By Mark Lewis, Founder and CEO of HotelREZ Hotels & Resorts
If one thing is clear, it’s that 2016 marked the beginning of a new era of uncertainty. With political upheavals like Brexit, Donald Trump and the Turkish coup d’état, terror attacks in France and Belgium and natural disasters in Italy – many of which affected traditionally popular destinations – you might be forgiven for thinking that the travel industry is on the verge of a crisis.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Opinion polling has already suggested that political events like Brexit have little impact on tourism, with a survey of US travellers by travel industry intelligence company Skift revealing that over half view Brexit as unlikely to affect their likelihood of visiting Britain. Some have even suggested that the plummeting value of the pound may encourage more tourism to the UK. Trump’s victory, too, seems unlikely to dampen the glittering appeal of the USA as a travel destination.
My outlook for 2017 is therefore one of cautious optimism. Tourism has proven itself resilient in the face of global uncertainty, and it is my belief that it will continue to do so over the coming year. Indeed, this resilience is already evident: early bookings were strong in the last quarter of 2016, although it is possible it may simply be a reflection of a pre-existing trend in that direction. Nonetheless it seems clear that tourism has yet to be hit by this global uncertainty.
The future is digital
Much of this can be attributed to the growing population of digital natives. Unlike previous generations, many of these tourists tend to demand a richer experience from their travel. Traditional holiday packages no longer satisfy this new breed of traveller, particularly when opportunities for authentic experiences can be readily found online.
Furthermore, in this era of ‘fake news’, the mainstream media is no longer considered the authoritative source it once was. With local expertise now available at the touch of a button, digital natives can look beyond negative news stories about Donald Trump or Brexit and focus instead on a unique culinary experience in Louisiana or a secluded natural wonder in Wales.
Unperturbed by disasters
For this same reason, travellers are becoming more receptive to destinations typically considered unsafe. While this doesn’t mean they are heading off in their droves to Syria, it does open up countries like Nepal, Myanmar or Rwanda that have suffered from natural disasters and political instability in recent decades.
Even recent disasters and terrorist attacks appear to have had little negative impact on the global market as a whole. Following terror incidents in North Africa over the last two years, tourists simply migrated their attention to resorts elsewhere in the western Mediterranean; after natural disasters, bookings typically pick up after only two or three weeks, a much faster rate than in previous years.
A change in climate
The desire for more authentic experiences has also meant that, in 2016, more people looked to city breaks than traditional beach holidays. The most obvious beneficiary of this is the sharing economy, with peer-to-peer services like Airbnb – which gives travellers the opportunity to stay in the homes of real locals – making it increasingly possible for tourists to have the meaningful, authentic interactions they seek. However, I also believe that independent boutique-style hotels, often synonymous with their neighbourhood, stand to benefit.
The rise of the sharing economy and the educational power of the internet is beginning to have a major effect on the travel and hotel industry, meaning tourists are able to cut through the fog of uncertainty to reach the genuine experiences they demand from their holidays. What this suggests is that the major events of 2016 are unlikely to perturb tourists. The ramifications of Brexit and Trump’s presidency are as yet unclear, but short of a catastrophe, we can remain hopeful that tourism will be relatively unscathed by any negative consequences – real or perceived – they might produce.
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Tourists in London – Image by Garry Knight via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)