Benchmark Hospitality International®, a leading U.S.-based hospitality management company, announced the “Top Ten Travel Trends for 2014″ as observed through a survey of the company’s extensive database of professional travel agents. In a Benchmark-commissioned study, over 20,000 travel professionals were provided a comprehensive survey on consumer and business travel in 2014, for review and submission to an independent market research firm for compilation and analysis. Hospitality industry experts domestically and internationally, Benchmark introduced two of the hotel industry’s newest consumer brands in February: the Personal Luxury Resorts & Hotels® and the Benchmark Resorts & Hotels® collections.
“The objective for this research study of travel professionals,” said Ted Davis, chief marketing and sales officer for Benchmark Hospitality International, “was to gain insights into current and anticipated travel trends, and also solicit candid observations on how our company’s Personal Luxury and Benchmark Resorts collections can better serve the needs of the travel community.” Mr. Davis continued with, “We greatly value our partnerships with travel professionals and take a sincere interest in understanding their needs and how we can better serve them and the changing travel expectations of their customers.”
The Travel Industry is Poised for Strong Growth! Eight out of ten travel agents surveyed are highly upbeat about industry growth through 2014 and beyond. Over half are projecting “strong growth.”
Leisure Travel Leads The Way Nearly 75 percent of growth in travel is leisure related, with half of this growth coming from the luxury segment. It’s travel at a personal cost, however. A quarter of the travel professionals felt that the line of demarcation between business and personal travel is further blurring, with many executives bringing work with them on family and romantic vacations — aided in large part by advances in communications technology.
The Specter of Direct Bookings What keeps travel agents up at night? It’s not terrorism affecting travel, or elevated costs or even OTA competition. It is customers increasingly bypassing the agents and booking directly. TAs see this as the greatest potential negative effect on their business in 2014.
Hit the Beach, See the World After six years of the greatest recession in living memory, travelers are ready to pack their bags, drop in a beach towel, and see the world. TAs are seeing strong expenditures in domestic beach-related travel – nearly 50% and with particular emphasis on Hawaii, the south and southwest, which following the winter of 2013-2014 may not be a surprise. Caught up on their tan, leisure travelers are boarding planes and heading abroad with the remaining 50% trekking across the Atlantic to Europe. Those who still need more sun are flying south to the Caribbean or on to South America.
Who is Spending? It’s the Boomers by far. Nearly 60% of travel agent bookings last year were from this group of consumers, followed by Seniors and GenXers both coming in at about 15% of bookings. The much focused-on Millennials account for less than 9% of travel expenditures for the year. Boomers may be spending, but they still demand value for the dollar. Nearly 50% of travel professionals view rate as the critical factor in the consumer travel decision process.
Online Travel Reviews and their Effect It’s huge, according to TAs, and growing. An overwhelming number — 80% — feel we’ve only seen the beginning of this consumer phenomenon. And over 50% of the travel agents surveyed use these online reviews in determining booking decisions for their customers. Hoteliers and airlines take note!
Most Important Features at Hotels & Resorts Well, yes, location is #1 for apparent reasons. But #2 isn’t free parking, or the availability of spa services, or numerous other possible traveler concerns. It’s Free Internet, and properties that continue to charge for this service should take note that this is deemed more important for travelers than the number of stars or diamonds a property achieves. Free Internet access is seen as a traveler’s right!
Hotel Websites Sell An attractive, appealing and user-friendly website with a direct booking option generates reservations. Maybe not a surprise to most, but what is interesting is that travel agents use this method 34% of the time for making reservations (GDS is 38% of TA bookings). You can toss your fax machine, though; it’s used for bookings only 1% of the time according to the study.
This Changes Everything! Well over half of the travel agents responding felt a paradigm shift occurred when the world went mobile. With around the clock accessibility, pop-up travel deals, immediate rate checks and even securing directions on your phone en route to a destination has given travelers, for the first time, the world at their fingertips no matter where they are on the globe. Hotels and resorts without mobile sites are left in the dust. A few key words from the TAs: mobile sites should be relevant, brief, readable, and formatted for ease of use.
Advice to the Hotel Industry from Travel Agents Ok, maybe not officially a trend, but this is increasingly top of mind with travel professionals and they wanted to share these words of advice with hoteliers: Keep your rooms and water glasses clean. Replace worn carpet. Invite us over — FAM trips are back and there’s no better way for us to meet you and experience your property. Never forget the importance of customer service, ever! Partner with us for a win-win. We understand what “incidental revenue” means, but please don’t nickel & dime our customers. Your websites are beautiful, but we urge you to have your vital information just one click away. Always deliver value. And finally, we’ve said it before and we’re saying it again – travelers want Internet access to be FREE!