More than 800 travel media professionals and representatives of global travel brands met at the Javits Center in New York from Jan. 24-25 for the International Media Marketplace and TravMedia Summit.
Over two action-packed days, PAX spoke to dozens of travel professionals to take the pulse of the industry.
From those discussions, we identified five important trends that travel advisors should keep in mind as they hone their business strategies for the year.
1. Ignore AI at your peril
The sudden omnipresence of AI is the first major change in the travel industry since OTAs were launched in the mid-1990s, said Matador Network Founder and CEO Ross Borden in a panel discussion.
For travel advisors, it’s more important than ever to build expertise and focus on personal relationships that can’t be replaced by AI.
Show your clients you have their back in a way AI can’t. At the same time, embrace AI tools rather than fighting against them. Think of AI as your personal research assistant rather than your competition.
“Travel agents who use generative AI will survive over those who ignore it,” Borden said.
2. Secondary cities see growing interest
Travellers are more interested in seeing a country as a whole, rather than only hitting the classic “must-see” destinations, said Anne Hartman of City Experiences.
And while they’re there, they want local experiences that really connect them to the place, like walking or food tours with a knowledgeable local guide.
“People are looking for something new to tell their friends about,” said Michelle Streeter of Discover Gilbert, a community southwest of Phoenix that only recently created its own DMO thanks to increased interest.
In this category, keep an eye on Guadalajara, which will see a direct Flair Airlines flight from Vancouver launch this spring.
3. Skip-generation travel is on the rise
Baby boomers are travelling with their 20-something grandkids and leaving the in-between generation at home.
“We have been seeing a trend in the past few years with skip-generation, bucket-list experiences,” said Brittney Nordin of Pursuit, a Canadian company that owns and operates attractions in Canada, the U.S. and Iceland.
Like other trends on this list, a desire for deeper connection is the heart of the matter here.
For agents, there’s opportunity in recognizing that grandparents are looking for trip-of-a-lifetime experiences with their newly-adult grandchildren at a transitional time of life for both generations.
Meg Heinen of CityPASS – a U.S. company that produces and sells discounted ticket packages to top tourist attractions – also flagged the skip-generation trend, noting that the passes are designed to work for families of all configurations.
4. Solo female travel is booming
“We’re seeing more solo female travellers in their 40s to 50s, looking to find their travel community,” said Kim Greiner of G Adventures.
She told PAX these women are looking to find a travel community through small group travel.
The same is true for the cruise industry, said Anne Madison, senior vice-president, marketing & strategic communications for Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
She also talked about the desire to have a community and sense of security while travelling alone.
Madison told PAX that cruise lines are significantly increasing the number of solo rooms on all new ships to accommodate this increased demand.
5. Wellness offerings go niche
Destinations are getting creative with their wellness offerings – and matching these unique offerings to clients’ travel style is a key way for agents to build those personal relationships we talked about right up in trend one.
For instance, Moon Jelly Bathhouse in Tofino recently launched seaweed baths featuring locally harvested kelp in a floating private spa accessible only by boat.
Anastasia Martin-Stilwell, who represents Fairmont’s Canadian Western Mountain Collection, noted a rising interest in women’s health, including sexual and midlife wellness.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in particular has offered women’s wellness retreats.
U.S.-based Staypineapple Hotels, meanwhile, has chosen to use premium soft goods not typically expected in their hotel category to create the “Naked Experience” – that is, the bedding is so great you’ll want to get naked.
It’s a cheeky twist on wellness that aligns with the brand personality.