Forecasting can be a tricky business. The turn of the year always brings predictions: destinations set to be huge, technology poised to make a splash, trends due to achieve lift-off. Some of these prophecies turn out to be salient. Others never achieve their expected impact.
Here we take a look at three areas of the market that appeared to have upward curves ahead of them in 2018: mobile travel bookings, low-cost long-haul flights and hotels entering the tours and attractions market. As the calendar approaches year’s end, are these trends still showing the same momentum?
Hotels offering tours and attractions
What should a modern hotel provide? Beds, meals and a friendly welcome at reception – or something more? It’s not really a question that needs answering. These days it pays to have a much fuller offering, particularly where local tours and attractions are concerned. Or, in the words of Douglas Quinby, CEO of in-destination experience specialists ARIVAL: “The old days of a concierge and a crappy brochure rack simply aren’t going to cut it”.
Several major hotel brands now offer their own versions of the ‘experiences’ concept. Marriott has established Marriott Moments, in partnership with the tours and activities search platform PlacePass, Hyatt now works with IfOnly – a start-up marketplace of peer-to-peer local experiences that raised US$20m earlier this year – and Hilton has begun offering something similar through its Hilton Honors programme.
Guests can take their pick of anything from after-hours gallery visits and themed tours to wine-tastings and personally tailored yoga sessions.
People gathering inside painting exhibit. Credit to: Sergei Akulich, Unsplash
“Then there are lots of examples of smaller chains and independents that have created local experiences for guests, either in-property or off-site,” continues Quinby. “Hotels really have an enormous opportunity. They know more about their clients than anyone else, certainly more than a tours or activities operator. They know when they’re going to be in town and have a sense of who they are.”
Interestingly, the growing demand for experiential travel was first picked up by the hostel sector, who have led the way here for years. “Hostels have really undergone a transformation over the past 10 years. They’ve become a hub for experiences, from cooking classes to walking tours. In a study we found that well over 90% of hostel operators sold or offered tours or tickets locally.”
Is this trend still growing across the accommodation sector? Definitely. But getting it right requires thought. “There’s a lot more to it than offering tickets for the big attractions,” warns Quinby. “Each hotel is different, and they need to understand not just who their clients are but the types of things they want.”
Mobile travel bookings
In recent years, the number of travel bookings made using mobile devices has become pronounced. An early 2018 report from online advertising company Criteo took data from 59 countries to show that online travel agencies now received as many as 39% of their bookings through smartphones.
This is a considerable chunk of the market, although it’s not evenly distributed, as Mark Blutstein, Research Analyst at Phocuswright, explains. “Right now, in the European and US markets, bookings made on mobile devices are not widespread compared to somewhere like China,” he says. “There’s that mental switch in going from using a PC to using a smartphone, whereas in some of the Asian markets, where the figures are higher, travellers actually got introduced to the online world through a mobile device.”
For many, the mental switch Blutstein mentions is a very significant one. A smaller screen size, the prospect of finger clumsiness and a belief – accurate or not – that smartphones are less secure than PCs means that while many travellers might use their mobile devices for trip research or on-the-go travel recommendations, their bookings are still made using more traditional online methods.
44% of travel searches were made on mobile devices in Q3 2018, up 37% on Q4 2017
The use of mobile devices for travel-related searches is unquestionably on the rise. The most recent quarterly study by data-driven travel marketing company Sojern – which analyses consumer behaviour in North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and Asia-Pacific – showed that a global average of 44% of travel searches were made on mobile devices in the third quarter of 2018, up from a global average of 37% in the fourth quarter of 2017. On this evidence, it seems logical that bookings will follow a similar long-term pattern.
But Blutstein also points out that, while travel providers might be keen to drive business through their apps, mobile-booking consumers in the US and Europe continue to be more likely to use mobile websites instead. “If you only take two or three leisure trips a year,” he explains, “you’re not going to have many travel apps on your phone.”
And overall? “Consumers are becoming more comfortable with their mobile devices every year. Even over-55s are starting to gravitate to making mobile bookings, and we believe we’ll continue to see an increase as more younger travellers enter the market.”
Low-cost long-haul flights
In early October 2018, the Centre for Aviation’s inaugural Low Cost Long Haul Global Summit was held in Seville, in southern Spain. The event, described as being “dedicated to the new frontier of low-cost travel”, hosted speakers from around the world. It was a sign that the business model at the summit’s core is one that is likely to become a fixture in the travel industry – although it may not be a smooth ride.
“Low-cost long-haul is definitely going to stick around,” says Thomas Jaeger, CEO of Swiss-based intelligence provider ch-aviation, “but we’re going to see quite a lot of changes before it falls into its natural place.” This is borne out by some of the news stories of the past year, not least the recent collapse of transatlantic carrier Primera Air, which filed for bankruptcy just days before the Seville summit.
It’s worth pointing out that low-cost long-haul airlines take different forms. Some – such as Air Transat in North America or Condor in Germany – are long-established and stable, serving primarily leisure destinations. The more recent trend, however, is for carriers with the more ambitious goal of disrupting higher-fare long-haul markets. There have been some notable successes – “Air Asia X, for example, has figured out where its sweet spot is”, says Jaeger – but results have been mixed.
“It’s very different to low-cost short-haul, which has proven cost advantages,” continues Jaeger. “It’s problematic for a low-cost long-haul airline to compete with a mainline carrier when it doesn’t have the same premium cabins, alliance benefits or corporate contracts. And if you really want to establish yourself as a player on a large scale, flying out of big markets, you have to spend a lot of money on advertising to get yourself known.”
It means that choosing the right routes, and the right price point, is key. It also means that while low-cost long-haul airlines might be here to stay, their futures are far from clear-cut.
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Hero image: credit to Anika Huizinga
- More hotels and hotel groups are entering the tours and attractions market, partly as a result of an increased demand in experiential travel
- The number of travel bookings made using mobile devices continues to rise, with Asian markets showing higher figures than European and North American markets
- Low-cost long-haul airlines are likely to remain a fixture in the industry, but will have to adapt to find lasting success