Reality check: Our new travel future

The legendary management guru Peter Drucker once said that "trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window."

Richard Turen
Richard Turen

As I look forward to the months and years ahead, it looks like the back window is covered in a thick shade. But we have survived other challenges, and we're used to navigating dark country roads, so let's try to look at some of the changes, improvements and challenges we are likely to be facing in the coming years.

A specific reason for optimism

By 2030, the U.N. World Tourism Organization is predicting there will be 1.8 billion tourists traveling each year. That is 400 million more than the current number and speaks to incredible pent-up demand and potential sector growth.

Subscription models

There is growing evidence that affluent travelers will seek out subscription models like Inspirato, which offers a $2,500 per month "pass" that gives subscribers access to more than 50,000 homes and hotel rooms scattered about the globe. Top-level concierge planning services are included. There is also a $600 per month subscription for renting club properties and homes. Consortia and large agency groups will look to the subscription model given its high retention and renewal rates. Agents might want to examine the $150 annual subscription model on the Well Traveled website, where members create personalized recommendations and share "secrets" gathered from their travels.

Reaching younger, affluent people

According to the Wall Street Journal, 70% of households with annual incomes of $500,000 or more that are headed by someone under the age of 45 did almost all of their own investing research online rather than secure the services of a financial advisor. Travel advisors will shortly notice vast improvements in the quality of travel research provided online to a younger demographic comfortable with doing their own research. The question will be, "How do these sites monetize their information?" and "How does the independent agency enter this competitive arena?"

The role of digital currency

Pew Research says that 16% of all Americans have invested in digital currency or used it for payments. But when you eliminate the 63% of American adults who do not have a passport and have no intention of traveling outside the United States, that percentage goes much higher. Expedia is now accepting bitcoin payments for hotel stays, and the site Bitcoin.com enables users to search their worldwide database of hotels, tours, cruises, etc., and pay for all arrangements in bitcoin.

Ship that luggage!

If you don't have a partnership with an overseas luggage-delivery service, you are late to the game. Rates have come down, while airline baggage rates have continued to rise sharply. Look at a company called Rent the Runway, where a client can borrow designer clothing and have it hanging in their hotel room when they arrive. Hilton has forged a deal with Amazon so clothing packages can be waiting for guests at off-lobby kiosks when they check in to a hotel. Some smart travel retailers are offering free luggage shipping as a guest amenity.

The cost of domestic travel

The Biden administration has said that it expects 50% of all new-car sales to be post-combustion engine by 2030. They will be electric. I think we can look at that figure, along with the government's commitment to building a national network of charging stations, to envision that traveling domestically without the need to ever pull into a gas station will have a major impact in terms of a decline in international travel. Cheaper transportation to any domestic destination will bring back the American roadtrip as a viable alternative to travel overseas.

In-office visits will decline

We see this in the financial services sector already. Recent studies have shown that 80% of affluent millennials with combined savings of over $400,000 say they do not seek the advice of a travel advisor, preferring to do their own online searches for information. We will begin to see major declines in personal visits with a doctor. The digitally aware will check their health using trackers that can be swallowed and embedded under the skin. Travel profiles and preferences can easily be embedded in a computer chip. One's identify, health and travel desires will all have "monitoring apertures" within one's body.

Private retreats vs. public resorts

This may be the dawn of the "vacation rental religion," as taking your holiday in public places may carry a negative stigma, even once the slow decline of the Covid virus is complete. One study by the University of Minnesota imagines a vacation landscape where "public resorts will be mothballed in favor of private villas or retreats." That strikes me as intellectual overkill, but the data does show clearly that one of the major trends we will see going forward is the desire to "escape the crowds" wherever they may be. A phrase that travel consultants are likely to hear again and again is, "We don't want to be surrounded by people." "Private escapes" is a specialization that would seem to have great appeal in our post-pandemic world, and I would suggest that travel professionals begin putting together a catalog of such options now.

Major changes for the rails

Amtrak and high-speed rail competitors will get a jump-start on expansion that will result in travel by train becoming a viable option for upscale domestic travelers in the next 10 years. Trains will routinely travel at 125 mph and be almost completely managed by computers. It will be quite impossible to be a full-service travel advisor without a strong knowledge of Amtrak and its nationwide options.

Space travel is here

Any young person entering the travel industry will have to become a "space travel specialist," as American tourists will be enjoying the ultimate travel experience -- seeing our Earth from outer space. That will become the bucket-list item for the '30s.

Our futures are all intertwined, and they will not be boring. Have a truly memorable New Year, and thank you for your trust.

Senior contributing editor Richard Bruce Turen owns the luxury vacation-planning firm Churchill & Turen. He and his wife, Angela, have been named Virtuoso's top-producing travel consultants for four of the past five years. He can be reached at [email protected]

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