Travel Industry Changes: 2017, and Beyond

With the start of a new year comes an opportunity to look ahead at what 2017 may bring to the travel space—both as a whole and within the student segment. Here are some of our thoughts on what we can expect with the change of the calendar year:

 

It’s not human vs. bot, it’s a hybrid

There seems to be two very different realities presented about human interaction in the travel industry. We hear that the industry is moving away from human interaction to bots, while at the same time we are seeing the strong comeback of the travel agent. So which is it?

The truth is that in 2017 and beyond it will largely remain as a human/machine hybrid. While bots and AI-assisted chatbots can make a traveler more connected along their journey and streamline their experience, the technology isn’t “human-level” smart just yet. While bot tech is accelerating, it still isn’t entirely self-aware and able to respond to complex queries. Human interaction will still be critical in the “last mile” to ensure that travelers are satisfied and have the correct information. Human interaction will also remain critical for travelers who don’t want to adapt their behaviors to work with machines. We predict that in 2017, high-touch travelers will demand higher-touch interaction and for travelers that prefer to go the way of the machine, their interactions will be lower-touch than ever before.

 

The diminishing effect of “Big Brother”

At one time, travelers would have felt completely invaded if they felt you knew too much about their habits, preferences and behaviors. In 2017, bulk emails and mass marketing will not only be ignored, they won’t be acceptable. Marketers have been trying to better personalize for a decade and in 2017 they will need to use the tools at their disposal to get it right, or risk losing customers to the brands that “get them.” Travelers will demand personalization—and this doesn’t just mean a subject line with their name in it. This means sending push notifications at the right moment, displaying only relevant ads, only sharing sales on routes that a customer would actually travel or have expressed interest in traveling, or new mobile app features that they would use based on purchase behavior.

 

Micro study abroad experiences increase in popularity

Study abroad patterns are changing—shorter study abroad experiences of four weeks or less are on the rise. In some cases these are students doing summer or short-term programs on their own, and in other cases on a guided trip with a professor. Some of these travelers could also be international students having additional study abroad experiences in their temporary (or four year) homes.

We took a look at our data: study abroad travelers to Europe that were on study abroad trips that lasted 14-27 days increased 37% for fall study abroad and 98% for spring study abroad between 2015 and 2016. At the same time, groups traveling with 10 or more people (often faculty-led) saw a 9% growth year over year. The sizes of groups traveling are also up 6% year over year. This is coupled with less volume to the South Pacific and more to Europe and Latin America.

 

Travelers demand accountability at every stage of their journey

Technology advancements will help mitigate some of the most frustrating components of travel— finding information, losing luggage and re-booking flights due to cancellations and missed connections.

First, travelers will find answers to their travel queries via Google Quick Answers. Smarter consumers are now searching for questions in mass and this Google feature will lead to faster (but more generic) answers and lowered click through rates to the sites themselves.

Next, just as Apple iPhone users can use Find My Phone to track down their lost or stolen devices, more and more suitcases will be equipped with GPS tracking bringing an end to the era of the “lost suitcase.” Lastly, apps like Freebird will be the new travel insurance. The ability to instantly re-book tickets in a few clicks with any airline for free in the event of a disruption will revolutionize the travel insurance landscape that often leaves travelers wondering what is really covered. It could be the best $30 travelers spend after booking their flight.

 

 

An App battleground

The travel industry is finally beginning to see its own app renaissance. There was reluctance in the industry to move towards a mobile-centered focus (forget going as far as mobile first!) but because 70% of all internet use in 2017 will be mobile, this had to change. With giants like TripAdvisor and Expedia trying to replicate their extensive desktop experiences on a limited mobile platform and newcomers like Hopper focusing entirely on mobile, 2017 will be a mobile battleground. The three trends we can definitely hope to see are Facebook Messenger bots, an expansion of apps for every moment in a traveler’s journey and an extremely personalized experience.

2017 looks like it will come with more personalization and more accountability for travelers—and that certainly seems like something to toast in the new year. We’ll see you again early next year to see how these predictions fared and what is on the horizon.