"From the Front Line: Luxury Vacation Trends" is Ovation Vacations president Jack Ezon's 50-page, year-end reflection on travel trends, consumer behavioral shifts and upscale product evolution. A synopsis here will not do it justice, but if you email him at [email protected], he'll reply with a copy of the full report.
Ezon ends his thoughtful analysis with 10 predictions, with commentary, for 2018:
1) Facebook and Instagram are going to start phasing out. Yes, I really think people are starting to rethink their love affair with these two social media darlings. What was once authentic is now becoming a channel for blatant marketing. Where once users could dictate how and what they wanted to see from their friends, now they are told what is "relevant" for them to see and what is not.
Influencers cloud "authentic" encounters, and a slew of fake news and annoying ads add clutter. And research suggests Facebook and Twitter may have a negative impact on mental health.
While social media is not going away, I think it is ripe for a new vehicle that will be less intrusive.
2) Food, fitness and family: These "F-factors" will continue to be the leading drivers of affluent travel decisions in 2018.
3) Destination celebrations: Celebrations of all kinds will continue to hit the road as people seek to invest in memories over products. New excuses will be invented, with a 20% increase in celebratory events predicted for 2018.
4) Sophisticated multigen experiences: The bar will continue to rise in the multigenerational market with more far-flung experiences and a more elaborate approach to programming that will morph into mini-destination events.
5) Secondary destinations: I predict that this trend toward secondary cities and more rural areas will continue into 2018 even if things stay peaceful. It is the ideal time to market them. People are more open than ever to trying something new.
6) Airbnb: Despite fierce regional legal battles and a significant setback in New York, which could set precedence around the world, Airbnb will continue to grab market share from the luxury sector as it expands its upscale portfolio and adds relevant travel products like flights, tour guides and experiences as well as concierge and housekeeping services to its offering.
7) Zika: Zika will go the way of dengue fever and chikungunya, which means it will not go away but fade into oblivion.
8) Consolidation will continue: As market forces [become further shaped] by emerging giants, smaller players in all areas of travel will consolidate further. This includes travel agencies, destination management companies, wholesalers and hotel companies.
9) Price integrity: Price integrity [issues] will get worse before getting better, and I predict 2018 will bring an explosion in the war between OTAs, desperate wholesalers and hotels. In fact, large tour operators are getting just as strong and aggressive as OTAs. Many are reselling to OTAs, making the trail of origin even more complicated to trace -- and hotels are getting fed up.
10) Reckoning of the OTAs: 2018 will be a year of reckoning for dominant OTAs. I predict further consolidation to counter the influence of Google and Facebook, which are stealing their marketing dollars and suffocating them with quicksand-like ad buys. OTAs are going to further align themselves with content to keep relevant eyeballs close and build their own loyalty programs.
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Some thoughts of my own surfaced as I read Ezon's predictions.
While I'm not sure the tide will turn against Instagram and Facebook this year, I agree that the sheer number of concerns -- privacy, relevance, commercialism, veracity, lack of meaningful competition and impact on mental health -- can mount until they reach a tipping point. Just ask Uber. Also, we're in an age when experience is valued and time is precious, so perhaps the true fate of social media will hinge on the perception of whether "posting" and "liking" are experiences. Or a time sink.
Taking Ezon's Nos. 3 and 4 together, I've often wondered whether a travel agency might position itself as a personal events company rather than a travel company. It would require different skill sets, perhaps ones more typically associated with meetings planners, and might require staff who travel with clients on multiweek vacations in order to, behind the scenes, ensure flawless execution. FIT "programming" would be elevated to "choreography."
About Airbnb: Similar to social media, its relationship with its end users is complicated (as Ezon suggests, many who love to book with it don't want it in their neighborhood), and it's not without competitors. But I agree that the wind is still at its back; you'll know it's feeling pressure when it devises a loyalty program.
Reaction to No. 9: Is it possible that the sizeable number of people who buy travel on price actually care more about a low price than the destination itself? Perhaps, rather than market "Lowest fares/rates to fill-in-the-blank destination," grab the URL 599dollarvacation.com (available as I write this; also, 699dollarvacation.com, etc.). Then put together packages by price rather than destination; you can always try to upsell before they reach the payment page.
The previous paragraph is, of course, a suggestion rather than prediction.
That is, unless one of you decides to actually do it.