Spare a thought for Australian tourism operators as you jump on a plane for that overseas holiday this year. The exodus to overseas destinations is almost certain to continue as the Aussie dollar remains high and airfares remain low, leaving domestic travel the poor cousin for another year. A resurgence in business travel is expected to put paid to some of the bargain basement pricing we have seen in 2010, but the balance of power remains with travellers for the foreseeable future.
A survey conducted by the World Travel Market late last year found the economic downturn will continue to impact the global travel industry for at least five years. A separate survey by the Tourism and Transport Forum and MasterCard pointed to a bleak outlook for domestic tourism, with 71 per cent of Australian tourism operators saying the strong Aussie dollar was affecting their business.
Currency specialist HiFX says the Australian dollar appreciated 20 per cent in the second half of 2010, peaking above parity with the US dollar. HiFX spokesman Brian Clarke says it is possible our dollar has already peaked, having fallen back from its early November high, but it has still been in the strong 0.95 – 0.97 cent range.
Flight Centre executive general manager Colin Bowman expects continued demand for overseas travel, after strong bookings in 2010. When favourable exchange rates combine with cheap airfares, travellers can stretch their budgets to new destinations, Bowman says.
Give us adventure
Adventurous destinations feature strongly in predictions for 2011 hotspots.
Flight Centre includes Reunion, Africa, in its top ten destinations for this year, saying it is an underrated stopover option for travellers to France. Active volcanoes and mountainous landscapes make it ideal for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, while luxury resorts provide for indulgence. Zambia also makes the list, with Flight Centre saying it is says is a good option for those interested in luxury tented camping, or a new option of tracking animals by micro-flight.
Lonely Planet puts Brazil in its top ten, saying its winning bids for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games have led to a flurry of spending on tourism infrastructure, while low cost carriers have made travel across the vast continent more affordable. Tanzania also makes Lonely Planet’s top ten, thanks to its wide range of wildlife experiences, from tree-climbing lions at Lake Manyara to chimpanzee sanctuaries in Gombe and Mahale. Also on the list is Cape Verde, off the coast of Western Africa, where travellers can find everything from mountain adventures to beaches and water sports.
Other destinations in Lonely Planet’s top ten include Albania (beaches, cuisine, heritage sites and affordable adventures), Panama (festivals, jungle treks and untouched landscapes) and Bulgaria (affordable ski fields, Black Sea beaches and wine).
STA Travel director of marketing Natalie Placko says recent focus groups pointed to one common finding: “the overwhelming appeal of ‘bragging rights’ – going somewhere off the beaten track, where their mates haven’t been yet”. “There was a real interest in places that were perceived to be more adventurous, like Nepal, Peru, Morocco and Egypt,” Placko says.
Give us pain
A global trends report released at the World Travel Market (WTM) late last year identifies ‘deprivation holidays’ as a booming business, particularly in North America.
The report, prepared by respected market research firm Euromonitor International, says it is a case of “luxury out, austerity in. Destination spas with tough fitness programs will flourish as travellers seek physically and mentally transformative experiences,” it says. “Deprivation holidays are likely to become a strong niche globally, aimed at stressed out travellers. Future developments are likely to see families going to spas or young singles signing up for boot camps.”
Inspired Adventures, which runs ‘charity challenge’ trips including trekking, cycling and marathons, says it has seen a 50 per cent increase in bookings over the past year. World Expeditions says it has seen 38 per cent growth in its charity challenges, along with a 14 per cent increase in demand for trekking holidays.
Give us romance
Britain is expecting a surge of visitors as a result of Prince William’s marriage to Kate Middleton in April. The hype surrounding the wedding – which is expected to attract the biggest television audience in history – should place Britain high on travellers’ minds in the early part of the year.
A survey by VisitBritain found 63 per cent of Australians making a trip to Britain would be likely to visit places associated with the royal family. This was a lower percentage than many other source markets but could be accounted for by the fact that many Australian travellers are repeat visitors to Britain and have already ‘done’ the royal sights.
Travel Associates brand leader David Lovelock says Britain was a popular destination in 2010 and the royal wedding will spark even greater interest this year. “We expect the royal wedding to attract a real mix of people from every age group (to travel to London),” Lovelock says.
Harvey World Travel head of marketing James Brodie says: “There will definitely be a surge in ‘all things British’. “And given the wedding coincides with Easter holidays, there’ll be a flurry of departures to England.”
Give us technology
The Euromonitor trends report points to mobile phone applications as one of the hottest trends in travel, saying smartphones are “revolutionising” the travel industry. This is thanks to global positioning system (GPS) technology, which allows for geo-localisation, or services based on a traveller’s actual position.
