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Industry experts reveal the 10 things to watch out for in travel in 2018

Decision makers from the likes of Google, Airbnb and Lonely Planet tell us what they’re most looking forward to seeing, discovering and experiencing next year.

The travel industry: it moves faster than an Airbus A380. In 2017 we saw the emergence of millennial airlines, vegan cruises and smart luggage labels. Heck, we even witnessed the world’s first animals-only airport terminal.

As we edge closer towards 2018, we thought we’d ask travel experts from the likes of Google, Airbnb and Lonely Planet what they’re most looking forward to seeing next year. From robot butlers in hotel lobbies to the rise of smart cities, their predictions paint a thrilling picture of the travel industry’s direction.

10. Experiences that bridge the language barrier

Stephany van Willigenburg – UK head of travel, Google

“When I’m deciding my next holiday destination, I no longer choose solely on the popular landmarks of the city. I want to go off the beaten path, engage with locals, and discover hidden gems. This is a trend we are seeing in travel – experiences and not just ticking the latest popular destination off travellers' lists. 

“Travellers want experiences by bridging the language barrier and communicating with locals to understand their culture and heritage through their own voice. And we’re seeing this trend reflected in technology such as the new Google Pixel Buds and TripLingo.”

9. Travellers demanding nature-infused spaces

Mandy Saven – Stylus’ head of Food, Beverage & Hospitality

“As we move into 2018, nature-infused spaces will become ever more desirable for travellers seeking calm and restoration. This applies not only to ‘wild’ and indigenous locales, like rainforests and jungles, but to urban settings that artfully infuse interior solutions with bio-based beauty.

“Look to luxury retreat Rosewood Luang Prabang in Laos, which is shrouded in forest, and Ritz-Carlton’s new property in Langkawi, Malaysia, which boasts guestrooms nestled between rainforest and beaches. Here, a resident ‘naturalist’ teaches guests about geology, flora and fauna. It’s no surprise that these spaces will define tomorrow’s luxury travel experience as nature is, after all, our biggest luxury.”

8. The rise of the earned experience

Tom Marchant – co-founder, Black Tomato

“We’ve seen an increase in travellers wanting to obtain experiences that are truly unique and help to really open their eyes to cultures, environments and the way of life within the destination they are visiting. The trend has developed from a desire to escape the 24/7 connectivity that’s commonplace in our day-to-day lives, and develop a way to truly disconnect and become fully immersed in our surroundings.

“Rather than disconnecting by simply travelling to somewhere less visited or by switching off our phones, earned experiences are much more about harnessing the desire to use travel as a method of really embedding ourselves in and connecting with the locations we’re visiting.

“For us, the most important aspect is to ensure that our clients are aware that these earned experiences are available in every corner of the world, and that they are available for every type of traveller – whether spending time with a head vintner in Puglia or summiting a previously unclimbed peak in Nepal.

“Our newest service, Get Lost, asks travellers to earn their experience by totally disconnecting and exploring their way out of remote destinations without a traditional guide. This example of an earned experience can be accessible to everyone, which is really the most important aspect of any new travel trend.”

7. Art going digital in Paris

James Kay – editor, LonelyPlanet.com

“If you’re at all interested in art, there’s always a reason to revisit Paris. But next year sees the city unveil yet another attraction to complement the likes of the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and Centre Pompidou.

“Set to occupy 2,000 sq m of an old factory in the 11th arrondissement when it opens in April, L’atelier des Lumières will use digital media to bring paintings by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci to life, projecting these masterpieces on its 8m-high walls.

“Just imagine immersing yourself bodily in the detail of the Mona Lisa; better than squinting at a tiny canvas from the back of a crowd, no?”

6. Robot butlers and AI-powered chatbots

Belinda Pote – chief sales & marketing officer (Europe), ‎Marriott International

“The role of technology within travel is continually growing, and we anticipate that this will be more important than ever in 2018. Hyper-connected next-gen travellers will soon account for more than 60% of our business, and innovation is key to meeting the demands of this audience.

“Marriott International constantly looks to reinvent the travel experience through innovations such as Botlr – Aloft Hotels’ first-of-a-kind robot butler – and we are excited to see what opportunities there are next year for this sector.

“Our accelerator programme for tech start-ups, Marriott TestBED, gave us a glimpse into what the future might hold with AI-powered chatbots and live translation earbuds, as well as opportunities for travel apps and wearable tech.”

5. Millennials and Gen Z travelling with a purpose

Sarah Dean – head of marketing, STA Travel

“Next year we are looking forward to the continued increase in popularity of destinations like Canada, Japan and the Philippines, which have seen big jumps in youth bookings over the past 12 months.

“Our volunteering programmes also continue to go from strength to strength, which reaffirms research which states that millennials and Gen Z are far more purpose-driven than previous generations.

“Following on from our partnership with Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef and the upcoming Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, we also expect to see heightened interest in Australia’s already-popular Queensland region.”

4. A people-powered approach to trips

James McClure – general manager for northern Europe, Airbnb

“Airbnb has, until recently, been about homes – and how they can transform people’s travel experiences. But we recently expanded beyond accommodation by launching Trips, which takes the same people-powered approach to the rest of the trip. I’d say it represents the most significant moment in the company’s history.

“With momentum building for Trips, we can only expect it to grow in 2018. Recent Trips launches include Dublin, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Lisbon, Prague, Berlin and Moscow, with more cities coming in the new year.”

3. The emergence of smart cities in Asia

Paul Nelson – portfolio press and PR manager, World Travel Market

“We saw significantly increased interest in the Asia Pacific region at WTM London this year, from mature markets in Japan, Korea and Australia to emerging destinations such as Kyrgyzstan, Taiwan, Mongolia and Vietnam.

“What I think is really exciting is Asia embracing the concept of smart cities – so using technology and data to balance consistent arrivals growth with sustainable expansion. This is something we can expect to see grow between now and 2025.”

2. Resorts and airlines becoming experience-focused

Alexandre Gavalda – head of commercial and product, Kuoni

“Next year we are seeing a real emphasis on experiences, with customers seeking them out and hotels and airlines responding by coming up with new innovative ideas. Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa in Sri Lanka, for example, launched a series of exceptional curated experiences this year – like private boat rides down the mangrove-filled Walawe River to have tea with the owner of the Handunugoda Tea Estate. 

“Airlines such as Qatar Airways, Emirates and British Airways, meanwhile, are putting a lot more emphasis on on-board experiences by revamping their premium cabins, which now offer more leg room and better meals.

“Some of our most popular destinations next year include Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Thailand, Mexico, Africa, Italy and Greece.” 

1. AI improving how hotels communicate with their guests

Frank Reeves – co-founder and CEO, Avvio

“Artificial intelligence (AI) can now help hotels’ technology systems, such as booking engines, collect – and subsequently analyse – vast tranches of data to make specific recommendations, suggest trips, or upsell additional services to customers.

“With travel products that use AI (like our Allora booking engine) emerging, it’s likely that, in 2018, its impact will really start to be felt by the travel industry. Businesses will notice more sales, while customers will notice more tailored services.

“AI’s ability to automatically build a 360-degree profile of each customer enables it to create unique customer journeys. It does this, in our case, by tracking and analysing data across hundreds of properties based on geography, guest history, booking preferences, interactions on site and conversions.

“With this technology being increasingly used in 2018, we should start to see the emergence of truly targeted travel marketing.”

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