As a futurist, Marvin Cetron knows
that forecasting can be fun. After he predicted that the Soviet
Union would collapse, he got accolades when it split up in the
manner and time frame he had forecast. He got additional points for
also accurately predicting the subsequent reunification of Germany.
And whenever he successfully predicts landmark highs for the Dow,
he gets a big high five.
"But there's a
problem for forecasters," said Cetron, who heads up Forecasting
International, based in Falls Church, Va. He knows, for example,
that when he tells a travel audience, as he did last week at World
Travel Market in London, that they're going to suffer more
terrorist attacks over the next 20 years, no one is going to give
him a high five. On the whole, they don't react much.
If Cetron seems a
bit focused on terrorism, it may be because he has been
commissioned by the CIA, the National Security Agency and Joint Chiefs of Staff to provide them with
predictions about terrorist activity.
Still, he also
evaluates technology, demographics and economies for businesses and
industries, and most of what he had to say about travel and tourism
in those regards will earn him a big pat on the back.
industry caters to about 20% of the global population, but soon the
Chinese and Indian middle class will start traveling. By 2020, he
predicts that 100 million Chinese and 50 million Indians will be
globetrotters, a total that will be about 4% higher than the number
of Americans who took international flights in 2000, the record
year for aviation.
Travel will be
greatly aided by technology. Recent efforts at translation software
are infamous for converting phrases like "out of sight, out of
mind" into "invisible idiot," but in four years, he predicts,
devices the size of iPods will be able to translate, in real time,
your English-language order to a French waiter. (My prediction:
He'll still ignore you when you want more coffee.)
Baby boomers and
seniors will pump lots of money into the travel industry. Over the
next five years, the global economy will grow 3% to 4%, but the
hospitality industry, with a growth rate of 6% to 6.5%, will push
tourism ahead of the general economy.
industry is one of the largest employers in the world," he told me
after his speech to delegates. "But hospitality has a
The problem is that
"some of the softest targets are operated by the travel
"By their basic
nature, hotels must remain as open to guests as possible," Cetron
said. "In the last half of 2005 especially, there was a big shift
among terrorists in targeting the soft, vulnerable travel and
tourism industry. These trends point to a more dangerous and
complicated time for travel and tourism in the years
He said that,
generally speaking, future attacks would likely be large-scale,
"three or four cities at a time," and that attacks would be more
frequent than they are now. He said that when, not if, al Qaeda
gets nuclear weapons, "we'll have big problems."
also predicted that even though the time between attacks will get
shorter, so will the recovery periods. "We'll learn to live with
it," he said.
I understand, in
part, why people look at him blankly when he makes these types of
predictions. We accept that it may be true, but what can we do? How
does it help to know that we will be living with terrorism for the
next 20 years?
Cetron singles out
the hospitality, aviation and cruise industries as businesses that
ought to be taking action. His critiques of aviation security go
deeper than I have room to report, but he seems to at least give
airlines some credit for trying. He seems bewildered that the
majority of hotels -- the sector that has so much to gain over the
next five years, and thus so much to lose -- have done nothing at
forearmed, the saying goes. That's one idiom ripe for a bad
translation by current software, but it ought to come through loud
and clear to hoteliers.