WTM – future forecasts

A record figure of delegates attended this week’s World Travel Market in London, up five per cent on last year with more than 82,000 visits by lunchtime on Wednesday. Thousands of international visitors packed Excel’s North and South Halls, with UK resorts and travel firms more widely represented than in recent years.

As interesting as the multi-coloured destination stands themselves, was the fascinating range of themes covered by the event programme. Seminars encompassed everything from explaining why mobile travel apps are your best friend to why travellers today want to go where the locals go.

Every business is concerned with customer feedback, the Reputation = Revenue presentation clearly showed the importance of managing online reputation. Research by Cornell University showed a 1 per cent increase in the Global Review Index (which measures online satisfaction) equates to 1.42 per cent increase in RevPar, 0.89 per cent increase in ADR and 0.54 per cent increase in occupancy. In addition 34 per cent of consumers are willing to pay more for “guaranteed exceptional service”. A final thought from the presentation – are we working in the travel and tourism business or an experience and expectation management industry.

One quirky travel trend is the ‘Rise of Middle Aged Men in Lycra’ (MAMILs) as cycling has now become a major threat to golf as the biggest leisure pursuit of middle-aged men, a key finding of the WTM Euromonitor Global Trends Report 2014. In the US, cycling tourism has grown by a staggering 70 per cent, overtaking golf. Cyclists spend 20 per cent more than the average tourist overnight, worth noting as cycling becomes increasingly of interest to UK coastal resorts.

Other findings include an increase in ‘Poshtels’, as cost-conscious, style-seeking customers opt for luxury facelift hostels, which are competing head-on with boutique hotels. In Europe, travellers want to eat like locals and book on peer-to-peer dining websites which offer authentic travel experiences in addition to meals. Surfing is becoming the big new draw in Africa with Ghana and the Ivory Coast seeing the biggest surge, while wearable electronics are becoming a key way for consumers to receive notifications and make bookings.

Wellness tourism featured heavily on the programme, as one of the industry’s fastest growing sectors, with year on year growth of 12 per cent. While its definition is still open to debate, its potential as a business growth opportunity isn’t – as one industry figure said: “everyone wants to feel better, no matter how big their wallet”.

There is certainly a societal shift, aided by public policy, towards being ‘wellness aware’, and this is forecast to drive demand. Our own research points to the quality of a destination’s natural setting as a decision driver, demonstrated by the success of operators like Center Parcs. Cited as the “gateway to wellness tourism” in the UK, many of its 2 million annual visitors become spa or outdoor activity devotees looking for similar products and services elsewhere. There’s a significant opportunity for coastal tourism businesses and destinations to ensure supply matches demand.

In all the frenetic activity that takes place at WTM, there’s one thing for certain, the global travel and tourism industry is thriving and continuing to grow innovatively. And remains the most exciting industry to be part of.