming more common, renting a villa in Italy and essentially living there with the locals.
I have one milestone vacation where the husband has asked me to find someone who is a local celebrity that they can have dinner with, like a vineyard owner.”
Lisa Sheldon, executive director, Destination Wedding & Honeymoon Specialists Association
“Destinations need to be something new, more exotic, more cultural. The couple may have already attended three destination weddings in Maui, Cancun or Jamaica, and they want something more than the usual beach destination. Mexico continues to gain in popularity as it offers colonial cities with culture, architecture and history; eco-friendly destinations with seclusion; the beauty of nature; and a complete cutoff from the ‘real world.’ Jamaica offers the Port Antonio area as well as smaller, more boutique hotels and villa experiences. “
Also, group sizes are increasing. In the past few years, groups attending the destination weddings averaged around 28 to 36 people, where many of the DWHSA members stated that they have weddings with 40 to 84 guests attending destinations weddings in 2018.”
Mary Jean Tully, founder and CEO, Tully Luxury Travel
“Morocco and Iceland are the hottest destinations right now. So are safaris, in addition to Rwanda for Gorilla trekking.”
Ed Cotton, consultant, MeWed Events
“Many couples planning a destination wedding in 2018 are looking to throw tradition out, and have a unique and more intimate wedding in a less traditional destination. They want their destination wedding to be an experience for their guests as well as for themselves, so many are planning additional group activities. Don’t be surprised to see Groomsladies and Bridesmen at some of these destination weddings.”