The coming year might well represent the cloudiest crystal ball Travel Weekly has tried to penetrate in the many years we've published our annual Preview Issue.
As you read through our reporters' and editors' takes on what 2017 holds for the travel business as well as the expectations of industry CEOs interviewed by editor in chief Arnie Weissmann, the picture that emerges seems at best murky, at worst a kaleidoscope of chaos.
True, the execs, for the most part, present a good case for optimism primarily the continued growth of global tourism but it's the unknowns that are going to keep industry players up at night as 2017 unfolds, and the unknowns are legion. From the impact of an inscrutable new administration in Washington led by an aggressive change agent to the economic impact of OPEC's recently announced production caps, uncertainty abounds.
The most important unknown is president-elect Donald Trump, whose mix of contradictory policy statements and bombastic late-night tweets have left many travel executives scratching their heads as they attempt to figure out how and how quickly the new president's rhetoric will evolve into policies that impact their businesses.
Will he end the tenuous and still-fragile rapprochement with Cuba? Will his hard line on trade deals threaten open skies treaties? Will his criticism of immigrants and immigration cause Latinos and Muslims, among others, to shun the U.S. when it comes to leisure travel or student visas? Answers to those questions are difficult to predict.
Regarding Cuba, Trump tweeted just days before the election that he would undo President Obama's easing of restrictions on tourism. Two weeks later, following the death of Fidel Castro, he tweeted, "If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate the deal." He offered no details as to what, in his mind, would qualify as a "better deal," leaving that to the imaginations of an increasingly nervous audience on two sides of the Florida Straits.
Those had to be especially worrisome words to the executives of hotel companies that are planning ambitious expansions in Cuba, to airlines that recently began flying routes to the island for the first time in 50 years and to cruise lines already including Cuba's harbors in their itineraries.On the other hand, in a September interview with the Daily Caller, before he pumped up his anti-Cuba rhetoric as the presidential race tightened in Florida, Trump called the new detente with Cuba "fine," saying of the trade embargo, "50 years are enough." What his real intentions toward Cuba are remains anyone's guess.
To be sure, Trump is not the only cloud in our crystal ball.
Brexit presents almost as many unknowns for the industry in the long term and, coupled with Italy's recent referendum, casts a shadow over the economic stability of Europe, the travel industry's most important source market and the home of its most popular destinations.
OPEC's new commitment to production discipline, should it hold up, could push travel prices beyond the means of some middle-class consumers.
The dual specters of the Ebola and Zika viruses in recent years remind us that diseases can emerge without warning, transforming destinations into quarantines and, in worst cases, epidemics into pandemics.
Finally, there is the ultimate unknown, terrorism, which in the last two years has substantially slowed tourism in Paris; Brussels; Turkey, Nice, France; and last week in Berlin among other parts of the globe. A more dangerous world is, predictably, a world less traveled.
Rob Fixmer is the editor of Travel Weekly.