Five travel trends that will shape customer experience in 2018

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Click. takes a look at some key trends that will impact the hospitality industry and shape guest experience this year

The late but influential US researcher Roy Amara famously said that “we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”. It’s a quote that gets referenced regularly, for the simple reason that it consistently rings true. It’s also an indicator that predicting any sort of trend timeline can backfire. But never one to shy away from a challenge, we caught up with some leading industry experts to explore five trends that are set to make more impact on the travel sector in 2018. 

Woman on a hammock

'....solo doesn’t have to equate to travelling alone.' Photo: Jared Rice

1) The era of the ‘glass box’ brand

The various brand scandals of recent times – VW, Uber and the Weinstein Company to name just three – have had far-reaching influence in various sectors, the travel industry included.

“If you think of a brand as a box, companies used to be able to paint the outside with their own branding,” says Vicki Loomes, Senior Trend Analyst at TrendWatching, a company with offices on three continents.

The growth of connectivity and information-sharing, however, has shifted the focus. “Now it’s increasingly difficult for brands to do that,” she continues. “People can see inside the box, and how you treat your staff, for example, can tell the world about who you are as a brand. This is as relevant for the hospitality industry as any other.”

“If you’re thinking truly about building a travel-related business that has longevity, it’s more important than ever to have values embedded into who you are as a brand.”

2) The continuing evolution of the airline app

“The airline app is becoming a kind of Swiss knife, with all kinds of different functionalities,” says Raymond Kollau, Founder of the Netherlands-based research agency AirlineTrends. “The idea is that when you travel you have certain needs, so if you can integrate relevant services into your app, getting from door-to-door becomes as seamless as possible.”

As well as the usual flight status updates and mobile boarding passes, in-app features now allow consumers to pre-book a car (offered by the Jet Airways app), pre-browse the in-flight entertainment (offered by the British Airways app) and even pre-order food and drink for pick-up at the airport (something the American Airlines app offers at certain US hubs). “It’s about putting more power in the hands of consumers,” he adds.

3) The inexorable rise of solo group travel

It’s a paradox, but travelling solo doesn’t have to equate to travelling alone. Certainly not today, when adventurous group tours marketed at lone travellers are becoming more and more prevalent. The world’s longest established travel company, Cox & Kings, saw take-up of its solo small-group tours grow almost 50% year-on-year in 2017. “Solo travel is being talked about more, it’s being written about more,” says Nigel Hosking, Head of Product at the company. “There’s less of a stigma.”

Tom Smith, Marketing Director of Intrepid Travel, which has its global HQ in Australia, agrees. “We’ve seen a 25% increase in solo travellers on our group tours over the past five years,” he says. “Ourselves and other travel companies have had to expand our solo offerings. It’s part of a wider trend of people doing more things on their own. People feel more empowered to be selfish – and I mean that in a positive way.”

4) The growing reach of small-scale activity providers

“There’s a big wave taking place in the tours and activities sector,” says Douglas Quinby, Senior Vice President of Research at Phocuswright, which specialises in data analysis across the travel and hospitality industry. “Small, family-run companies – think zipline providers, scuba schools, food tour leaders – now have access to affordable modern technology like FareHarbor and Trekksoft, and it’s allowing them to change the way they do business by introducing online bookings and inventory management. Things are changing rapidly.”

It’s making it far easier for consumers to secure tour or activity bookings at their own convenience, he explains, and is also opening up possibilities for hotels. “Hotels now have an opportunity not just to provide a bed but to act as hosts, by plugging some of these platforms into their own websites.”

5) The mounting importance of connectivity in hotels

For Joanne Richards, Sales Director of Mitel Connected Guests – part of the Canada-based business communications firm Mitel – the year ahead is all about the growth of connectivity. The company surveyed 2,500 IT decision-makers on three continents in late 2017, and found that more than 75% were planning to enable more machine-to-customer interactions over the next two years.

“Imagine checking-in remotely, downloading your room key onto your smartphone then pairing your mobile device to the room phone,” she says. “You’re then able to use your mobile to control the TV, the blinds, even communications with the front desk. On check-out, again everything is completed through an app, from paying your bill to booking a taxi. Hotels with a truly customer-centric approach will win the race in guest experience.”

Hero photo: credit to Max Williamson

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Intrepid Travel has seen a 25% increase in solo travellers on its group tours over the past five years
Mitel Connected Guests surveyed 2,500 IT decision-makers on three continents in late 2017, and found that more than 75% were planning to enable more machine-to-customer interactions over the next two years
The airline app has become a 'Swiss knife', with all kinds of offerings, ranging from pre-booking a car to browsing in-flight entertainment