Euromonitor says an important development is the rise of travel reservations through social network applications such as Facebook for iPhone. “The growing importance of mobile is leading to a shift in power from technology players such as search engines like Google to smartphone manufacturers and developers,” it says.
Aviation technology provider SITA says travellers are also rapidly embracing self-service technology. A survey found 70 per cent of airline passengers want more self-service options through the internet, kiosks and mobile phone applications. “While online booking and check-in are nearing their full potential, there is now clear demand from the travelling public for self-service on other steps of the passenger journey, including automated security checks,” SITA says.
The SITA survey found that 74 per cent of people now book their flights online, while 38 per cent use the internet to book hotels (up from 21 per cent the previous year) and 35 per cent book car rental online (up from 19 per cent the previous year).
Give us a break
Airport security – and where to draw the line – is likely to be one of the hottest topics of debate in travel this year. The last few months of 2010 saw a flurry of complaints, accusations of assault and cringe-worthy accounts of travellers’ experiences with security procedures, related to ‘naked’ body scanners and the alternative detailed pat downs by security officers.
The outrage will only escalate as more ‘naked’ body scanners are introduced around the world. Dubai announced last year that it would not be introducing full body scanners, saying they were not consistent with local customs and ethics and were an invasion of travellers’ privacy. This came as debate raged over two Muslim women who refused to pass through full body scanners in Britain and airline executives publicly questioned the logic and cost effectiveness of subjecting passengers to the scans.
Full body scanners are due to be introduced in Australia early this year, although the government has indicated it will opt for technology that produces ‘stick figure’ images rather than the very realistic ‘naked’ images produced by some scanners.
Give us scent
‘Fragrance tourism’ has emerged as one of the fastest growing trends in hotels, with properties scrambling for signature scents.
“Smell is a strong human sense, with close links to memory and emotion,” says Euromonitor in the WTM report. “Customisation is key, with different scents for different hotel locations – beach, resort or city – by time of day and even by purpose.”
Euromonitor says the latest scent delivery systems can provide up to five fragrance options per room, set to operate at different times. Hotel guests might wake up to the smell of citrus or peppermint and drift off to sleep with the aid of jasmine or vanilla.
At the same time, many hotels are introducing scent-free, hypo-allergenic rooms for allergy sufferers. ‘Pure Rooms’ are now available at four Rydges hotels in Australia and are being rapidly rolled out around the world.
Give us our neighbours
It seems we are finally appreciating our neighbour across ‘across the ditch’. Travel.com.au says it has seen a 50 per cent increase in flight bookings to New Zealand over the past year, helped along by a favourable exchange rate and a raft of cheap airfares. Spokeswoman Lisa Ferrari says the country is becoming popular with travellers of all ages and interests, thanks to its huge range of activities and pricing.
New Zealand will also be in the spotlight this year thanks to the Rugby World Cup, which will be held in September and October. Rugby New Zealand says it has so far sold about 29,000 tickets in Australia, through a combination of public sales and packages offered by official travel agents. Cruiseco, which is one official agent for the event, says it expects a further influx of bookings once all public ticket ballots are complete and people know what tickets they did and didn’t get.
Flight Centre puts the Kiwi city of Christchurch in its top ten destinations for 2011, saying it is one of the most affordable destinations to get to from Australia and has plenty to do all year round. “Think food and wine trails for baby boomers, heli-skiing for thrill seekers and self-drive holidays for families,” it says.
Give us danger
Euromonitor is predicting a “race for Iraq” as peace returns to the war-torn country. “Endless wars and political conflicts have overshadowed Iraq’s position as the cradle of civilisation, but post-war Iraq is experiencing a tourism revival,” it says in the WTM Global Trends Report. Euromonitor says there are now direct flights to Iraq from many countries and the country is investing heavily in hotels and other infrastructure.
There is currently very little in the way of organised tourism to Iraq out of Australia and it should be noted that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) applies the highest level of travel warning, “do not travel”, to the country.
For those who want a little less danger, Iraq’s neighbour, Syria, makes Lonely Planet’s top ten countries for travel in 2011. Lonely Planet says the country is off the diplomatic ‘naughty step’ and no longer has the ‘Axis of Evil’ tag hanging around its neck. Syria (which attracts a ‘high degree of caution’ warning from DFAT) offers everything from restored Ottoman palaces to countryside strewn with the remains of fallen empires.
This article was published in Jane E. Fraser’s weekly travel column in The Sun Herald, Australia