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.

The current 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.

"The hospitality industry is one of the largest employers in the world," he told me after his speech to delegates. "But hospitality has a problem."

The problem is that "some of the softest targets are operated by the travel industry."

"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 ahead."

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."

Interestingly, he 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 all.

Forewarned is 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.


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