"Prediction is difficult, especially about the future."
That pithy observation has been variously attributed to Nostradamus, the physicist Niels Bohr, Winston Churchill, Mark Twain and an unknown Danish humorist, among many, many others. Whoever actually did say it first apparently lacked the predictive skills to realize it would be attributed to hordes of everyone but him or her. It keeps getting repeated, however, simply because it's so obviously true.
And yet, each year at this time, our editors sit down at their computers, don their wizard hats and go about the task of whipping up prognostications about all things relevant to the industry we cover.
We call this our Preview issue, but it's not like a movie trailer kind of preview that enables you to see actual snippets of something you can experience in the future. No, this stuff is the work of journalists following trend lines to their logical conclusions, telling our readers what we are seeing and establishing a case for where it will all lead.
But let's face it, some things are simply unknowable, unpredictable, undecipherable. How can anyone divine when a volcano will erupt with devastating consequences? When the control systems of a technologically advanced aircraft will fail, with tragic results, because of a programming error? When a desperate, angry population will rise up in debilitating strikes, protests or revolution? When a group of religious fanatics will organize terrorist attacks on a secular world? When unanticipated political action in Washington or London or Moscow will have a profound impact on how people perceive the world and the promise it holds for safe, secure exploration?
Yet while the travel industry is especially sensitive to global change, and the world is full of unknowns, some of those unknowns end up being serendipitous: the release of a popular movie that draws positive, almost magical attention to a destination; a theme park innovation that defies all expectations quadruples demand for one park and spurs competitive innovation in others. In fact, surprising innovations in technology and business models have always driven positive change in travel. It's probably no coincidence that the emergence of trains, steamships, travel agents and tour operators arose in broadly the same era.
Our editors have no crystal balls, yet they see some parts of the future very clearly through the lens of the past.
They understand, for example, that presidential election years are always hard on the travel industry, and this year's election comes at a time of social division and political contention unlike the industry has known in many decades. It also comes at a time when climate change is wreaking devastation on destinations from the Caribbean to the Maldives and much of Indonesia, yet political divisions and lack of consensus make remediation efforts ever more difficult.
Still, when you read our editors' predictions for 2020, you will find that most are quite optimistic. Underlying a number of them is the assumption that growth will continue in every sector, despite pivotal speed bumps such as the impact of alternative accommodations, flight-shaming, political instability, labor issues, immigration tensions, Brexit and more.
Why all the optimism? Much of it arises from our editors' deep understanding of their respective areas of expertise. They know that the travel industry -- as a whole and in its individual parts -- has always been a resilient giant. It has met the unknowns, the ups and downs of economies, politics and social movements, and it has adapted to each, because the underlying driver of all travel never seems to die. That is the desire of people to explore our world and its peoples in all their parts and varieties.
So yes, we at Travel Weekly have a propensity to focus on the side of optimism and good fortune when we ponder the future of the trade. First, I suppose, because doom and gloom please neither readers nor advertisers, and we like to attract and keep as many of each as possible. In addition, we have, undeniably, a vested interest in the long-term success of the industry we cover and in all its many hard-working, globe-trotting players.
The bottom line is this: As long as there is a planet Earth inhabited by humans with an appetite for exploration of far-off lands and cultures -- an appetite as innate as our urge to breathe and eat -- and the means to satisfy it, the industry that accommodates that deep-seated human passion will not only survive but prosper.
That's a safe prediction.
-- Rob Fixmer