1. It’s all about the experience
The stats tell a clear, year-after-year story - we’re seeing a growth in “experiential” travel.
Luxury travellers don’t just want to travel in comfort. They want to be transformed by the experience, whether it’s ballooning over the temples of Bagan, Myanmar or staying in tents as part of an African safari.
It’s like they’re longing to re-live that eye-opening journey they might have taken as a carefree backpacker exploring the world - but with the frills they are accustomed to and can now afford.
But rather than risk booking their trips online, a growing number of luxury travelers are going to 'bespoke' travel agents – specialized experts on a particular region who can tailor-make their trips for them.
2. The Chinese are coming! No, they’ve arrived. What now?
By now everyone knows China’s outbound travelers are the top international tourism spenders. So it should come as no surprise the entire global travel industry is clambering to appeal to this massive and growing traveler base (both domestic China and international).
Remember though, adapting to this sector – any new sector - is a two-way street involving education, tolerance, patience and understanding on both sides.
Companies that’ll get the best results are those that can best appreciate, adapt and appeal to the Chinese traveler, or for that matter, any new travelling segment, be they mainstream or niche.
How to do this? Research, train staff, and tweak travel experiences to cater to differing cultures, aesthetics, languages and even food preferences. Travel and tourism is about hospitality, after all.
3. Who’s watching who?
Spitting, littering, cutting queues, defacing ancient artifacts… No matter who you are, where you’re from or where you think you’re going, bad behavior is just not on the itinerary.
Forget the local authorities. Out in force and growing are the internet ‘travel behavior’ police - regular Joes and Joannes armed with smartphones and social media accounts.
There are mixed lessons to be gained from this, but arguably the presence of greater checks and accountability for misbehaving tourists is probably a good thing.
For tourism bodies, these sorts of stories go viral so your response, action, or inaction - and your attitudes- can resonate around the world. Be smart about it.
4. “Let’s go social!”
This is possibly the most overused phrase in travel and probably the least understood. Social is more than a ‘build it, they will come’ mentality. It requires savviness, dedication, strategy and resources to be effective.
Let’s repeat one of those - dedication.
Getting a Twitter account or creating a Facebook profile is pretty pointless unless there is good reason someone wants to notice it or use it.
Think about the message and the audience you want. Would it make more sense to use pre-existing media platforms to target your preferred demographic? Also consider what appeals to whom and change your social strategies accordingly.
Spending time and money to devise in-house content may look pretty slick and appease the company president but it’s pointless if only 12 people are going to view it.
There are smarter ways to get your message out. The companies and organizations that understand social invest in the right people, the right ideas and the right strategies for the most suitable platforms.
5. Lame official tourism websites
A pet peeve in the travel media world. Sadly, very few tourism bodies get it right. Remember, a tourism website is about the user - not about ticking the boxes on some internal briefing document.
Official tourism board websites remain the first step in online destination research for a lot of travelers and journos, but it’s mind-boggling how many official tourism websites still miss the mark. Step back, look at your site, invest and revamp it.
Make quality images, video and contacts readily available. Make it simple, sophisticated and keep it up-to-date with information on transportation changes, travel alerts and links to news articles.
Work on your search engine optimization (SEO). With the deluge of travel agencies with smart SEO practices online, it’s sometimes difficult to gauge if a site is official or not.
Make the website experience akin to a trip to your country – enjoyable and worth returning to and importantly, worth sharing. And make it easier for media to connect and get the material they need.
6. Just who, or what, are you hugging?
With so many voluntourism opportunities popping up over the last couple of years, it's getting tougher for travelers to choose the ones that actually benefit people in need.
Fortunately, many travelers are getting wise to the fact that some organizations offering volunteer programs often aren't all that they appear to be. Some do more damage than good for the locals tourists think they are helping, in some cases even creating a market for orphans or taking work away from the locals who really need it.
Organizers will have to work harder to prove they are genuinely offering something tourists can take part in to make a difference. Make it easy for tourists to verify legitimacy, so that everyone feels good.
7. Green with…
Being ‘green’ and ‘eco-‘ this or that is not enough. Today’s travelers want to see genuine sustainability and socio-environmental integration.
Asking them to re-use towels and linen isn’t going to cut it, especially when all the hotel room lights and air-con are dialed up for check-in.
Scale back the frills and scale up the solar power, rain collection, local community involvement and so on.
One trend getting more popular is the “farm-to-table” approach. Here, resorts and hotels have turned to farming right on site, sectioning off part of a property for sustainable growing - and in many cases letting guests take part.
The lesson: give travelers more than lip service and you’ll reap short and long term benefits.
8. There’s no place like ….?
Don’t underestimate the rise of the nomadic entrepreneurs.
Who are they? Not just backpackers - young entrepreneurs have increased their mobility to work while traveling abroad constantly. These are the nomadic rich.
More and more travelers are also workers, a different set from the business travelers working for the man, traveling from A to C with a bit of B or D in the mix.
Needs are similar - a good base but the ability to roam, and (please take heed) TO BE CONNECTED.
Free wi-fi access should be standard (hotels, it is the modern day equivalent of having a TV and the newspaper delivered to your door) and not an overpriced add on. When free wi-fi is available destination-wide, not only will the destination be more popular, it will be easier to engage with your visitors and discover what they are discovering.
On the flip side, many travelers are now looking to digital detox travel - places to disengage from emails, annoying Facebook selfies and micro-managing bosses.
9. Hotel arms race
It’s hard not to be impressed by the big, opulent “mine’s crazier than yours” unveiling of hotels, especially in Asia and the Middle East. New markets mean new designs, but which will last the architectural test of time?
While some of these are at the higher end of the market, mid-range hotels are on the up.
In many popular tourist destinations, there simply isn’t much room left at the inn. Often, the lower (1-2 stars) and higher (5 stars) hotel segments are already quite full, leaving a big hole for 3-4 star hotels to enter.
Expect to see more of these over coming years and expect travelers to appreciate them more and more.
10. The future hot spots?
Economic turmoil in Greece, Spain and Italy. Political and social turmoil in Egypt, Syria and earlier, Tunisia. All top or potentially leading global tourism spots - can they survive, adapt and rebuild effectively? And how can recovery be used as a competitive advantage?
How this plays out will determine their success and something we will be watching late 2013 and into 2014.
Andrew Demaria is Executive Producer, CNN Travel.