Selling happiness and other predictions for 2014

By Richard Turen
Richard TurenFor general purposes of accuracy, it has always been my practice to issue my annual predictions sometime in June or July, after the facts have been able to percolate for a few months and all the really bad predictions have played out.

It is even better to wait a few years before identifying new trends so as not to have history look back on your pronouncements with mockery. I think of the Royal Society's Lord Kelvin, who announced in 1885 that "heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." His Lordship would be struck dumb watching an Airbus A380 taking off from Heathrow.

When giving speeches, Peter Jennings, the late ABC anchorman, would often tell audiences, "I don't think that reporters ought to give advice or make predictions." He was right. No good can come of predictions.

All that said, here are mine:

• We will see the monetization of convenience and "least hassle" travel options.

This trend will take hold in the coming year on the heels of startup Routehappy.com's early success. Measuring the likelihood of "happiness" to a travel purchase involves a new set of algorithms and metrics that assess the psychological needs of the consumer.

How comfortable is your flight likely to be, based on time in the air, connections, aircraft and on-time performance? The next step will involve available seat inventory as customers can seek out "happiness ratings" based on their own stored preferences.

It will no longer be about just getting there. Sellers will be able to predict how "happy" consumers are likely to be with their purchases. In 2014, we will begin to see "happiness" metrics applied to other sectors, including lodging and cruising.

• The coming year will bring a focus on so-called "digital immigrants."

They are the over-50-year-olds who are embracing the latest technology and filling Apple stores to sign up for classes. While much of the travel media concentrates on the millennials, the over-50s were not brought up in the Internet age, but they are surfing, and they are wealthy.

It is estimated they make 42% of online purchases, and they comprise nearly 70% of all Facebook users. Chief among them is the "mommy blogger." In the coming year, retailers will see major players going directly after this market because we know two very important things about them: They are strapped for time, and they respond, almost exclusively, to value-added offers.

It will be interesting to see how travel retailers respond to what might be the most significant travel niche of all.

• Travel to China will be adversely affected by the country's air quality.

Given the spate of seriously alarming pollution counts in several of China's major cities this year, tourism numbers from the U.S. will not be in line with expectations. Travel sellers must, in keeping with industry ethics, inform potential leisure travelers to China of the dangers and the fact that residents of Beijing are now routinely wearing masks as they walk about the city.

The pollution is tied to China's dramatic increases in factory output. Daytime touring is framed by evenings where Western guests might be surrounded by cigarette smokers, resulting in anecdotal tales of respiratory illnesses suffered by U.S. visitors.

• The coming year will usher in a statistical revolution.

I expect that 2014 will reveal a seismic change in the manner in which consumers research their travel. This will be the year that smartphones will be used for 50% or more of all travel searches. This statistic means that online searches from a computer or tablet will, rather suddenly, not be the major source of travel information.

Smartphone users have different expectations than computer users. They expect to be able to get information with the ability to secure reservations from virtually anywhere in the world in real time. Do retail travel agencies have "an app for that"?

• 2014 will be the year of organic meal options.

It started out small, but airlines and hotels will launch a number of organic food options in 2014. One of the major problems with health-conscious food has been suppliers' inability to label it in such a way that it has mass appeal. Vegan dishes do not seem to appeal to nonvegans, and "natural" has no real meaning to the consumer. Now, "organic" is in, and airlines and hotels will be announcing myriad partnerships with chefs and local organic suppliers.

• Hotel concierge teams will become "on-site travel planners."

Hotels will be getting into the travel-planning business in some interesting new ways. Look for city sightseeing programs to be sent to booked guests along with restaurant reservation and transportation services. Hoteliers have some of any city's most knowledgeable local planners on staff, and 2014 will see comprehensive city-stay travel services offered to guests in bundled formats.

Travel planning will become personalized, with careful notes made of each returning guest's preferences. Some of the new concierge services will be complimentary, like the new "Accessories Butler" at New York's Hyatt Union Square where guests can accessorize with watches, designer belts, earrings and scarves, all on loan for an evening out.

• Planning will pick up steam for true, five-star European river ships with name-chef affiliations, all-suite accommodations and off-site private events and dining.

True, five-star river cruising has always been an elusive dream with product defined by ship size, crewing issues and competitive pricing. But most river cruising executives now believe there is a market for true five-star experiences on Europe's rivers.

Look for an announcement on this front in the coming year for a vessel with fewer guests, significantly higher per diems, all-suite design and an environment that appeals to guests of Silversea, Seabourn, Crystal and Regent Seven Seas.

• Low-cost, no-frills airlines are fast outpacing the growth of legacy carriers.

The Asian market, which trend-watchers often look to first, was never a part of the world where low-cost carriers existed. Tourists arrived on highly rated local carriers or on legacy U.S. airlines. In 2013, the total share of seats sold by low-cost carriers in Asia will approach 60%.

Low fares are enabling a new breed of traveler to experience far-flung destinations for the first time. This is particularly true in the case of China, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

• PANKs -- professional aunt, no kids -- will be targeted by smart travel marketers.

The cool, childless aunt is going to become an important travel demographic. One recent estimate shows them spending $9 billion annually on their nieces and nephews, The average PANK is 36, has never been married and earns in excess of $50,000 annually. PANK travel will dovetail nicely with those travel specialists who have already targeted family, grandparent and multigenerational vacations.

Contributing Editor Richard Bruce Turen owns Churchill & Turen Ltd., a luxury vacation firm based in Naples, Fla. He is also managing director of the Churchill Group, a sales training and marketing consultancy. Contact him at rturen@travelweekly.com. 
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