A question I’m often asked is, “What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen recently in the travel industry?” If I were to respond over a decade ago, back when the Hotel Price Index first launched, my answer would include things like the first big waves of emerging market travelers, price transparency over the Internet and the natural disasters that always hit some part of the world. And while all of that is still true today, what we’ve seen in the past 12 – 18 months has remarkably shifted the travel grounds again, still though with the very positive backdrop of general travel industry growth. This past year was full of surprises due to a flux of geopolitical events with series of critical votes at the forefront:
- The Brexit vote and its impact of the British Pound weakening likely led to Americans and many other nationalities searching and booking at a higher rate to take advantage of good prices and good times in London and other U.K. cities.
- Several events in Europe like the refugee crisis and political party power shifts in many countries, often with immigration and travel-affecting policies at play.
- The U.S. presidential vote and Trump’s quickly inked executive order (and the similarly quick counter by the U.S. judicial system) on immigration shook the norm and predictability of international travel to the U.S.
- A vote for impeachment changed leadership in Brazil – a country already struggling with an unstable economy, which was already impacting discretionary spend.
Beyond the politics affecting financial systems and the free flow of travel, there were continued strong technological advances that have sped up user access to supply and travel information. I would say there are three areas to consider here:
- First, hotels themselves are evolving with enhanced room technology control options, guest communications through phones and tablets, high speed-enabled community spaces, keyless door entries and so forth.
- Second, large global web and app players like ourselves are investing hundreds of millions of dollars each year in technology to provide millions of users in all corners of the world even better tools for searching, shopping and booking on all device types – for going anywhere at any time.
- Third, the avalanching advances in big data and A.I. (artificial intelligence) create an opportunity to present users with truly personalized and relevant information right where and when they want it.
Maybe I also have to mention a fourth – more forward-looking area – which I believe will be a game changer for travel and that’s virtual reality. Being able to “stand at the poolside” that is actually 12,000 miles away takes dreaming about a vacation to a whole new level.
What’s exciting going forward is we see strong demand from all age groups and backgrounds, but one of the more exciting demographics (and also harder to predict) is millennials, who are leapfrogging ahead and in many ways becoming big change agents for how travel is sold, shared and experienced. And peering ahead, the types of rooms supply could look drastically different with the rapid expansion of vacation rental options from brands like our sister company HomeAway. They create and satisfy new ways to travel and stay in non-standardized places, powering a proliferation of new experiences, and thus certainly competition for the hotel industry.
But when it’s all said and done, there are some fundamental things about travel that will never change: People want to go places! And more of them every year that goes by!
Our Hotel Price Index continues to evolve visually with more useful information on the places people have explored over the past year, the changes we’ve seen through the millions of bookings on our websites and how much travelers have paid to stay. Who knows… the next HPI might appear in virtual reality with 3D-printable renditions of the top destinations. Dream big!
President, Hotels.com brand