2018 Travel Predictions by Tourism Experts

Travel and tourism experts weigh in on trends, opportunities and challenges that will shape the road ahead.

2017 was another record breaking year for the global tourism industry, with international tourist arrivals growing by a remarkable 7 percent to reach a total of 1.3 billion, according to the latest UNWTO World Tourism Barometer. However, it was also a year of many challenges, with destinations around the world facing natural disasters, threats to security and even struggling to manage their own success. As we look ahead to 2018, we realize it’s no longer business as usual. And therefore, we’ve asked experts from across the industry to provide their insight into the trends, opportunities and challenges that will shape the road ahead.

Roger Dow, President & CEO, U.S. Travel Association: I predict that travel will be at the forefront of many policymakers’ agendas in 2018. They’ve proven they understand the valuable role the industry plays in stimulating the economy, and we hope they’ll continue to embrace travel as an economic driver for the communities, states and regions they represent. There was a noticeable 3.9 percent drop in international inbound travel in the first half of 2017 compared to the year prior. The global travel market is growing and America’s share of it is shrinking. While international long-haul travel to other destinations continues to increase, in 2016 the U.S. share of the global travel market fell for the first time in a decade. We need policymakers’ help to turn that around in 2018 and ensure the U.S. sends a message of welcome and remains a leader in the global travel market.

In 2018, I predict the continued growth of leisure travel as more Americans reclaim their vacation time. We see our Project: Time Off message is working - more Americans are choosing travel over burnout, work martyr is cemented in our lexicon, the conversation continues from the newsstand to our phones. Starting with National Plan for Vacation Day on January 30th, the pendulum is going to swing even further in our direction as we reclaim more of America's Lost Week of vacation.

Rochelle Turner, Research Director, World Travel & Tourism Council: The shocks and challenges to Travel & Tourism over the past few years have made our crystal ball distinctly cloudy.  For 2018, it would be remiss not to continue to expect the unexpected – extreme weather, extreme behaviors and extreme policy reactions. As we end the 2017 UN-designated International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, 2018 brings an opportunity for destinations to capitalize on the tremendous focus the sector has had at the highest international levels and continue to build the long-term viability of their products and communities. Indeed, it is only by building the relationships and maximizing benefits for all stakeholders that destinations can truly design in the resilience that they would need to recover quickly from shocks and grow sustainably.

Greg Oates, Executive Editor, SkiftX Brand Strategy Group: In 2018, tourism leaders will focus more intentionally on visitor dispersal strategies to drive spend into emerging communities and shift arrivals toward off-peak seasons. Moving visitors beyond core destination experiences and dates helps relieve overtourism, protect regional identity and assets, and increase average spend and average time in-destination. Visitor dispersal also spurs economic development in new markets and creates greater inclusivity among underserved residents in both urban and non-urban environments. To date, successful dispersal strategies employ: new visitor fee structures and transportation regulations; new sub-regional branding and wayfinding; more local community education; and improved collaboration among the public and private sectors. On the tech front, the industry is developing increasingly sophisticated data capture and visitor segmentation methodologies, and aligning those with new in-market mobile messaging platforms, to track and influence the entire end-to-end visitor journey and increase visitor loyalty.

Steven Paganelli, CDME, Head of Destination Marketing, Americas, TripAdvisor: The growth of the global middle class, expansion of DMOs around the world, and geo-political issues/opportunities will drive increased competition for international visitation at exactly the same time that issues of over-tourism and sustainability come to the fore. The divergence of these realities presents an opportunity for destinations to continue their evolution from “marketing” to broader “management” organizations. Key among that role will be leveraging both internal and external data to not only compete effectively and drive, high-value visitation, but to influence traveler behaviors – both pre-arrival and once in-market – by shifting demand.

Monya Mandich, Global Senior Director, Marketing and Communications, Expedia, Inc.: The next big thing in travel will be the better use of information to make travel more personal and predictive. Consumers are spending more time with travel content, but as they do so, they expect the content and experiences to be personalized and tailored to their interests and needs. To meet that demand, destinations will need to use data, sophisticated targeting and new technologies to create customized offerings and itineraries that appeal to specific audiences, while also highlighting what sets their destination apart from others in the competitive set. That requires an approach that blends art and data – or as we say, led by creative, proven by science. As a technology company in the business of travel, we are constantly testing using our powerful data, predictive modeling and machine learning to deliver a better, and more personalized, customer experience. We share our data, learnings and insights with marketing partners across the travel ecosystem to deliver what today’s consumers expect in their travel shopping experience.

Colleen Coulter, Industry Manager, Global Marketing Solutions, Facebook: Cisco predicts that 75% of all mobile data will be video in 2020. As consumers increasingly consume video on mobile, we believe a growing number of travelers will rely on this format as a key source for inspiration and discovery when it comes to travel planning. This shifting behavior presents a prime opportunity for destination marketers to reach people with immersive content – including through Facebook video and Instagram Stories - to ultimately convince travelers to select their destination. Those marketers who invest early in a test and learn approach will have a distinct competitive advantage vs those who take a ‘wait and see’ approach.

Paul Ouimet, Managing Director of DestinationNEXT: This will be the year that many DMOs realize that programs building community support and engagement are now as important as marketing and sales. This will be caused by several pressures:

  • Threats to traditional funding levels for tourism marketing. Some DMOs lack sufficient funds to be competitive. Others are facing reallocations of previous funding to other politically-motivated initiatives.
  • Legislative initiatives at the national and/or state level which negatively impact leisure tourism and business events. Many DMOs are dealing with anti-competitive policies ranging from immigration and visa restrictions, bathroom bills, and religious freedoms.
  • Increasing local opposition to “over-tourism”.  There are concerns about overcrowding, especially in peak seasons. Some communities are questioning the need for tourism promotion given the perceived issues additional visitor traffic creates.

We are discovering, in our work on DestinationNEXT, that these problems are most acute in the U.S., but significant around the world. There is a lower level of public support and awareness of the broad and very positive impacts on communities generated by our industry. Many do not relate tourism growth to broader economic development. This will require increased focus by Destinations International and all of us to address these pressures.

About Jim McCaul
As Vice President of Destination Development and Advocacy, McCaul oversees the development and execution of growth strategies for the association’s destination products, including DestinationNEXT, DestinationFRIST, DMAP, empowerMINT and the Event Impact Calculator.

McCaul has over 10 years of experience in the tourism industry and has worked on projects for a multitude of destination marketing organizations around the world. He began his career as a market research analyst with YPartnership (now MMGY Global). In this capacity McCaul gathered insight into the evolving travel habits, preferences and intentions of North Americans, and implemented research projects for DMOs including the Mexico Tourism Board, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and the Papua New Guinea Tourism Authority. 

Prior joining Destinations International, McCaul served as the Online Marketing Specialist for the Namibia Tourism Board, as part of a development project for the Millennium Challenge Corporation. McCaul has served a number of roles at Destinations International, beginning as Content Manager, before being promoted to Director of Communications and his current role as Vice President of Destination Products Management. He holds a Masters of Tourism Administration with a focus in Sustainable Destination Management from The George Washington University.