When it comes to travel, optimism for 2016 is tempered by fear: concern about terrorism on the part of travelers and anxiety about that concern on the part of travel professionals and suppliers.
Several recent analyses of the long- and short-term impacts on travel of previous terrorism attacks, however, suggest that tourists and business travelers alike are becoming increasingly inured to continuous media reports of violence against tourists.
The research suggests that the inevitable drop in bookings following 353 deaths in two terrorist attacks in November -- the downing of a Russian MetroJet airliner, killing all 224 onboard and the attacks that took 129 civilian lives in Paris -- is likely to be relatively short-lived.
What’s more, residents of Paris have remained defiant and resolute, an attitude that could well encourage travelers from many parts of the world to visit the City of Light as a show of international support.
But will this attitude last?
That’s the foremost question on the minds of travel advisers and suppliers across the industry, many of whom found themselves holding their breath as 2015 ended, anxious that another attack or even threats of attacks could tip the balance in favor of fear.
In part, that anxiety has been fed by more threats from ISIS, statements made by candidates for 2016 presidential nominations and moves by the Obama administration and both houses of Congress to tighten restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program, all of which undermine a sense of normalcy in the industry.
The cumulative anxiety represents a challenge to almost every positive trend the industry was seeing at the end of a record-setting 2015, a year during which most industry players found themselves and their enterprises prospering:
• Airlines continued reporting record profits, a result of both lower fuel costs and capacity discipline.
• Demand for cruises bounced back to the point where contemporary lines were able to impose pricing discipline they could have only dreamed of in past years, enabling Royal Caribbean International, for example, to abandon the “sail full at any cost” mantra that had ruled the sector for decades.
• More newbuilds came into the hotels pipeline, and despite the incursion of Airbnb and other peer-to-peer lodging companies, revenue per available room and occupancy rates both continued to rise.
• Though poor weather at times rendered Europe’s waterways unnavigable, river cruising continued to prosper. The outlook was positive enough to inspire Disney to enter the market with visions of family-focused products while Viking, Ama Waterways and other lines continued to add vessels to their fleets.
• Tour operators, too, added product, in both numbers and types of tours, producing their largest-ever batch of product brochures.
• Luxury products expanded substantially, evolving as the number of affluent young consumers grew, along with their passion for travel.
• With the exception of star-crossed Baha Mar, which failed to launch in the Bahamas as scheduled in 2015, the all-inclusive resort sector grew in both number and quality of products, with AMResorts alone adding five properties to its portfolio in a single year.
And so it was through this prism of unbridled prosperity coupled with anxiety about terrorism that Travel Weekly’s editors and reporters peered into the future to come up with the prognostications for 2016 that follow.
When all the interviews were finished, after all the ups and downs and pros and cons of business trends and countertrends had been discussed, the view of 2016 that emerged remained largely optimistic. In the end, optimism outweighed any potential impediments that could seriously damage the business of travel.
— Rob Fixmer