Just as fashion trends change with the season and the years, so do travel trends.
By air, land or sea, chances are you're traveling slightly differently than your parents did—or even than you did five years ago. Groups Today asked several industry professionals for their take on how getting around has changed and is evolving.
Wanderlust beckons to many travelers, increasing international air travel. Those who may have felt anxious to travel abroad are letting go of that fear and embracing once-in-a-lifetime opportunities—a trend Donna Adam, President, Educational Tours Inc., is beginning to see in repeat customers.
What's losing steam? "Some airlines are becoming more difficult for medium or small tour operators to work with and sometimes only work with companies with certain classifications. Therefore, tour operators are required to use companies that have this classification," said Adam.
"We've worked with these companies for quite a few years, but more tour operators will now be forced to do so. They may find that they prefer this to working directly with the airlines—I know we do."
Tracey Schenk, Travel Consultant, Educational Tours Inc., would be happy to see certain expensive forms of travel become more accessible.
"I feel the option to charter flights would be so beneficial for large-group travel," Schenk said.
"For many years, you could affordably charter a plane for much less than the cost of booking scheduled flights. However, as safety has tightened up and less scheduled flights are offered, the cost of chartering a flight has become cost-prohibitive."
Rail and motorcoach offer a different, often more detailed way to see parts of the country frequently inaccessible by other transport modes. Customization, locally hosted group travel without an overly choreographed itinerary, private sleeping accommodation upgrades and more scenic daylight travel are rising trends.
Still, Jeanne Czerwinski, Chief Operating Officer, Vacations By Rail, witnesses a decline in round-trip group rail travel.
"Groups are seeing the benefits of a quality long-distance rail experience at the start of the trip and flexible return travel options like air travel," said Czerwinski, who notes Canada is emerging as a popular destination for American group rail tours, citing the general lack of a language barrier and currency exchange rate among factors.
Peter Pantuso, President, American Bus Association (ABA), mentions that a "one size fits all" approach is quickly losing momentum. Along with the arrival of a new generation come sales and new ideas within the motorcoach industry.
"We're seeing a lot of mergers and companies coming together in different regions," said Pantuso. "A business may approach things in a totally different way than their predecessor did." A large portion of these new approaches involve specialized, one-of-a-kind opportunities.
"Even within a group, everyone is looking for customized experiences. The mentality of instant gratification when ordering something online and having it on your doorstep in two days carries over within the travel industry as well."
Despite the motorcoach industry remaining strong, Pantuso adds, finding enough drivers is a challenge.
For decades, the cruise industry has been seen as a pathway to the ultimate getaway—one that's becoming even more luxurious, evidenced by increased catering to the varying needs of guests.
"In the past, many advisors would not want to deal with the 'hassle' of booking air. But with a lot of education over the past year from ASTA and otherwise, advisors now are booking air for the client, too," said Ron Gulaskey, Associate Vice President of National Account Sales & Trade Associations, Celebrity Cruises. "If the advisor doesn't wish to book the air for a client, they are giving permission for the client to 'cheat' on them."
Gulaskey notices luxury cruise clients moving to more premium products when traveling with their families.
"If someone has kids, that doesn't automatically mean they want a contemporary cruise brand," said Gulaskey. "They may like less kids on board, activities like onboard STEM programming, or great culinary offerings for their children."
Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President and Co-owner, AmaWaterways, finds that though destinations, ships, rivers and tours will change over the years, that human connection is essential.
"That feeling of being treated like 'family' will always remain the top priority at AmaWaterways," Karst said. "Our goal continues to be to exceed guests' expectations and that means recruiting staff with a 'sparkle'—training them carefully and anticipating what will surprise and delight all of our guests."
Karst says AmaWaterways is noticing increased emphasis on cruises with a culinary focus, wellness offerings onboard, multigenerational travel, holiday cruises and an elevated importance placed on environmental responsibility. "We're phasing out plastic straws onboard our ships and continue to look for opportunities to reduce overall plastic consumption."
One trend runs constant throughout the travel industry, moving into 2019: Customization and personalized experiences are everything.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for Groups Today.
This article originally appeared in Groups Today.