As 2016 comes to a close, it’s important for travel agencies, travel management, tour operators, and mother major players in today’s travel industry to stop and reflect on the past 12 months in order to get a better understanding of what the coming year might have in store. With everything from technology to shifting demographics to new and emerging markets, 2016 was an influential year for the travel industry driven in large part by travel companies reimagining how they function on a daily basis - and that’s not to mention a host of global, political, and environmental events, each of which presented challenges and opportunities for travel companies worldwide.
Given how busy of a year 2016 was, it can be difficult for those within the travel industry to pause and take stock of the important stories, developments, and trends that fueled both the travel company and traveler. With 2017 fast approaching, let’s revisit the 5 important travel industry trends of 2016 and briefly discuss their significance as key drivers of the travel sector during the last year.
The idea of bleisure travel - a mix of business and pleasure-based travel - saw sharp increases in frequency during 2016, so much so that travel companies and tour operators began in earnest to market and position travel packages, products, and services directly tailored to the bleisure traveler. A recent report by BridgeStreet Global indicated 83 percent of global business travelers take time on business trips to explore their destination cities and 37 percent add personal leave days to most or all of their trips. In addition, the report also suggested millennials comprise a large portion of bleisure travelers, which makes this new segment of the travel industry all the more important to target as millennials continue to be a key driver in the industry.
Mobile takes center stage
Mobile capability, whether it’s a travel company website or mobile app functions, emerged in 2016 as a critical piece of a travel company’s ability to position products and services and connect with customers. It’s no secret today’s traveler exists more and more in a virtual environment via the internet - in a fact, a study released last year by the internet industry company comScore reported mobile devices and related apps were one of the biggest drivers in how the average consumed media on a daily basis, with 88 percent of activity on smartphones and tablets stemming from apps. And because so much of an individual’s e-commerce, business, social, and leisure life is entwined with mobile devices and apps, travel companies have started using apps as a way of targeting customers with customized services, special offers or promotions, discounts, and other perks.
Whether it’s a travel ERP solution, optimized booking engine, or other back-office platforms, travel companies and tour operators made large gains in 2016 in streamlining their internal and customer-facing operations to become faster and more agile. Not only did this development allow travel companies to leverage greater efficiency and profitability, it also allowed them to reach more potential customers and expand the variety of products and services they’re able to offer. In an era where speed, responsiveness, and transparency are some of the most prized qualities by today’s travelers, technological integration of booking and searching systems makes for a streamlined and accurate travel experience across each touch point of a company’s value chain.
Millennials continue to dominate the market
The travel industry in 2016 was perhaps one of the youngest in recent years. More than 20 percent of global travelers in 2016 were millennials, and this number is expected to increase to nearly 50 percent by the year 2020. Because millennials desire unique, personalized, and experience-based travel, travel companies and tour operators worked to position tailored travel packages and services to appeal to a generation of travelers that would prefer an intimate wine and cheese tasting rather than a large, guided tour of a commercial winery. In addition, millennials reliance on mobile apps and social media has impacted how travel agencies and tour operators engaged and communicated with their customers. Instant messaging platforms, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become and will continue to be critical tools in meeting millennials where they spend a majority of their time - online.
The resurgence of travel agencies
It may have been a minor trend in 2016, but the resurgence of travel agencies - especially among millennials travelers - was an interesting storyline of the past year. As travelers gain more and more buying power via the internet and can access a wider variety of travel options, a good number of today’s travelers actually prefer to work with travel agents to help curate their bookings and experiences. While the days of travel packages may be over, more and more of travelers today are looking to travel agents and travel management companies to help them select the right booking at the right price at the right time. This means travel agencies had to work harder than before to understand a customer’s needs and position the right products and services to meet those needs.