Arnie Weissmann
Arnie Weissmann

Towards the end of each year, Travel Weekly identifies what our staff believes were the news stories that had the biggest impact on the travel industry over the previous 12 months, and it becomes our "Year in Review" cover story.

But news doesn't occur in a vacuum; often, events make headlines only after economic, social and political trends reach critical mass, breaching the status quo.

The rising strength of some trends catch portions of society by surprise. The results of the Brexit vote and the Donald Trump presidency followed a surge in sentiment that had been building for years, and both made our 2016 list.

Many of the other stories we selected are rooted in social trends that are still shaping the evolution of the sharing economy, as well as the diversification of the river cruising audience. Business trends in distribution and consolidation set the stage for two more of the stories we chose.

These can be seen clearly with hindsight; it's a bit harder to make predictions. But there are few people who make it a point to track changes and then stick their necks out to say what they believe will alter the course of progress. They identify patterns that aren't making headlines -- yet -- but are gaining momentum.

Jack Ezon, the president of ultraluxury Ovation Vacations, is one of those who likes to try to figure out what's going to happen next. He documents what he's observing and predicts the likelihood, as well as the direction, of change. He gathers his conclusions into occasional reports and distributes them among industry friends.

Last week, I wrote about his reflections on the importance of what occurred in 2016. Today I'm going to share what he sees as most likely to rise in importance in 2017.

In 2016, he had noticed that his clients were strategically planning holidays to be anxiety-free, something he hadn't seen since the aftermath of 9/11. The stresses of modern life take many forms, he writes, from feelings of being overwhelmed by options, fear of terrorism or simply entering a hotel room and immediately being challenged to learn new technology in order to turn on the lights or open the curtains.

It has led Ezon to conclude that the word of the year in 2017 will be "simplicity."

That would be a positive development for travel advisers, who can simplify life for clients by becoming "information navigators and matchmakers" to destress vacation planning.

But don't confuse simplicity with "basic." Clients may want vacations to be easy and simple, but that ease may come in the form of an airport greeter, a luggage-shipment company handling suitcases or a VIP lounge to take the stress out of time spent in airports. Whatever the components of a trip are, he writes, the experience should be "seamless" from early planning stages to arrival back home.

Past words of the year -- authenticity, curation, experiential, immersive -- have not been entirely banished but are now pieces of what Ezon calls "the Story Economy," in which experiences merge with Instabragging. The goal for travelers is that their trip follow a narrative arc but also that it be constructed in a way that allows that story to be shared.

Other trends Ezon points to dovetail with all of the above, including bespoke experiences, in which clients seek "secret doors" to rewarding and exclusive activities. They want to participate in local, artisanal encounters, and in doing so create their own stories: Working with local vintners to create a personal wine label, handcrafting their own sandals in Capri, foraging vegetables for lunch (or working alongside a Michelin-star chef to prepare dinner).

If this all sounds a bit narcissistic -- these travelers are not only the stars of their holiday, but the sole beneficiary of their experiences -- Ezon has also identified additional trends that can balance the focus of a trip.

"People are looking to enrich their lives with transformational experiences and seek fulfillment by sharing with others," he writes. "Clients are asking us to create experiences that will help them grow as people, as a family. ...They are looking to come back changed."

And they strive for self-improvement, as well. A client who practically lives at Soul Cycle, has a personal trainer and nutritionist does not want to suddenly turn into a beach slug when on vacation.

In fact, watch for the rise of "fitcations," where people are happy to vacation in what is essentially a boot camp. (In a similar vein, Ezon sees biking as "the new golf.")

Others have spotted this trend as well: The fitness-center chain Equinox has announced it's getting into the hotel business.

And watch for the rise of the "untourist." As the writer Evelyn Waugh pointed out, "The tourist is the other fellow." Sophisticated travelers, Ezon writes, no matter how wealthy, "don't want to see a Prada or Gucci on every corner." Going where others aren't becomes the goal. (To turn to another quotable wise man, Yogi Berra, this type of traveler completely understands the malapropism, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.")

This column and last week's offer just a small sampling of what's in Ezon's report. The writing and subject matter are lively enough to make good reading over the holiday break. If you'd like your own copy of the full report, you can get one from Ezon by writing to him at [email protected].

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