by Peter J. Bates

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

2010 - 'A Year in Review' - Market Rebound, Growth, Opportunity & 'Editors of Travel'

For those of us whose lifeblood is in the luxury travel business, I’m sure you’ll join me in celebrating the rebound that is penetrating the market. I’m confident that 2010 is closing more positively than it began, and as we move forth in 2011, we must stay on a path of resurgence with verve and enthusiasm.

So, with the New Year on the horizon, I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts, culled from my travels and discussions with tourism and hospitality professionals as well as those in the agent community.

1) As we know, luxury travel is rebounding – and with the economic recovery, the luxury travel market is becoming more experiential. When consumers spend money on a customized holiday, they want it to be more meaningful then ever before. That means delving deeper into a culture, a lifestyle, a true experience (such as art, spa/wellness, adventure and the like) so that a memorable travel journey with a ‘wow’ factor can be crafted for a customer.

2) The outlook for growth of business travel is positive as we move into 2011 and 2012 – but of course they’ll be challenges for corporate travel managers who’ll be faced with handling the dichotomy between rising air and hotel costs and the need to manage budgets, re-examine cost-control tactics, and increase business efficiencies. Companies are still tightening their purse strings on the corporate side, which makes leisure travel even more vital to the mix.

3) A tip of the hat to innovation and hotel investment, key cities like New York City and London are booming with new hotel openings. Chain hotels and individual brands are launching chic and stylish gems including The Setai Fifth Avenue, InterContinental Times Square (featuring a Todd English restaurant), The Chatwal (reviving the elegance of 1930’s New York for the modern age), W London Hotel (opening in February 2011), Corinthia Hotel London, and the re-opened Savoy (a Fairmont managed property).

4) China is a market that has intrigued all of us. According to a recent article in HOTELS, “IHG believes China will overtake the U.S. for the title of world’s largest hotel market in 2025.” New luxury developments continue there with Ritz Carlton properties in Pudong (already open) and Hong Kong (opening in 2011), Waldorf Astoria in Shanghai, Shangri-la China World Summit Wing in Beijing, The Langham, Xintiandi, Shanghai and the re-opened Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai. Beyond hotel development in China, companies and tourism entities are looking to capture outbound Chinese business as there are potential travelers with money to spend and vacation dreams to fulfill.

5) How do our desired customers receive travel information? How do they make travel decisions in the 21st century? To answer these questions, destinations are beginning to market more vigorously. As they go through this process, they are experimenting with discovering the most effective channel that delivers a return on investment. Of course, social media, which is on everyone’s minds, is a powerful component that marketers are factoring into their outreach programs.

6) Airlines continue to consolidate (such as the United – Continental merger) resulting in reduced flights and capacity. The airline industry has also seen an increase in prices and fees. And, in October, the new Joint Business venture with British Airways, American and Iberia was launched. With all the changes, how will the airline industry address the importance of delivering quality experiences as consumers embark on and return home from their travel adventures? I don’t know the answer but I look forward to finding out.

What is one of the most important ways all these changes are impacting valued travel advisors? Agents are becoming ‘editors of travel.’ Consumers are inundated with information they receive directly, so they need a trusted advisor to help them sort through the material and create a personalized experience that suits their interests and satisfies their dreams. Agents are poised to emerge as maestros of crafting bespoke travel experiences – and this is the decade for it to happen.

I welcome your feedback on the ever-evolving travel industry. Here’s wishing you, your family and loved ones a treasured holiday season and tremendous health, happiness and fortune in the New Year!

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